Babywise Tips – Sleep Props – How to Identify and Avoid


Sleep props are objects used to help a baby fall asleep or fall back to sleep if he wakes prematurely.  Since sleep is a natural function of the body, the primary sleep cue is sleepiness.  Sleep props interfere with the process by becoming the substitute sleep cue instead of sleepiness.  Now falling asleep on his own is out of Baby’s control because it requires a parent’s presence to offer the prop.

Some sleep props, such as a special blanket or a stuffed animal are harmless, while others can become addictive.  Here are a few sleep props to avoid:

  • Intentionally nursing your baby to sleep – The scenario is all too familiar. A mother nurses her baby to sleep.  Slowly raising herself from the chair, she eases toward the crib.  While holding her breath, she gently lowers the precious bundle and allows herself to smile.  Then, frozen in time, she anxiously awaits peace to settle over the crib before backing to the door.  She wonders what she will experience this time: freedom or failure?  Hoping to escape, the mother knows that if her baby fusses, she will feel obliged to begin the process all over again.  Is it “poor mother” or “poor baby”?  Is nursing appropriate for inducing sleep every time sleep is needed?  No!  With the PDF plan, babies will establish healthy sleep patterns.  When Baby is placed in the crib, he is usually awake.  No tiptoeing, breath-holding, or absolute quiet is required.  He may cry for a few minutes or talk to himself, but he will fall asleep without intervention from Mom or Dad.
  • Motion and vibration sleep props – Modern mechanical sleep props rely on specific stimulation to lull a baby to sleep, either when the baby is first showing signs of tiredness or after the baby wakes prematurely. The most common motion sleep prop is the rocking chair.  The question here is not whether you should rock or cuddle your baby.  We hope that happens often!  But are you using rocking or a variety of dancing motions as sleep props?  Other similar props include the vibrating crib mattress and the baby swing.  Some parents have tried the unsafe practice of placing their baby on top of a vibrating clothes dryer.  Of course, when all else fails, there is also the nightly drive with baby in the car seat.  The sound of the motor and the vibrating chassis of the car sends Baby to dreamland, sometimes.  These sleep props work to some extent, but only until the dryer runs out of time, the car runs out of gas, or Mom and Dad run out of patience!  In the short and long run, putting Baby to bed while he is drowsy but still awake facilitates longer and stronger sleep cycles than if placed in the crib already asleep.
  • Sleeping with your baby – Using any of the sleep props just noted may not be the best way to help a child fall asleep and stay asleep, but none of them put a baby at risk. There is, however, one sleep arrangement that has proven very dangerous: sleeping in the same bed with an infant.  Some theorists will tell you bed-sharing with an infant is the ultimate bonding, attachment, and nighttime breastfeeding experience.  It is also deadly!  What do we know about co-sleeping with an infant?  Since 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission have put out medical alerts warning parents of the death risk associated with sleeping next to an infant.  The seven year study tracked the deaths of over 500 infants due to parents lying next to their babies in such a way that they were partially or totally covering them.  Do not be misled by the number; it is a small fraction of actual parental overlay cases occurring each year in the U. S.   This is why co-sleeping with infants may be the ultimate risk decision of our day.  Safe and sensible sleeping arrangements start with baby out of Mom and Dad’s bed.

The best and safest way to help your little one fall asleep and stay asleep is the natural way.  You do not need costly gadgets, a new car, or risky parenting theories.  Instead of a sleep prop, confidently establish a basic routine to promote restful sleep.  Feed your baby, rock and love him, but put him down in his own crib before he falls asleep.


Excerpt taken from On Becoming Babywise by pediatrician Robert Bucknam, M.D. and Gary Ezzo, M.A. (2017 – 6th Edition)

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