Experts refer to a “sleep crutch” as an external aid that is needed to help your child get to sleep. Examples of sleep crutches include nursing, bottle-feeding, rocking, and having a parent lie down with a child until she or he falls asleep. These activities are considered negative because a child can’t do them for himself or herself.

In sleep coaching, you are working on phasing out sleep crutches and replacing them with positive associations such as twirling hair, stroking a favorite blanket, humming, or singing.

However, once you decide to embark on sleep coaching your child over four months of age, it is essential to remain consistent throughout the process. Sending mixed messages — a practice known as “intermittent reinforcement” — regarding sleep habits will only frustrate and confuse your child. He or she won’t be able to decipher which behavior merits reward and which behavior doesn’t. This is particularly true of a child who’s more than 1 year old.

Here are three examples of intermittent reinforcement to avoid:

1. “Sometimes I feed you to sleep, and sometimes I don’t.” For example, you may nurse your baby to sleep, then feed again if they wake after 10 p.m., rock the baby to sleep if they wake again before 1 a.m., and then finally bring the baby into your bed out of desperation. This causes confusion. Instead, work toward putting your child to bed drowsy (but awake) and responding consistently throughout the night.

2.“Sometimes I’ve let you cry for 15-30 minutes because I was desperate, but then I couldn’t take it anymore, went in, and rocked you to sleep.” This will actually train your child to cry until you give in.

3. “Sometimes I bring you into my bed — but only after 5 a.m.” Please remember that your child can’t tell time. Why wouldn’t he or she expect to come to your bed at 2 a.m., if you bring them in after 5 a.m.?

Phasing out a sleep crutch can be as challenging for the parent as the baby. After all, you have also come to rely on the magic of rocking, nursing, or pacing your child all the way to the Land of Nod.

Children crave consistency at bedtime (and all the time, for that matter). When they know what to expect and what’s expected of them, it reassures them and helps them feel safe.


  • Regardless of the sleep training method you choose, be consistent.
  • Be sure to create your sleep plan together with your partner during the day.
  • You can expect significant improvement in just 7-10 days with consistent sleep coaching.

Last reviewed by Kristie Rivers, MD, FAAP. Review Date: June 2021


  1. Kim West, LCSW-C. The Good Night Sleep Tight WORKBOOK.


  1. I’m half a decade late, but this is so sad. I don’t care if someone is a supposed qualified individual, I disagree completely! Babies don’t “crave” consistency at bedtime. They crave their parents touch. At four months old, before 4 months, and long after 4 months. Replacing their NEEDs with objects; lovey, binky, blanky, or even hair twirling IS A CRUTCH. I will never understand how a mother can ignore her internal motherly instincts, and listen to these so-called experts. Not only on this topic, but many others too.
    Is there any evidence behind this post? Or is it an opinion piece?

    1. Wow, I just realized that the words “favorite blanket” are highlighted to take you to antoher blog that gives advice on getting your child to give up their “lovey”. 🤦🏼‍♀️ Lovey’s are crutches. Babies needs are not.

  2. I know now that I should have gotten my daughter into a routine to fall asleep by herself a long time ago, but here we are at 9.5 months and she just won’t lie down when she’s tired. She whines until she’s managed to sit back up and then plays. Should I just sit and sing to her while she’s playing and let her get to a point where she’s ready to lie down by herself? We had a ‘good’ routine before (even though I would rock her to sleep), but about a month ago she started fighting me as soon as I would turn off the light.

    1. Hi Susi, It does sound like you may have to consider some gentle sleep coaching. Have a soothing pre-sleep routine and place her in the crib awake and stay with her offering physical and verbal reassurance until she is asleep– without doing anything consistently which can become the new sleep crutch such as patting to sleep. Since she knows how to sit herself back down and then lay down I would not do this for her. Respond the same way to each waking during the night. If you need support, consider hiring a trained sleep coach. Good luck!

  3. Any suggestions on phasing out the controversial pacifier? My 2 year old has had (at least) one pretty much from birth, but by 6 months or so, we have ONLY used them for naps, car rides, and bedtime. We recently took him to a pediatric dentist who suggested getting rid of the paci completely ASAP. I’m due with Baby #2 in just a month, and I don’t necessarily want to rock the boat too much all at once, but I am open to “gently” phasing out the paci over the next few months.

      1. Thanks for the advice! He actually doesn’t wake up at night when the paci falls out, so it will probably be a good idea to start there. Naps are another story. I think naps will be much harder. He actually sleeps in a “big boy” bed at night but refuses to even entertain the idea for a nap, so he sleeps in his crib (soon to be the new baby’s crib) for naps. I haven’t pushed the subject yet because naps keep me sane! 🙂 He will be 2.5 when the baby is born, so I will probably just wait to really force the issue. I just don’t want to throw him off too much with the new baby coming and all. I’m having the same reservations about potty training! I’m hoping he’ll suddenly decide to be a big boy once the baby comes! 😉


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