Sleep Associations Make Powerful Tools of Comfort

Poor sick baby. Whiny whimpering cry. Hurting, uncomfortable and feverish. Coughy, nose-running. Two teeth ripping through her bottom gums and the top gums bulging. She tosses and turns and squirms close then pushes away. Her feet kick and her hands move. Her eyes open half-way looking miserable.

Her cry is not an angry cry. It is not a demanding cry. It is not an escalating cry. It is soft and quiet and very little soothes it away. Not play, not nursing. It only silences as I tuck her into the wrap. There she rests her head against my collarbone and her legs stop kicking, her fingers twiddle the heart charm on my necklace, and she falls into a deep and restful sleep.

Yes. She has some strong sleep associations. These are not things that she needs in order to sleep, she can sleep in other ways too. These strong sleep associations are the things that make it so that she can sleep when she is sick, uncomfortable, and in pain. These associations free her up to sleep when acetaminophen or ibuprofen simply take the edge off the hurting and leave behind intolerable discomfort.

She is not crying now. She is nestled head to heart. She is quiet and still. Her fever has cooled against my skin. Her chest rises and falls with slow and peaceful breathing.

Far from being a “bad habit” these sleep associations are a powerful good that ease her hurting and her discomfort and that relax her into the sleep she needs to repair her little body. They are reducing her stress, calming her upset, and transforming her illness from an uncomfortable tear filled place to a  quiet place for healing.

She is not “spoiled” with “bad habits”. She is comforted by powerful tools that we built together from her first day of life. Tools that will stay with us for as long as she is small. Tools that will help her through any pain or illness. Tools that she can internalize the peace of, and carry with her for the rest of her life.

This is why I choose to take it slow and mellow. This is why I choose to wait it out. This is why I choose not to sleep train. The associations themselves will fade over time just as crawling turns to walking and baby talk turns to words. The habit that I’m seeking to build is the lifetime habit of calm, and the understanding that our family is a safe place where needs are met and comfort is freely offered at all times of the day and night.

We do not judge the merit of your sadness or the weight of your need. for comfort and closeness. We understand you to be someone with a strong heart and mind who is small for the briefest of times. And we understand that smallness comes with need and vulnerability.

When you are hurting I say “I would do anything to make you feel better.” The “anything” that I do is comforting you during all those other moments and all those other little things, and all those bedtimes and all those night wakings that happen before you are ready to sleep through the night. The “anything” that I do is making it your deepest habit  to seek comfort when you are uncomfortable. This is a habit that will internalize as you grow and learn your own tools to comfort yourself to this place of calm and peace.

  2 comments for “Sleep Associations Make Powerful Tools of Comfort

  1. Simone
    April 2, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Good one! We’re just at the rail end of a particularly bad cold and we carried our big 25 pound 17 month old in our ergo carrier for naps and getting to sleep at night so much that I ached all over! Now he’s nursed to sleep for a nap and I’m holding him a few extra minutes before sliding him down onto the bed. I love that we’re all sharing thoughts while holding sleeping babies! What a gift these little technological advances and gadgets have given us! :0)

  2. Kristin
    July 23, 2014 at 9:28 am

    My 10-month old us going through a rough patch with sleep, and many other moms have, out of desire to help and support, shared their tips and tricks.

    I try not to have strong opinions about how others choose to parent. People do the best they can. They love their babies and do what they need to to get by, just like everyone else. Just like me. So I don’t judge those who sleep train; I acknowledge that for some families, it’s the right choice, even if it doesn’t work for us.

    Yesterday, a mom shared her sleep training success with me. I was happy for her. Happy that she was getting the much needed sleep she felt she couldn’t parent without. Happy that she saw some light at the end of the sleep-deprivation tunnel. Happy that she and her baby were both relaxed and well rested.

    She said the method she used is all about positive and negative associations. “Like breastfeeding, which is a negative association.”

    I was horrified. It must have showed on my face, because her expression changed, her confidence faltered, and she quickly added, “That’s just what it said in the book.”

    I get that nursing to sleep isn’t for everyone. I understand that night feedings can be difficult. Nursing is the source of our current trouble: my daughter is ready to stop nursing to sleep. It has become that cumbersome, unnecessary crutch that just gets in the way, but baby girl doesn’t understand that yet.

    But to call breastfeeding a negative association? That’s just not cool.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: