Props vs. Sleep Buddies: Is it Your Best Friend or Worst Enemy?

Most of us don’t go to sleep at night when we’re expecting dreaming of all the amazing props we can use to put our soon-to-be-newborns to sleep in a couple months. We usually don’t fantasize of having a cute little bundle of kicks sleeping beside us nursing nonstop for months on end, or of the song-and-dance routines of nurse, rock, pat, shshhhh that we end up falling into.

But fast-forward a couple months and imagine the scene: baby has been crying for HOURS and is simply impossible to get to sleep. And then you’re holding her just so, with her pacifier placed just right and she’s half on your arm and half on your shoulder.

Raise of hands if you WOULDN’T attempt to replicate that exact position the next time you’re trying to get baby to sleep?

No? Not raising your hand? Don’t worry, you’re all in good company.

As we navigate the tricky terrain of parenting and get to know our kids, along with all their cuteness, quirks and, perhaps, frustrating-ness, too, sometimes, we end up doing things that we never dreamed we’d be doing… and end up building props.

Problem with props is: at some point you’ve got to get rid of them. Your kid just can’t cosleep forever, can’t nurse forever, can’t be rocked forever, cant have you come sleep in his bed forever. It’s just not happening, folks.

So we all know all good things come to an end – but all of this propping nonsense can leave a whole lot of tired mothers wondering: which ones are REALLY good and which ones are really no good at all?

What is a Prop?

Let’s take a step back and start with a dictionary definition. Google “prop definition” and you’ll get:

So a prop is something used to support something else — but — notice what’s the end of that sentence: “Typically one that is not an integral part of the thing supported.”

And that’s important – so file that away and hang in here with me.

Let’s take this definition over to sleep. Now, unless your baby is sleeping in a treehouse (highly un-recommended – nursery rhymes have shown that they’re not a safe sleeping environment), I don’t think they’re using a pole or beam to fall asleep.

So when I talk about props and sleep, I’m talking about anything that your child (or you) think that they’re dependant on outside of their own bodies to fall asleep.

Here are some common (and not-so common) props that babies use: 

• Nursing

• Bottle

• Pacifier

• Being rocked

• Being held

• Cosleeping

• Being burped (yes, that’s a real one!)

• Swaddle

• Swing

• Being pushed in a stroller

• Carseat (in or out of the car)

• Being patted, rubbed, stroked, etc.

And here are some common (and not-so-common) props that older babies or toddlers use: 

• Nursing/bottle

• Pacifier

• Sleeping in Mommy’s/Tatty’s bed

• Having Mommy/Tatty sleep in bed with them

• Having Mommy/Tatty/someone else sit outside the bedroom

• Being tucked back in

• Noise machine

• Music

Now you might be thinking: hey, Chaya Shifra, but what about sleeping in a dark room? Or having a lovey? Ahhh, but THOSE, my friend, are sleep buddies.

What’s the diff, you ask? Well, let’s talk about why props are a problem and what the difference is between props and sleep buddies.

Why are props a problem?

It all goes back to the journey to sleep and partial awakenings.

Since we don’t sleep through the night without ever waking at all (not me, you, or anyone’s babies), props just make things tricky.

Like I talked about in the blog post about partial awakenings, when we have those partial wakes – for our babies about every 45 minutes, and for us about every 75 minutes – we do a quick check-in with our surroundings and make sure that everything is still good before slipping right back into the next cycle.

So here’s where props mess things up. If your child uses a prop, they think that they need it in order to fall asleep. Key word: think.

Remember – those props are NOT an integral part of what’s being supported (ie falling asleep), but your kiddo sure thinks they are.

So at some point during the night, they’ll be doing their check-ins, and the partial awakening will be close enough to wakefulness that it’ll look something like this:

“Room dark? Check. Cozy? Check. Not to hot, not too cold? Check. Am I in bed with Mommy? Uh… uuuuummm NO!!! OH NO! I’M NOT IN BED WITH MOMMY!!!! WAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!” (or insert whatever prop your kiddo usually uses.)

So yes, the Naysayers of sleeping through the night are right – if your child is used to falling asleep with a prop, then they will (nearly always) wake to reestablish that prop in the middle of the night. Which, of course, also means that they’re wrong – because if there’s NO prop dependency (and all your other 4 Habits are properly in place), then your child can absolutely sleep through the night (with just partial wakeups, of course).

So why are Sleep Buddies different?

If props are a problem, then why are some things not considered a problem – and are even considered helpful? What’s the difference between a pacifier and thumb-sucking? Why is a dark room okay – and good! – while using a noise machine long-term isn’t?

Sleep buddies – the things that we use to fall asleep that aren’t props – boil down into two categories: the things that we sleep best with because that’s how Hashem set the world up (like darkness), and things that, even though they may be external, will not cause a partial awakening to turn into a complete one (like a lovey).

Let’s take a thumb for example. If your child uses a pacifier to fall asleep, it’s going to fall out at some point during the night. Guaranteed. And even if you put 100 pacis in his crib so that he can just grab the closest one when he wakes, he will still wake for that paci. Which means that sleep is not consolidated A thumb, on the other hand, is attached to your child’s hand, and, while it will also fall out mid-sleep, your child will be able to reinsert it literally half-asleep – during that partial awakening.

Some other Sleep Buddies, like a lovey, a dark room, a cool temperature, window open or closed, socks on or off, fan on, down blanket, etc. don’t interfere with your child’s (or your) sleep and will stay constant the whole night.

She can easily do her check-in, it’ll still be there, and then she’ll go right back into the next cycle.

And some food for thought: you’ve got props and sleep buddies too. So what are your’s and your baby’s props? And what are your sleep buddies?

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Comments (2)
  1. Chaya

    Great post! So why are noise machines bad props long term?

    • Great question, Chaya! A noise machine can be a great tool to use when a child is just learning how to sleep well (such as in the newborn stage or when dropping a prop), but some recent studies caution the use of white noise machines in general. Also, unlike a lovey or blankie that a child is likely to give up at some point, unless weaned off of it young enough, she’s likely to think that she needs it the rest of her life (and yes, I do know adults who need their noise machines!) While, yes, we do all use pillows and blankets and those stay the whole night, you’re likely to be able to find those anywhere, while a noise machine isn’t something that you’ll necessarily *always* have available (think power outage, going on vacation, etc.)

      If it’s not necessary, and not something that we have as a built-in need, and isn’t something the child will outgrow, I’d say better to wean her off of it when she’s younger.

      Hope that helps!

      Chaya Shifra