The Danger of Sleep Props

Using sleep props to help babies fall asleep is definitely common, especially amongst parents of newborns, but are sleep props really the best thing to help your baby sleep?

Using sleep props to help babies fall asleep is definitely common, especially amongst parents of newborns, but are sleep props really the best thing to help your baby sleep?

The typical infant has the natural ability to sleep through the night sometime by the end of the second month of life. It is an acquired skill enhanced by routine.

Sleep deprivation in infants and toddlers, on the other hand, reflects the absence of that skill being achieved. There are a number of possible reasons for this, but at the top of the list are a variety of sleep props—those 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.


Article Continues Below Advertisement

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:

Sleep Prop #1: 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 Parent-Directed Feeding 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.

Sleep Prop #2: 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.

Sleep Prop #3: Sleeping with Your Baby

Using any of the sleep props just noted may not be best way to help a child fall asleep and stay asleep, but none of them place a baby at risk. There is, however, one sleep arrangement that has proven very dangerous: sleeping in the same bed with an infant. To the point of becoming faddish, co-sleeping with an infant is on the rise. Maybe you are contemplating the practice for your own family. Some theorists will tell you bed-sharing with an infant is the ultimate bonding, attachment, and night- time breastfeeding experience. It is also deadly! What facts 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 Protect 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 that number; it is a small fraction of actual parental overlay cases occurring each year in the U.S.

Read more

Article Continues Below Advertisement

The American Academy of Pediatrics public policy statement reads, “There are no scientific studies demonstrating that bed-sharing reduces SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome]. Conversely, there are studies suggesting that bed-sharing, under certain conditions, may actually increase the risk of SIDS.” Further, in 2005 the AAP Task Force on SIDS labeled shared sleep with infants as a “highly controversial” topic, and called the practice of bed sharing as “hazardous.”

This is why co-sleeping with infants may be the ultimate risk decision of our day. Infant deaths related to unsafe sleeping practices have reached “epidemic” proportions; and every one of those deaths was preventable. Infant deaths from SIDS are tragic, but deaths from parental overlay as a result of following a dangerous parenting philosophy are both tragic and needless. Safe and sensible sleeping arrangements start with Baby out of Mom and Dad’s bed.

So while sleep props may help baby sleep for the short term, if our long term goal is truly to help baby experience longer-lasting, more fulfilling sleep, then you may want to reconsider the role sleep props play in your baby's sleep routine.


Excerpted with permission from On Becoming Babywise by Gary Ezzo, M.A. and Robert Bucknam, M.D., copyright Parent-Wise Solutions, Inc. You can learn more about the Parent-Directed Feeding technique and purchase the book here.

Facebook Comments