Five Common Myths about Baby Sleep – BUSTED
Here I’m going to break down five common myths you’ve no doubt heard or read about, surrounding baby sleep. Because, let’s face it, the internet is full of questionable information and sometimes it’s hard to establish myth from reality.
And the myths can start early. Welcome to baby advice overwhelm! But you already know you shouldn’t take everything you read or are told as fact, don’t you?
Baby Advice Overwhelm!
For me, the baby advice started as soon as I announced I was pregnant. People would come up to me and give me their opinion on how I should prepare for breastfeeding (start tweaking those nipples – ummmmm), the best methods for settling and what to really expect during the birth (no NOT ready yet, thanks).
And then I gave birth to my first child… And shortly after, I was equally buried in advice, suggestions, and information.
I know this was all thrown at me with the best intentions, but it was still overwhelming.
Until you’ve been there, you can’t imagine the number of times you’ll hear the words, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You’ve got to.” If there’s no such number as a “kagillion,” it should be created specifically to measure the number of suggestions a new mum receives in her first year of motherhood. Have you been there?
When you’re thrown into motherhood, you’re in warts and all. And there’s really no such thing as being a casual mum. This gig is full-time. It doesn’t matter if you’re a working mum, a stay-at-home-mum, or somewhere in between. Your children are on your mind 24/7, no matter what else might be going on.
And so it’s fair to say most of us tend to do some research to try and counteract these feelings of overwhelm and insecurity. And with access to unlimited data via the internet, coffee groups, and your Mum or Mum-in-law, it’s inevitable that you’ll get some (maybe a lot of) conflicting information.
Sorting Fact from Fiction
To help you sort fact from fiction, I’m going to focus on MY area of expertise, sleep. I’ll try to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in Mummy groups, online parenting forums, and heard talked about in coffee groups. Here they are:
1. Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.
Now this one is not likely, except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with the length of their naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until around 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2 – 21/2 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour.
What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sleep for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually just the opposite. Sleep really does beget sleep.
The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear again, which keeps them from falling asleep and staying asleep. A baby who has received a decent amount of zzz’s during the day is far less likely to get overtired.
There are considerable variations in play depending on your baby’s age and the length of their naps, but up to that 6 month mark, it’s really not uncommon for a baby to be sleeping up to 5 hours a day, outside of nighttime sleep. So if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.
2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night, regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a child to be sleepy. What you can teach however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently.
The typical “bad sleeper” doesn’t need less sleep, and they’re not more prone to waking up. They’ve just learnt to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, they’ll start stringing those sleep cycles together absolutely effortlessly, and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night” as most parents understand it.
3. Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule.
Hmmm, when teaching self settling and putting good sleep habits in place, I do look to see a baby’s natural rhythm emerge. But the idea that infant physiology is flawlessly programmed to regulate their schedule from the start .. well… Some say it’s laughable. Nothing against Mother Nature, but she doesn’t provide us with a ready-to-run baby like she does with say, the blue wildebeest. (Seriously, these creatures can stand up and run with the rest of the herd within 7 minutes of being born, and they can outrun predators within a day). Our babies are cuter, but they’re clearly not as prepared as the wildebeest for independent survival straight out of the womb.
Human babies need extensive care and help with their development. And their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep window by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase which causes a surge in energy, and things quickly spiral out of control. So, as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep themselves when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way a lot of the time.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, you definitely should! But sometimes the cues can be misread, so you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
I say No to this. And this isn’t just my opinion here. Some information comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics (the big authority). They’re a pretty reliable source of baby health information.
According to a 2016 study conducted by eight of their top researchers, behavioral intervention, (A.K.A Sleep training) “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” Not a whole lot of gray area there.
And really, a baby or child who isn’t sleeping well can actually do a lot of damage to the maternal relationship. But that’s another story.
5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Quite rightly, babies will still wake, yes. This ties back to points 2 and 3. Remember how we all wake at night, and how a baby needs help with their development. Well, trusting your child’s physiology alone, fully trusting it to dictate their entire sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing, really can be a recipe for disaster.
Is your toddler designed to eat a whole bag of gummy lollies? Surely not. Will they, if you don’t intervene? Without a doubt.
Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years, and probably will for a good decade after that. This is especially true when it comes to their sleep. Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers for sure, but don’t rely on the advice of those who tell you that babies should dictate their schedules if it’s not working for you.
You’re in charge of determining your child’s social schedules, because you know best (even if it may not feel like it sometimes).
It’s important to get the facts straight
Really, there are plenty of myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits; but the ones I’ve mentioned above are some of the most important to get the facts on.
Remember, there are endless social media posts and websites that portray themselves as factual, but there’s nothing stopping them from making that claim, regardless of their accuracy or basis in actual scientific evidence. Google scholar is a great place to find peer-reviewed scientific study on all things baby-related, and trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, the World Health Organization, and other children’s health organisations are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health.
If you’d like more information about the benefits of sleep (I’m willing to talk about it endlessly if given the chance), please book in a free initial call (I promise I won’t do all the talking if you book a call with me). Make sure you’re following me on Instagram and Facebook for some great sleep tips. And, if you haven’t already, you may like to download my “five steps to getting your baby to sleep through the night” guide.
Because everyone needs a good night’s sleep!