Top 10 Baby Sleep Myths & The Real Deal
This is how it goes, right? You have a baby. The advice comes pouring in from well-meaning family and friends and even strangers! (lucky us!) People ask “is she a good baby?” (what does that even mean?!) If you express your baby is having challenges sleeping, even more advice comes flowing in, usually around baby sleep myths.
As a child sleep coach, I hear them every single day from parents and in Facebook groups! Although family and friends have good intentions, sharing these sleep myths is usually counterproductive.
Below, I’m going to share the real deal so you can get to the bottom of your child’s sleep challenges.
Baby Sleep Myth #1: Your baby must be hungry and that’s why they are eating all night long
This one is followed by “put oatmeal or rice cereal in the bottle to help your baby sleep longer.” This advice can be downright dangerous and goes against the AAP’s recommendations around feeding.
Newborns have very small stomachs and therefore need frequent feeding around the clock. But after about 4 months of age, babies can go longer periods between feedings at night and are able to sleep for longer periods. Sleep is influenced more by brain maturity and less by having a full tummy.
Some babies will continue to need a night feed or two. Althought if your baby is up every 2 hours all night long, it isn’t because they are hungry. A more likely explanation is that they haven’t yet developed self-soothing skills.
The real deal: Check in with your pediatrician for guidance on how many feedings your child actually needs at night. Focus on meeting your baby’s nutritional needs during the day. Then focus on giving your child the opportunity to develop self-soothing skills for night waking outside of those required feedings.
Baby Sleep Myth #2: Your baby must be teething
This one is SO POPULAR!
Teething affects some babies more than others, but if your child has unhealthy sleep habits, you can’t blame teething. What more likely is that your baby hasn’t yet learned to self-settle or they are overtired, hence why they are up all night.
Studies show that parents think teething affects their children more than it actually does and it becomes a catch all for sleep problems.
A little-known truth is that well rested children are less affected by teething than their overtired counterparts!
The real deal: If your child is having a difficult time with teething during the day, they’ll likely be uncomfortable at night. Use whatever method you and your pediatrician have agreed on to treat teething symptoms. For all other sleep challenges, come up with a plan to help your child to develop healthy sleep habits and to learn to self soothe.
Baby Sleep Myth #3: Keep your baby up later at bedtime and they’ll wake later in the morning
This one seems logical, right? Keep in mind that baby sleep isn’t logical; it’s biological.
If you’ve tried this one, you’ve probably witnessed that a later bedtime usually results in an earlier wake time.
If babies go down overtired, it can result in a what I call the overtired downward spiral. This includes difficulty settling at bedtime, night wakings, more restless sleep and an early wake time. All of this results in cranky, overtired children, which are no fun!
The real deal: Get your baby to bed before they are overtired with an age appropriate bedtime
Baby Sleep Myth #4: Stop giving your baby naps so they’ll sleep better at night
Remember the overtired downward spiral from above? Reconsider skipping naps and limiting day sleep to less than the daily recommended minimum, because it will result in your baby being overtired. This results in the opposite effect and will cause even more frequent night wakings. Better day sleep = better night sleep.
The real deal: Ensure your child is getting their recommended daily daytime sleep needs met, which will help them to sleep more peacefully at night.
Baby Sleep Myth #5: You should never wake a sleeping baby
This one is a toughie, right, especially if you are exhausted and would love to sleep in!?
This is going to sting… If you want your baby to get their daytime sleep, you will need to wake your child to keep them on an age appropriate schedule.
If we let them sleep too late in the morning or for any one nap, it can throw the whole day’s schedule off and make sleep less restorative. Less restorative sleep means babies can become overtired and it can again cause the overtired downward spiral.
For babies 8 months and under, ensure that their last nap of the day ends by 5:00 pm. For babies 8 months plus, ensure that they are awake by 3:00 – 3:30 pm. If we let the last nap go too long, it can push bedtime too late.
The real deal: After about 4-5 months of age, wake your baby by 7:00 am to start their day off right. Wake within a reasonable time for their last nap to preserve bedtime.
Baby Sleep Myth #6: Keep the nursery (and your house) quiet
Take a second to think about how loud it was in utero for your baby…blood pumping, heart beating, stomach digesting, hearing the outside world. It feels really strange for babies to try to sleep in a really quiet environment.
