A general guideline is to allow an infant about five or six months old to establish her own sleep habits. By then, most children have the neurological maturity to sleep more soundly. When your child is between fur and six months old, begin to encourage the sleep association you value.
The following is a discussion of the sleep associations that most commonly cause problems.
Feeding. The child who is nursed or fed to sleep learns to need the calming that comes from eating, sucking, and being held. If she rouses during the night, she will call for more of the same. She may also wake seeming “rested” with a burp after 20 minutes, but she will not be establishing dependable routines.
As she loses that newborn drowsiness, begin to keep her awake during feedings (easier said than done for some babies) or purposely rouse her while laying her down so that she knows she is falling asleep in her own bed, not in your arms.
Sucking. Pacifiers help some children settle themselves to sleep. Be aware that their use after ‘about three or four months means that this habit will eventually need to be unlearned.
Rocking. Rocking is a pleasant, calming experience for both child and parent, but it can be a strong sleep association. One alternative is to rock a child to soothe and lull him, but not put him into a full sleep. Or rock until it ceases to be soothing—perhaps at four or five months with the sociable child, or later, as mobility increases, when she squirms to get down to play.
Children love to “nest”—that is, move around in bed until it feels just right. If we confine them by rocking, walking, or whatever, we deny them this winding down pleasure. If you are a “pillow fluffer” yourself, you will understand.
Loveys. Many children become attached to special blankets, stuffed anim or toys. “Loveys” make it easier to sleep without parents. To avoid the pai of a lost or forgotten lovey, make more than one available (buy matchi blankets) or make it so general that a replacement might not be noticed.