Newborns, bigger babies and even toddlers often happily drift off to sleep tucked up in a sling. I am often asked if a baby or child sleeping close to you in a sling will cause a sleep dependency, or if it will mean that baby will only fall asleep on you, or if it will mean baby will not sleep well at night. There seems to be so much pressure from the “world” to separate from our babies as soon as they are born, to ensure that they are able to be put down, or to sleep through the night having self-settled. But there is increasing evidence out there, showing us that closeness and cuddles are critical to the healthy development of our children.
Here are some reasons why it is good that baby falls asleep in the sling next to you. How to enjoy it, embrace it and see the benefits of it. (Note: I’m not a sleep expert, but I am a qualified babywearing consultant and have 4 children, who I’ve never left to cry, we believe in responsive, attachment parenting)
Cuddles, physical contact with a person you love, is an oxytocin trigger. Oxytocin is the love hormone, which is responsible for those falling in love and bonding feelings. "It's like a hormone of attachment, you might say," said Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a clinical psychologist. "It creates feelings of calm and closeness."
Oxytocin released in the brain under stress free conditions naturally promotes sleep according to a 2003 study. The link is that Oxytocin counters the effects of cortisol (stress hormone). It has a calming effect leaving you feeling tranquil and loving which certainly helps our path to sleep
So, if by cuddling our babies to sleep, rocked gently in a sling, oxytocin is flowing they are feeling loved, secure, calm, and tranquil. That’s got to be awesome.
2. Over-tired and over-whelmed.
Sleep promotes sleep, seems almost counter intuitive, right? But an over tired child who has passed the point of needing to go to sleep, will struggle to drop off and even worse they may struggle to stay asleep when they finally do drop off. Babywearing during the day, when life is busy, allows baby to have a safe space to hide away from the world in security and comfort, to drift off to sleep as and when they are ready. (a side note, this is why we really recommend parent facing slings, because it allows this safe space to happen for baby)
3. Catching up and a contact top up
Babywearing is a lovely way of reconnecting for a child and parent. Especially when, perhaps because mum has gone back to work, they have been apart for the day. Being held and cuddled, letting go of the day, and just being together, tops up their need for physical closeness. This is important for those children who are very sensitive to their need for hugs as a sign of love. (check out love languages for more information https://www.amazon.co.uk/Love-Languages-Children-Secret-Effectively/dp/0802412858/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1488888660&sr=8-2&keywords=5+love+languages)
4. Growth and brain development
When a baby can rest in a well-fitting sling, respectful of their physical needs, they can relax fully, completely supported. They can redirect their bodily energy into growth. More so, when they are sleeping soundly in a sling, with oxytocin countering any cortisol, the brain development is optimal. Studies have shown that the effect of cortisol on the brain in the early years of child development can stunt brain growth. A happy sleeping baby, is a baby whose brain development is as it should be.
5. Health reasons
Reflux, colic and dietary intolerances can be very real reasons that cause babies to struggle with sleep. Using a sling as a tool to help cope with these health needs can be beneficial and allow baby to sleep or at least settle before sleep comes naturally. A baby in a sling held upright is comforted by the gentle sway and warmth of mum or dad while gravity helps keep the food or milk down.
Naps times in bed are awesome, I do love that sense of freedom and victory when my baby will snooze peacefully in her bed. But there are so many times that she will need sleep at a time that we need to be out and about (school runs, sling meets, shopping etc.). By having her used to sleeping in the sling means she is super flexible and can sleep as she needs, avoiding that over tired state.
7. Understanding the difference between night and day
Sometimes we can worry that a baby may sleep too much in the sling during the day and then not sleep well during the night. My experience has been that baby can become attuned to the rhythms of day time as they are participants in day to day life of the babywearer. Therefore, they are taking part in the differences of day and night, while enabling nap times.
Babyworn babies often feed more. This is especially true for breastfed babies as they are held close to their source of food. Encouraging peaceful naps and lots of feeds during the day is a good thing.
8. Developmental leaps
Having had 4 babies, I have seen, repeatedly how a developmental leap in baby can disrupt their sleep. While they are going through huge learning, as their world changes, they need reassurance that it is all ok still. Snoozing in a sling gives baby that physical closeness, which provides reassurance and comfort while letting baby get some much-needed sleep. (I’m writing this while Anna is going through leap 5, needing way more sleep cuddles than just a few weeks ago, Find out more here https://www.thewonderweeks.com/)
A note on safety. Although babywearing can be amazing in getting babies off to sleep happily, it is never safe to use a sling in bed. Always follow safe babywearing and safe sleeping advice. My hope is that by enjoying babywearing naps during the day it nurture a secure baby, who only feels love and security when it comes to sleep.
There will be times when you hear something that may make you doubt your commitment to attachment, responsive parenting. There will be times when you crave some personal space. Remember the goal is a happy sleeping, well nurtured baby. Parenting is hard enough, when there is a tool which you can use peacefully to facilitate sleep, use it!