One of the cardinal rules for teaching your child to be a good sleeper is to avoid sleep props. Sleep props can create dependence that makes it hard for the child to sleep soundly, and if you ever get caught without the sleep prop, sleep will likely be impossible to attain.
Sleep props can cause such problems that you might think you should never, ever, ever go near one. That line of thinking is not correct. There are times a sleep prop is necessary given the circumstances. There are times what you might think of as a sleep prop should really be looked at as a sleep aid. There are times that a sleep prop is really a necessary tool to help your baby sleep.
Sleep Prop Examples
Here is a list of common sleep props. Not all people would view all of these as sleep props, but they are all a prop in some way:
Sleep Props That Definitely Help
All of the sleep props have a time and place they are needed. Some even have an extended period of time that they are useful. Let's discuss.
- Swaddle: I didn't swaddle my first born, and boy, after doing it with my girls, I would absolutely swaddle Brayden if I did it all over again. Swaddling helps prevent a baby from waking herself up by sudden, jerky movement. This isn't to say every person swaddles. It is okay if you don't. If you do, there is no need to stress over the swaddle being a "prop." When your child is ready to drop the swaddle, it is a smooth process. If you have to drop before your baby is ready for dropping, you might have a few rough days. Using a swaddle will not create a child who can't sleep independently. It is a prop that most babies naturally and easily transition from. The rest require minimal crying. See Dropping the Swaddle for more.
- Sound Machine: I was definitely a parent who worried about the detrimental effects of sleep props when I had my first baby. We lived in a studio apartment essentially (long story--remodeling a house, only the main level was done--no rooms, just open concept. So we all slept and lived in the same big room). So Brayden napped in the room with me. If I wanted to do anything, it was with him right there. And yet I was so afraid of props that I never considered white noise. It wasn't until I had more children that I accidentally realized the benefit of white noise. We used a humidifier because we live in a dry climate. I noticed that when the humidifier was on, it helped block out other noise. Well, when you have a baby and a toddler, there is a lot of noise for that baby! So we did humidifiers. And when the humidifier wasn't needed, we went to official sound machines. Today, each of my children has a sound machine in his/her room. When we travel and don't have a sound machine, it isn't a problem. They can all sleep without the sound machine. The sound is a comfort to them, but it isn't addictive. We use Graco Sound Machine and Dohm (affiliate links). They both have their benefits and merits, and both are great machines.
- Sleep Positioner: A sleep positioner can be very handy for a baby with reflux or a baby who needs more comfort. We used a crib wedge to help prop Kaitlyn up since she had reflux. We also used a SnuggleU with each of our girls (this is something we created, again, to help with Kaitlyn's reflux. The had something similar in the NICU and we wanted her to have one at home). Just like the sound machine, sleep positioners are not adictive. They just help a difficult sleep situation.
Sleep Props that Can Help But Can Also Hurt
Do not be afraid of sleep props for those special circumstances and every once in a while that they are needed. Do be wary of them becoming a habit or a long-term need. Some props might be a habit and you might just decide you are willing to have that habit now and you will deal with the weaning of it at a later date. That is fine--just be aware of the need for a weaning process down the road. Some might require some cry it out, while others can simply be outgrown. Always remember my Sleep Hierarchy for Newborns. Sometimes a prop is just what your baby needs.