• Martha Lewis

Confessions of a Sleep Coach and The Rule of 3

I held my sick 2-year old while he took a nap the other day. I've cuddled him back to sleep in the early morning while camping a few times. Shocking? Probably not for most people.

But as a baby sleep coach, I don't recommend helping your baby sleep. I think independent sleep is important for children to get the interrupted sleep that they need. And I know the risk of creating a habit that can be hard to break.

But as a mom, I know that sometimes we just want to be with our children while they sleep. Especially if they're sick or up early in the morning.  Sometimes you want to comfort your sick kid even if that means holding him while he sleeps. And I've learned that if your child has good sleep skills, one exception to his independent sleep isn't going to ruin those skills. At least it hasn't yet for me. 

I wrote in a previous post about when Parker was 5 months old and sick and didn't want my help getting to sleep. But now that he's older, sometimes he does seem to want more cuddles and help with sleep when he's sick.

So back to my recent nap story...

We wanted to go camping Lander over Memorial Day weekend. Parker had gotten a cold earlier in the week and wasn't feeling 100%. But we really wanted to join some friends camping and biking and hanging out in the sunshine. 

So we drove halfway to Lander and stayed at a friend's house in Dubois. The next morning, Parker seemed all right so we drove the rest of the way to Lander. We set up the tent for nap time but it was so hot in there that he didn't sleep for long. He was super tired that night and went to bed fine. But he was up throughout the night coughing and calling for mama.

The next day the rain came in so we decided to head home. I wanted him to get a good night's sleep in his crib that night. He napped and fussed on and off on the drive home.

When we got home, he was sleeping. So I carried him inside and laid down on the couch for the next hour and a half. And there we both slept, chest-to-chest. It was really sweet to hold him while he slept.

I knew that if I tried to put him down in his crib, he wouldn't have stayed asleep. He's a great sleeper, but it would have been too much disruption especially since he wasn't feeling well.

What's the point of this story you may be wondering?

If your kiddo is a great sleeper, a deviation from independent sleep every once in a while isn't going to ruin his sleep skills. Parker went to bed just fine that night and for his nap the next day. In fact, he took a 3 1/2 hour nap to make up for the sleep he lost while traveling and being sick. And now he's feeling much better.

Which brings me to my rule of 3!

If you do the same thing with your kiddo 3 times in a row, it's more likely to become a habit. So if I hold him for his naps 3 days in a row, he may decide he likes to be held for naps. If I then try to put him down for a nap in crib on the fourth day, he will probably protest the change. He's now used to being held for naps and won't be happy with being in his crib again. 

You have a choice to make at that point: get through his protesting and back to his independent sleep skills. Or get caught in the trap of him wanting to be held for naps and you holding him for naps. And a few weeks later there's no way out without a lot of protest. 

So here's my advice: don't do anything 3 times in a row that you don't want to become a permanent habit. I don't even take my chances with twice in a row, but that's me.

And I still am too terrified to bring him to bed with me...ever! Especially in the early morning or when he's sick. Because I worry that Parker will decide he likes being in my bed after just one time. And I don't want him there. Not because I don't love him dearly. But because I don't think either one of us will get any sleep.

Even if your little one has become accustomed to sleeping in your bed, or being held for naps, or napping on the go, it's never too late to change. If your child's sleep habits aren't working for you, I can help you get him going to sleep on his own and staying asleep all night. Again or for the first time ever. Because most of the time, sleep problems persist for 3-5 years. And who wants to lose sleep for that long?! Not me! And probably not you! So just give me a call and we can find some solutions.


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Martha Lewis, MS

Jackson Hole, WY



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