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What is 'Habit Stacking' and how can it help your baby sleep?

Habit stacking is basically sleep training without sleep training. Sometimes also referred to as 'habit chaining' it's been used as a psychological behaviour change tool in adults for decades and makes changing habits so much easier, as we are using an already existing habit to introduce a new one.

baby rocking to sleep in arms

So how can we use habit stacking to help get our baby to sleep?

We all have habits, ranging from which shoe we put on first when we get up in the morning to how we go to sleep at night. When it comes to your baby, he or she may have developed some habits too to go to sleep, like being rocked or fed to sleep. Some kids like to be cuddled to sleep or need an adult to lay with them.

If this is no longer working for you and you are looking at changing your baby's habits, you can use those existing habits to create some more sustainable ones that don't require as much hands-on input from you.

Let's take a baby having to be rocked to sleep. An absolutely beautiful way to settle them to sleep when they are a newborn but once they get a bit heavier it can really take a toll on your back and arms and often is no longer sustainable.

When using habit stacking, you can take the habit of rocking, something your baby already associates with going to sleep, and add a new habit or association on top, like patting their bum. To introduce this new habit, rock your baby but at the same time, pat their bum, too. Soon they will associate patting with sleep too and you can ease off the rocking and settle them in their cot by patting their bum instead of rocking them.

You can add another layer (aka another habit) and offer a comforter at bedtime (from 7 months+), or a sleepy phrase like "time to go to sleep" to then ease off the patting.

By repeating these things over and over again each time you put your child down for a nap or at night, you are creating a habit/association that your child will link to going to sleep. While this may take a few weeks, you have managed to go from always having to rock your child, to now settling them in their cot or even being able to place them in their cot awake and them going to sleep by themselves, without having to 'sleep train' them. If your baby's sleep habits are no longer working for you and you'd like some help, get in touch.

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