Are you about to lose it on the next person who tells you the reason your baby doesn’t sleep well is because you haven’t gotten him accustomed to taking naps with a marching band parading through his bedroom? Or that all you have to do is give him a bottle of “pablum” at bedtime and your night-wake issue will be solved?
While usually very well-meaning, the advice of others on how to manage your baby’s sleep is often both frustrating and (ironically!) exhausting for parents.
Here are eight myths about baby sleep that we’ve busted wide open!
- Your baby will sleep when he is tired: When a baby is tired (i.e. well-rested but ready for sleep) and has healthy, independent sleep habits, then, yes, he will sleep. When a baby is OVER-tired and reliant on sleep “props” (think soothers, rocking to sleep, and midnight car rides!), then this tired baby is likely to have a very difficult time falling asleep. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but it is actually much harder for babies to fall asleep if they are exhausted and overstimulated, rather than well-rested and able to go to sleep easily and peacefully. I recommend cutting the props and allowing your baby to learn to fall asleep on his own, as well as watching for your little one’s tired signs to avoid putting him down for sleep when he is already overtired.
- Babies can’t develop habits: The truth? It’s less about “habits,” and more about the way a baby may learn to fall asleep. For example, if, from Day One, a baby is only every put to sleep by feeding or rocking, then – by four months of age – it is unrealistic to assume that baby will simply and suddenly know how to put herself to sleep and begin sleeping longer chunks at night. Four months is also the point at which your baby has bid a fond farewell to the newborn stage and is much more alert and easily stimulated; this often explains those more frequent night wakes and shorter naps, particularly if baby has developed strong sleep associations with things like feeding or rocking. I recommend working on healthy sleep from the start, by avoiding sleep props whenever possible, and allowing your little one the chance to learn to fall asleep on her own and get healthy rest.
- Your baby’s schedule should revolve around yours, not the other way around: Sorry, parents, but you’re… er… parents Does this mean you will never meet a friend for coffee again, until it no longer conflicts with your child’s nap schedule? No. Does it mean that your baby’s sleep will need to be a priority for proper development? Yes. The good news is this: babies who have healthy, independent sleep habits (and who are not carrying around a big sleep debt) will bounce back much more easily from a blip in their schedule a couple times per week than those babies who are consistently overtired and very dependent on props in order to get to sleep. Getting those healthy sleep habits in place early will help ensure your child is well-rested and able to more easily manage changes to her schedule (once in a while!). It also means your baby will be taking proper naps and sleeping through the night, which means (thanks to Grandparents and beloved babysitters), lots of date nights for mom and dad!
- You will have to “re-sleep-coach” your baby whenever he goes through a new milestone: Nope, this should not be the case. Babies who have strong sleep habits are generally able to get through issues like teething, mild illness, milestones, etc. without a big disruption to their sleep, because they are such solid sleepers. Avoid changing up the way you manage sleep when your child is going through a change or an illness – of course, there may be some extra snuggles and some medicine or homeopathic remedies needed (based on your doctor’s recommendations), but when our little ones are ill or going through a big change, this is when they need healthy sleep the most.
- You should leave the curtains open and run the vacuum under your baby’s crib while he’s napping to ensure he becomes a great sleeper: The next time someone tells you that this is how your baby should learn to sleep, I suggest that you wait until that helpful individual is going to bed and then open the blinds, turn the lights on, and clang some pots and pans around. See how easily they are able to fall asleep in this type of environment. Nuff said.
- Your baby will get addicted to white noise, so don’t use it: If you live on a noisy street, have a loud pet, or your preschooler is running dinky-cars up and down the hardwood floors while your baby is trying to nap, white noise can be a great thing! Because it mimics the womb, white noise feels cozy and homey for babies. It is also very effective at drowning out external noise when your baby is trying to have great daytime naps, go to sleep in the early evening, or trying to get through those early-morning hours of light sleep without the birds waking her up! Don’t be afraid of white noise: Ensure it’s on a level that is loud enough to drown out external noise (think of standing under a hard shower, in terms of volume), but place it about 10 feet from your child’s crib for safety. If/when you wish to stop using it, simply turn it down a notch each night for a week or two until the noise is no longer there!
- Cutting naps will help with nighttime sleep: This is very rarely the case! Overtired babies will generally sleep less and have more disrupted nighttime sleep than babies who go to bed well-rested from good daytime naps (see # 1!). The only times your child’s naps may be interfering with bedtime sleep are when she is on the cusp of a nap transition (e.g. a 6 month old needing to transition from three naps to two; a 15 month old needing to transition from two naps to one; or a 3.5 year old needing to transition to no naps at all.) In these cases, try to watch closely for signs that your child is ready to make a nap transition, and only make the switch once he’s really ready.
- Rice cereal before bed will help your child sleep longer: There is simply no evidence that this works. Period. Your baby’s tummy can be 100% full and, if he does not know how to fall asleep on his own at bedtime, he will still wake not knowing how to fall back asleep on his own during the night. A better solution than the pre-bed cereal regiment is to help your baby learn to go into his crib awake, and fall asleep on his own – this is how our little ones begin to get through the night without wakes, take restful daytime naps, and get all the amazing, healthy sleep they need.
My team and I provide loads of free sleep advice on our Facebook page. We welcome you to follow our tribe of sleep-passionate (or deprived) parents around the globe as we share tips, stories and the straight goods on sleep at WeeSleep and follow me on Instagram and Twitter so we can rock this #sleeprevolution together!