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What is Baby-Led Sleep?

By June 14, 2022October 10th, 2022Gentle Parenting, Most Popular, Sleep Deprivation4 min read
Ubuntu Baba Baby Carriers | South Africa

Nicole Trautman and Riley, photographed by Kevin Sawyer.

Sleep Training is not a Rite of Passage. A baby-led sleep approach supports you and your baby in finding settled sleep without abandoning your instincts and nurtures your relationship and attachment with your little one.

As new Moms, we are bombarded with so much conflicting information. While pregnant, you’re told, “Sleep now while you can”, then when your baby is just a few weeks old you’re asked, “Is she a good baby? Does she sleep through?” 

Ubuntu Baba Baby Carriers | South Africa

Nicole Trautman and her son, Riley.

It has become quite commonly accepted or advised that a parent must train their baby to sleep independently from a young age or they will “learn bad habits”, or my personal favourite, “never learn to sleep independently.” Of course, we know that this is simply not the case. Sleep is not a skill; it cannot be taught. Sleep training is underpinned by a behavioural approach; and as such utilizes separation-based methods to change behaviour. These range from full extinction cry-it-out to Ferber, timed checks, withholding eye contact and many variations in between. However, it is typically packaged as teaching the skill of independent sleep; which it is not. It is purely eliminating the calls for their parents overnight when they wake and have a need (any need, all needs are valid). There is much evidence coming out not to show that many sleep-trained babes still wake just as frequently as their untrained counterparts.  

There is a huge misconception that babies should be independent – they should fall asleep independently, play independently and sleep through the night independently even before they can sit independently, let alone stand, walk or talk. None of this is in line with our biology, with how we are hardwired to develop. Human babies are born prematurely, and their instinct is to keep their caregivers close to ensure their survival. In the first year of life, as Developmental Psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld outlines, they attach to their primary caregiver through sensory proximity. By experiencing their caregiver on a sensory level (touch, smell, sight, sound or taste) they are reassured that they are safe. 

The Baby-Led Sleep Approach supports the natural instincts of both baby and Mom and would never tell you that you are creating any bad habits by keeping your baby close to you, contact napping, safely bedsharing or babywearing for naps (or any other time that this feels good!). 

So, what then is the Baby-Led Sleep Approach? 

Developed by Lauren Heffernan of IslaGrace Sleep and the Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist Certification, this approach honours your baby’s normal development and empowers you as a parent to follow your instincts, all while supporting your connection, attachment and relationship with your babe. It is an approach rooted in developmental theory, unlike Sleep Training which is rooted in behaviourism. It is a holistic approach that works to determine the root cause of your sleep challenge; rather than extinguish your child’s calls for support overnight. This approach considers age-appropriate realistic expectations of your baby while educating and empowering the parent to make changes to optimise sleep. The Baby-Led Sleep Approach does not use or endorse any form of sleep training or separation-based methods. 

The Baby-Led Sleep Approach celebrates you and your baby’s relationship and ensures that by tuning in to their cues and what they are communicating to you, you as the parent are best able to support them. Following your baby’s lead does not mean that you are not “in control” – it means you are working with your baby at a pace and level relevant to where they currently are. This is liberating, freeing you as the parent from the pressures and stresses to “make” your baby do and be something they are not capable of, all while optimising and finding settled sleep for both you and your baby. 

Ubuntu Baba Baby Carriers | South Africa

Nicole Trautman and Riley, photographed by Kevin Sawyer.

Nicole Trautman

Nicole Trautman is an Occupational Therapist, Certified Paediatric Sleep Support Specialist and mother of an energetic, strong-willed and highly sensitive toddler. With attachment at the root of her approach, she supports families to find settled sleep without any form of sleep training, empowering parents to lead and guide their children with confidence while holding boundaries and nurturing attachment. The work she does with families goes far beyond just sleep. To learn more about Nicole and the Baby-Led Sleep Approach, visit www.beyondtheirdreams.com.

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