Contact to independent sleep: Why contact sleep is normal AND how to gently move away from it.Dec 07, 2023
First, let’s chat about WHY contact sleep is normal. And why your baby likely sleeps best while on or next to you.
You are quite literally the perfect sleep environment.
A place where they feel safe, warm, loved, happy and supported. One of your little persons top priorities is to attach to you as their caregiver. The first stage of attachment is through the senses - they are hard wired to be in close sensory proximity to meet these attachment needs.
They feel the safest and most secure (which is what they need for sleep) when they can see, hear, smell, touch, taste you.
From an evolutionary perspective...
Your baby is born utterly helpless and completely dependent on you for their literal survival in fact, anthropologists hypothesise that human babies would ideally have an additional 9 months of gestation to have better neurological and physical development. Just as they are entirely reliant on the mother to meet all of their needs in the day, so too they need this for sleep.
Sleep is, a time of separation and also when they are at their most vulnerable.
Contact supports some other cool things!
- Regulating baby’s heart rate, breathing and temperature
- Calms and relaxes both baby & mums nervous system
- Stimulates and supports the breastfeeding relationship
- Forces us to rest! IMO, part of natures clever way of looking after us as well!
But isn’t contact sleep a bad habit?!
Hopefully with this information, you can confidently scrap the idea that it is a ‘bad habit’ to contact nap or caused by ‘something you’ve done wrong.
It's normal for your baby to sleep BEST in close, sensory proximity which explains why it can feel so hard to make changes, or why their sleep is much more disrupted when we do - because we are quite literally working against nature & the biological norms when we do make these shifts.
But does that mean im stuck?
No! Of course, we can always gently and gradually make changes to things that aren’t working however, change is hard.
This doesn’t mean we can’t make change and more towards more independent sleep, we absolutely can! But something we see so often is families feeling so discouraged or like they are failing when the nap is a lot shorter than it as in contact. Remember, for all of the reasons above, this is to be expected. Any stretch in the cot is a win (if that’s your goal) and thinking about this as a marathon, not a sprint, with lots of understanding about why this is hard for your kiddo can really help!
Okay, now that we know what’s normal, let’s chat about how you can gently and respectfully begin to move towards more independent sleep if that’s whats needed in your family.
Know your why:
The first step to making a big transition is to ‘know your why’. Check in with yourself and make sure this *really* is a decision that you want to make and the right time to making it - make sure this isn’t driven by external pressures.
Making change is hard and babies are co-regulators so we really want to make sure this feels like the right thing for you, at the right time, so that you can have the calm and confidence needed to support your little person through such a big transition.
Their sleep space
Where is your baby going to sleep? Will they be in your room or their own? Will you be using a side cart cot? Cot? Floorbed?
Once you’ve decided, we want to make it comfortable. Sleep is a vulnerable state so we need to really make sure your baby feels as safe and secure as possible in their new sleep space - the more comfortable they feel, the easier this will be!
Spend as much time as you can playing in their sleep space in the day, focusing on things that are happy and connection filled - tickle attacks, peak-a-boo, family dance parties or anything else your both love!
Use the senses - your baby may feel more secure if they can smell you close by so for a few days before this transition pop the sheet in a pile of your clothing and make sure to use the sleep sack they were sleeping in previously as well!
For some families, naps might feel better than nights. If this is you, which nap feels the ‘easiest’? Start with that one and build to the others if and when you want to!
If nights are feeling like the right place to start, aim for just the start of the night or even the first wake and build from there! This doesn’t need to happen for EVERY nap or the whole night. Start with the time you feel most confident and build!
Nail the transfer
Don’t jump right to less hands on settling - its okay if this is a goal for your family, but baby steps! Start with just the transfer and aim to just get baby into their sleep space. This will be easier with a floorbed (you can just lay with your baby) but if you are using the cot, there are some things that might help!
Tips for transfer:
- Make sure baby is in deep sleep. You might feel their breathing slow and their body start to feel heavy - make sure you check for the floppy noodle arm first!
- Try transfer feet first and slowly laying down, or on the side and gently rolling over.
- Try warming the space first with a heat pack. It could be a little jarring from going in your warm arms to a cold sleep space and this might help baby to adjust, just make sure you remove it before you pop them in.
- Layer in sleep associations you can also use in the cot if they stir - shushing, humming, singing and bum pats for example. Don’t panic if they stir, calmly use these tools or even a hand on the chest and a light jiggle
This is a marathon not a sprint!
Remember this is a BIG CHANGE and its complete normal for your baby to sleep their very best in close proximity to you, so naturally, their sleep will likely be a little trickier during this transition - this is okay and honestly a very normal (yest frustrating) part of the process.
It will be so normal for your baby to wake more frequently overnight or to take shorter stretches in their own sleep space for naps as well.
Be flexible with your approach, if you feel they need more sleep and want to resettle, that’s okay! But it's not going to ruin anything to extend as a contact nap either so go with what feels best for you!
Hope this helps, Claire xo
Want more help?! Our Contact To Cot Mini-Course can help!
This minicourse is designed to equip and empower you with everything you need to shift from contact napping and bedsharing in a truly gentle & responsive way! Grab it HERE
- 1 hour Contact - Cot Webinar
- Regular night wakes webinar
- Contact - cot guide
- Regular night wakes guide
- Introducing & changing sleep associations guide
- Managing tears & supporting emotions guide
What's in the main webinar?
- Important considerations before you start - timing, what if they wake more, who will settle, where will they sleep etc
- Cot or floorbed - which is right for my family?
- Make your game plan - 5 steps to *actually* make the shift
- Shifting & introducing sleep associations
- What do I do if they wake more or I can't settle them?
- My baby is so upset - what do I do now?
- What if my baby will only sleep on top of me?
- What if my baby will only sleep latched?
- How to be consistent, but not to a fault
- Troubleshooting the shift - covering the most common questions like what to do if your baby hates transferring, do you need to night wean, will your baby sleep & so much more!
If you're wanting to introduce more independent sleep gently and responsively, this mini-course is for you!
Don't need to move away from contact sleep, but still need help? No problem!
If you need some more support with your baby or toddlers sleep, we'd love to help you!
1:1 Consultations (Worldwide!): HERE
The Gentle Sleep Coach Membership: HERE
Age Specific On-Demand Sleep Guides: HERE