I’m sure you have heard the term ‘sleep crutch’ before? Or perhaps ‘prop’ or ‘sleep association’? They all mean the same thing in that they refer to something your baby relies on in order to get to sleep.
The difference between a sleep association to a prop or a crutch is that a sleep association can be positive or negative while a prop or crutch tends to be negative. Let me explain…
If your baby has a sleep association such as a particular soft toy that he likes to take to bed, that is positive because it is something he can control. However, if your child has a sleep association of being rocked to sleep by you, this is negative because he needs you to do it for him and has no control over this himself – could also be called a prop or a crutch for this reason.
What about a dummy?
The dummy has it’s own set of rules depending on how it is used. If your child has control of the dummy or does not need you to replace it at any point if it falls out, then this might not be a problem but it is still a sleep association if he requires it to fall asleep.
On the other hand, if your baby needs you to keep replugging the dummy every time it falls out and cannot resettle without you coming to do this, then it is a sleep crutch that is not helping.
Sleep crutches can be all sorts of things but the most common ones are, feeding to sleep, rocking, patting, holding, co-sleeping. None of these are a big problem in the early months and you cannot spoil a newborn so don’t panic if your young baby needs this kind of help from you for now but you do need a plan to remove these crutches by the age of around 6 months if you don’t want to continue this way for the next few years!
It is reasonably easy to remove a sleep crutch around the age of 6 months when a baby is most adaptable and able to learn. From this age on, the longer you leave it, the more difficult it is likely to become because the habits will become more ingrained and your child will be more resistant of change.
So now you can identify a sleep crutch and determine whether it is serving a purpose or is a hinderance to your baby’s sleep. The next step is to form a plan, either for now or for the coming months, if you need to wean a sleep crutch.