Since my second daughter was born, I very often stroll for hours along the streets of New York City. I love holding her close to me and watching her drifting off in dreamland. Whenever a fire truck siren wails or a taxi driver in a hurry honks, I fear that it will startle her. However, she could not care less about the noise. She continues to sleep without any fuss. In fact, the majority of babies have the tendency to close their eyes when they are being gently rocked. That is what we call motion sleep. It involves falling asleep in the car, bouncy chair, stroller, swing or sling.
The problem arises when babies find it difficult to sleep when you put them in bed. Sometimes, it is good for them to have a brief rest when going out. But, they find it difficult to sleep without movement, it becomes a big challenge for the parents.
It happens in too many homes whereby rollers and bouncy chairs are needed to make their babies sleep. It is thus high time we talk about these negative sleep associations and understand why they should be last-resort solutions.
What is so wrong about motion sleep
Getting the habit of taking out the baby for a car ride or a walk with the stroller becomes a common habit for parents. Since the little one falls asleep in the wink of an eye, it has become the standard go-to solution. However, these practices can result in negative sleep associations which can be hard to break. They make it difficult for your baby to fall asleep on its own in the middle of the night. Very often, he will only settle down if you resort the same sleep-inducing remedy used during the day for his naps (car ride, bouncy chair, stroller, swing or sling). The truth is that nobody (even the most loving parents) likes to wake up in the middle of the night to help their child fall back asleep.
In addition, pediatric doctors state that babies who have motion sleeps do not have the right kind of sleep. They probably do not get the deep, more restorative sleep due to the stimulation of motion. Whereas that kind of sleep is essential for the development of their brain.
Think about how you feel when you nod off to dreamland on an airplane. You often have the impression to be more exhausted than before falling in the arms of Morpheus. This is because you did not manage to go through full sleep cycles, and thus enter into deeper sleep. Human beings get the best quality of sleep when sleeping horizontally and remaining still. The brain is then encouraged to go through full sleep cycles and entering into deeper sleep whilst not in any form of motion.
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Is motion sleep in any way useful?
Clearly, motion can be very helpful and efficient to stop the fussing. Babies love to be rocked because they are very familiar with this movement. The womb has indeed been a jiggly place for the fetus during 9 months. It is also a mother’s instinct to lull the baby to sleep. And, let’s admit it, we love these moments because we know they are so little for such a short time.
During the virtual “4th Trimester” (i.e. the three first months), Dr. Karp recommends fast, tiny motions to calm a crying infant. Parents can use a sling or a carrier to swing their baby and create a bond at the same time. At this stage, babies often take short naps as their sleep patterns are still very irregular. Motion sleep can help parents to lengthen their child’s naps duration.
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According to Kim West, a.k.a. the Sleep Lady, “after a newborn’s first 8 weeks, good sleep also means sleep in a crib, bed, or bassinet — not in a car, stroller, or swing“. In order to prepare to make this bad sleep association fade away, I recommend putting a baby in his crib for a nap at least once a day. The morning nap is usually the easiest time.
For babies between 6 and 12 months old, the afternoon nap can become really challenging. Motion sleep can be a good last-resort solution when the time between the end of the afternoon nap and going to bed exceeds 4 hours.
Some parents find it easier just to go out and let their child sleep in the stroller rather than have to fight for a nap in the crib. Occasionally, let him enjoy a catnap while on the go to get through to bedtime.
Having a backup plan, such as a nap in the stroller or in the car, gives you the possibility to avoid having to deal with an exhausted baby at the end of the day. If you force your child to stay up until his usual bedtime, he can become stressed out, overtired, cranky, agitated and difficult to console.
Make sure you do not let him sleep too late to avoid a bedtime disaster in the evening. Wake him up at the latest by 5:00 PM to keep bedtime at the usual time.
Use motion for calming, not napping or sleeping
This past decade, many products helping babies sleep with motion have flood the market. It is recommended you use them on an occasional basis. Just don’t make it a habit. Try as much as possible not to rely on them to help your baby to fall asleep. If your baby starts dozing off thanks to one of the above-mentioned sleep-inducing remedies, move him gently to his crib as soon as you can. This way, your baby will not depend on them to fall asleep, both day and night.
Even if you find them very helpful in a short run, they will not encourage positive sleep associations later on. Trust me on this!
If you would like to get more information on how to improve the quality and / or the quantity of your child’s sleep (and yours at the same time), do not hesitate to schedule a 15-minute preliminary consultation. It is a totally FREE & NON-BINDING offer!