Avoiding “Bad Habits”

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The surest way to avoid “bad habits” is to never: start smoking, text while you drive  or swipe Splenda from restaurants (unless it’s Starbucks, they kind of deserve it.). In my opinion, anything that pollutes the air, scums up water sheds or causes someone to feel badly is a bad habit.

Rocking, nursing, bouncing, strollering, carrying or holding your infant to sleep, however, are not bad habits. In fact, between the ages of birth and approximately 14 weeks of age, most infants need your help falling and staying asleep.

I won’t bore you with the evolutionary, physiological, neurological reasons why this is true (next blog?…hmmm). I will say that until approximately 3 ½ months, your baby’s body is not using Melatonin in the same way adults do. Melatonin is a sleep inducing hormone that encourages the onset of sleep. Infants are also neurologically very immature, leaving them prone to the startle reflex and moving around in their sleep. The slow development of strong circadian rhythms doesn’t help matters either.

What this means is that in the first three or four months of life, holding, rocking, strollering, swinging your baby at bedtime and at naps is not a “bad habit” or a “sleep crutch”. It is the logical way to maximizing her sleep. Using these techniques will not condemn you to a lifetime of having to help your child fall asleep or stay asleep. Trust me, I have never seen anyone heading off for college with a rock n’ play tucked under their arm.

I truly understand how exhausting and discombobulating your infant’s sleep is (particularly at nap time). And that you would rather free swim among sharks than thwart your child from developing independent sleep habits.

No one would argue that sleep is really important to growing infants. And many moms have found that keeping their baby’s close, nursing and using safe motion results in more sleep for their baby at this age. Remember, we don’t potty train our infants for fear that they will “never learn” when they are ready. Potty training, introducing solids, riding a bike, filing your income tax forms…our children learn those things beautifully when it is developmentally appropriate. Luckily, the same goes for sleep.


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