Newborn Crutches and Why They Fail

Written by Nancy Hamm cancs, caisc
June 2017

The common mantra is “I will do anything to get my child to sleep.”  The bigger question is, so how is that working for you?

Sleep deprived parents will try any method to get their child to sleep.  Some use age-old methods like rocking them to sleep.  Others bounce them on a ball, put them in the swing, walk them, take them for a ride in the car, feed them to sleep, insert pacifier as often as necessary, put them in the stroller and last but not least, sleep them on their chest.

If one of those methods is working for you, I am not going to try and talk you out of it.  I will ask you, however, if you are willing to do that for the next two or three years?  I have parents contact me all the time saying “I thought eventually he/she would sleep on their own.”  I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the truth is if you child is not sleeping well on their own by four months the chances of it happening are very slim.  Children do not know how to fall asleep on their own and must be taught self-soothing methods in order to accomplish this.  Although it is instinct to sleep, it is not instinctual to know how to go back to sleep.  This is an art that needs to be taught.

When you are doing one of the above methods to get your child to sleep, you are providing them with the tool they will need for the next two to three years to go to sleep.  You are also developing a sense in them that will enable them to need a crutch to sleep into their adult years.

When a baby is born, they are born with no preconceived ideas of what they need to soothe them.  With the habits you instill, you teach them what is necessary for sleep.  It takes a newborn three times to learn a habit.  Not three days, three times.  Try it.  If you give a baby a pacifier three times in a row while he is fussing, and the fourth time you do not, the child will cry until you reinsert the pacifier.  If you feed your baby and allow them to sleep on your chest for three feeds in a row and the fourth time you decide to take a shower after the feed and put the child in his crib, he will cry until you pick him up and put him on your chest.  It is learned behavior.  So now for that baby to go to sleep without any crying they will need to sleep on your chest.

Now let’s look at the other side of the spectrum and watch a mother who feeds her child, swaddles him and places him in his crib to sleep.  He may fuss one to three minutes, but Mom knows he is fed, dry, tired and burped, so instead of running to him, she is going to give him a time to soothe himself to sleep.  He does it easily, and his learned behavior is exactly what we just described.  This Mom has an easy-to-care-for child.

There is a bit of bad news here.  For the parents who have already developed crutches to get their child to sleep, it is much more difficult to un-crutch them.  Because habits have been formed and the child is now dependent on those crutches, they will not understand when you want to take them away.  Crying is the inevitable result of breaking those habits.  I would advise you to break them now before they get even more difficult to break.  The longer you wait, the harder it is to break them.

For more information or help, you may contact Nancy at

Nancy Hamm is an Advanced Certified Newborn Care Specialist and Infant Sleep Consultant with 28 years in the newborn field.  Ms. Hamm teaches newborn care to students in on-line and in-person classes through Gentle Venture’s Training Center.  She has worked with preemies, twins, triplets, quads, and sextuplets along with the most precious babies imaginable.  Nancy has never left a 12-week job with a baby who is not sleeping through the night 10 – 12 hours.  She travels the United States for round the clock jobs.  She resides in Phoenix, AZ.

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