As newborns develop into infants, they also begin to develop FOMO (fear of missing out). Meaning if they can hear anything going on in the house, they would much rather hang out with you than take a nap or go to bed.
What else wakes babies: all. the. packages. from Amazon. Your neighbor that loves to mow his lawn at 1:00 pm. Your adorable barking dog. Your toddler. The list goes on and one! This is the sign we used and it helped…
So aside from a sign what can we do?
White noise can be your savior! It can blocks sounds coming from outside the nursery, helping your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep. Even if you have a toddler marching band in the living room! I highly recommend these white noise machines.
The real deal: Add a sound machine to your little one’s sleep space. This will help your baby to fall asleep and stay asleep through regular household and environment noise.
Baby Sleep Myth #7: Keep the blinds and curtains open so your baby knows day from night
There is some truth to this myth because you want to introduce your baby to bright light during their awake periods, but when it is time for sleep, you want a dark sleep environment.
A dark nursery can help your baby to settle into sleep easier, sleep longer for naps and sleep later in the morning. Why? The darkness tells our bodies to produced melatonin (our sleepy hormone), which is imperative for healthy sleep.
The real deal: Invest in an awesome blackout solution to help your little one to get restorative sleep. Scan the sleep environment for white or blue light sources and remove or cover the lights.
Baby Sleep Myth #8: Maybe your baby is afraid of the dark
Our first memories are usually around 3 years old and this is also when nighttime fears start to peak. You may think back to your early childhood and remember being afraid of the dark. Then we think “maybe my baby is afraid of the dark and that’s why they aren’t sleeping well. Let’s add a nightlight!”
Children’s imaginations start to explode around 2 years of age so take a deep breath and unplug the nightlight! Until they, developmentally they have no concept of fear.
If your child is upset when you go in their room to put them down, it is likely because they don’t want you to leave, your little one is dependent on you to put them to sleep and/or they’re overtired.
Quick tip – create some positive associations with your little one’s room and crib by playing in there outside of sleep periods. Play peekaboo in the crib and bring in their most favorite toy to play with on the floor.
A night light isn’t going to help your child to develop the skills they need to sleep independently and the wrong night light (white or blue light) can actually make sleep harder for your baby – see Myth #7.
The real deal: If you want your child to be able to sleep independently in their room, you’ll likely need to do some form of sleep training to help your little one to learn to sleep independently.
Baby Sleep Myth #9: You should add toys to your baby’s crib to help them soothe
The toy manufacturers perpetuate this myth ($$$), but this is a big no-no for a few reasons:
- Safety – before one year of age, we don’t want anything in the crib with the baby. Remember – ALONE, on their BACK and in a safe sleep environment, like a CRIB
- Playing – your baby’s crib is a sleep space, not a play space. If we give our baby options of things to do other than sleep, they’ll likely choose that instead of putting themselves back to sleep
- Stimulating – these toys aren’t soothing for your baby, they are actually stimulating. For a comfort item, consider a sleep sack with a built-in lovey for babies under a year or a lovey / stuffed animal / blanket for babies over a year.
The real deal: Remove any toys, light up star projectors and the like from the crib. Invest in comfort items that will help your child to self soothe, like the Bitta Kidda Sleep Sack.
Baby Sleep Myth #10: Maybe your baby doesn’t need as much sleep as other babies
It is rare (less than 2%) babies need less than the recommended amount of sleep each day. What is more likely is that your baby hasn’t learned that he or she LOVES to sleep and can sleep independently.
Sleep is in innate ability, but it is also a learned skill. In my opinion, it is our job as parents to teach our children and sleep is no exception.
The real deal: Remove sleep associations (nursing, rocking, bouncing, car rides, etc. to put your baby to sleep), create an optimal schedule and soothing routine, and give your baby the opportunity to self-soothe to meet their sleep needs.
Next time someone comes to you with one of these sleep myths – feel free to share this with them!
If you need assistance coming up with a plan to help your child sleep better, please schedule a free intro call to talk about working with a member of our team. Almost all of our reviews include something like “I only wish I hadn’t waited so long!”
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