Occasionally, I get an e-mail asking whether a crib aquarium (or something like it) will help your baby sleep and whether it is a good investment, so I thought I’d write an article about how you can make positive sleep associations to help your baby sleep.
A sleep association is how your baby (and everyone really) falls asleep. Your baby might “need” a pacifier, to breastfeed, to be bounced on an exercise ball, to be in a swing, to be rocked to sleep, etc. I have heard almost all of them, I’m sure. These are all sleep associations that are generally what I call “negative” in that they need to be “redone” all night by YOU and then your baby won’t sleep in long stretches. It is not something your baby can do independently (in the case of the swing, that isn’t true, but moving sleep is not as restorative). These things aren’t “bad” if you do it once at bedtime and your baby sleeps well the rest of the night, but if your baby is waking up a lot at night or taking short naps, then it’s not good for either of you. Please know that I breastfed each of my boys for a year, so in no way do I think breastfeeding is “negative” or “bad” in the strictest sense!
This website strives to help you change these sleep associations. That is generally the first thing to tackle, but one of the hardest things to do, of course.
One of the first and most important steps is to have a strong bedtime routine. This, unfortunately, is only the first step, but an important one. The reason it’s so important is not only to make your baby or toddler sleepy, it also sets expectations. If your baby starts the night a certain way, they will often expect the rest of the night to go the same way.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but The LeapFrog Hug & Learn Baby Tad would become a very effective part of our bedtime routine. This wasn’t something that happened overnight and it was just by accident, but one thing I really like about The LeapFrog Hug & Learn is the nighttime music it plays when you press his right hand. Each time you press it, it adds a minute to the music up to 6 minutes (my biggest complaint is that it’s only 6 minutes! Why not at least 15?). This led to two very important steps in our routine:
1. My son (the younger and “easier” of the two, mind you) started to associate the music with sleep. We’d do the rest of our bedtime routine and the last thing I’d do is lay him down and turn on The LeapFrog Hug & Learn (we started calling him just Tad). The music would start playing and within 2-3 minutes he was yawning and his eyes would start to get heavy. It was great! Once he became a toddler and resisted sleep a little more (didn’t want to stop playing), he’d want to turn him off because he knew what it meant. It was a hoot, actually!
2. One tricky thing when you are sleep training is knowing when to put down your baby or toddler and when to leave. One great thing that we established with Tad is when the music stopped, mommy left. Again, this didn’t happen overnight and takes a lot of consistency, but we got into a groove such that we’d cuddle, I’d play the music, I’d put him down, I’d kiss him good night, and walk out. A little confession is on some nights when I was really tired, I set it to 4 minutes, instead of 6. Ssshhh! 😀 Having that final step gives you a distinct end to the routine, keeps you accountable, and gives him or her something to expect. It really helps to avoid dragging out the routine to find that “perfect” drowsy, but awake state.
Now, we received The LeapFrog Hug & Learn as a generous gift when my younger son was just a baby. I had NO idea it was so expensive until I was passing the link on to a client not too long ago! Had I been the one contemplating the purchase, I’m not sure I would have made it. But, seeing how much he used it for 2+ years (we mostly stopped when he was 3), it was a really great toy to have! The non-sleep learning is good, too, teaching colors, shapes, and cause & effect where they learn to press the flashing lights to get a different song (if you choose a non-flashing one, it just says the shape/color of the one you pushed). It is still pricey, but when I look back at the easy bedtimes with him and how much use we got out of it, I’d recommend it in a heart beat. But, Tad is not the only one that can have the same effect.
LeapFrog also makes a product called My Pal Scout, which ironically, my same son received as a gift last Christmas. It’s great how you customize it with your child’s name and it, too, has a “sleepy time music” option. The major drawback of this one is that it’s LOUD, the voice is a little robotic, and the light that flashes is way too bright to ooze “soothing” but my son really liked this one, too. We probably got this one too late to say whether it would have worked as well for the bedtime routine we had with the Hug & Learn, but it’s a lot less expensive.
Both boys also had crib aquariums, which they both LOVED and I highly recommend, if your baby won’t self-entertain for hours upon hours. They were eventually old enough to turn it on themselves and I’d occasionally hear it go on in the middle of the night. The Hug & Learn is possible for a child to eventually figure out what to press (and be strong enough to do it), but not as likely until much older and even then, when he could do it, he’d often only press the hand once, which is just one minute. Before they could turn the aquarium on themselves, we only turned it on after feedings in the middle of the night. We did NOT make a new sleep association where we had to turn it on all night like you might replace a pacifier. That would defeat the purpose. My youngest had the Fisher-Price Rainforest Waterfall Peek-a-Boo Soother, which we gave away in our 12 Days of Christmas Sweepstakes on Facebook last year (a brand new one, not his!). His big brother had the Fisher-Price Ocean Wonders Aquarium, but it didn’t have the remote back then. I am on the fence about the remote. On the one hand, I think it could be VERY helpful to be able to turn it back on after the run time, if baby is not asleep just yet (especially since it was rare that either of my boys were completely asleep once the music/lights went off). But, on the other hand, I would not want to wake up every two hours, for example, just to press a button (for you Lost fans, that is way too much like Desmond’s job). I guess I would use the remote sparingly, at bedtime and just after feedings. We also turned off the light portion most of the time, especially for our very perceptive sleep-fighter.
Will the LeapFrog Hug & Learn, My Pal Scout, or a crib aquarium solve all of your sleep problems? Probably not, unfortunately, but it, or something you find that works for your little one, can be another tool in your toolbox.