I was told that children don't come with manuals. Yet, everywhere I turn, I get, “Don't do this, do that.” When it comes to baby’s sleep, everyone seems to have something to say: our mothers, our best friends, even our coffee barista can hand us a macchiato with a side of bedtime tips. Baby sleep advice comes so fast and furious that myths can get the best of us (and our ZZZs). So let’s clear the clutter, shall we?
To make every minute of sleep count, we’re busting 7 baby sleep myths.
Myth 1: I should never wake up a sleeping baby.
Babies look so peaceful when they sleep. Why on earth would you ever want to wake them? Well, for many reasons, but the most important one is that babies, especially if they’re brand new, need to eat and gain weight. You may also want to put a cap to naps if baby's nighttime slumbers are inconsistent and interrupted. What makes wee ones cranky has more to do with how you interrupt their sleep than the interruption itself. I don’t know about you, but I love when I wake up on my own. Babies are the same way, so we want their bodies to naturally wake up – or at least trick them into thinking they do. The best way to do that is by using the space and environmental cues around you: open the blinds to let the light in; or take a layer or a sock off gently to boost baby’s body temperature. If he is still sleeping, take that bare foot and tickle it lightly.
Myth 2: If I add cereal to baby’s bedtime bottle (or give him formula at bedtime), it will help him sleep through the night.
Loading baby’s bedtime bottle with extra calories may keep him full until sunrise, but that won’t do him and his sleep any good. Think of it this way: What happens when you go to bed right after a copious meal? You feel full, sure, but your body ends up working harder to digest, firing up your metabolism and making it hard to fall and stay asleep. The same goes with baby. Giving him more food to process right before bed won’t induce sleep, it will likely disrupt it.
Myth 3: Baby should be sleeping through the night at 3 months old.
This is an interesting statement because there isn’t really a "sleeping through the night." Human beings are wired to have a light wakening to make sure their surroundings are safe and they aren't in any harm or danger. As adults, we wake and may move our pillow or shift our body without even realizing or remembering it. When a baby wakes during the light stage of his sleep cycle, if he doesn’t know how to place himself back to sleep, he will look for "props" to assist them. Usually the parent becomes the human soothing prop. If baby knows how to self soothe, you may not even notice that he wakes up. That said, a 3-month old child should be sleeping a nice 3- to 5-hour stretch at night. If not, I would (re)evaluate nap patterns and baby’s sleep environment.
Myth 4: I need to be extra quiet when baby is sleeping.
Your baby’s first home was actually pitch black and loud as can be. In the womb, he can hear a lot, including your growling stomach and the whooshing from the blood pulsing through the uterine arteries. And all of it is actually pretty loud – as loud as a vacuum. So a little noise (or a lot of it) may actually help make baby feel “at home” again.
Myth 5: If I put baby down late, he will wake up late.
There needs to be a balance of quantity and quality of sleep. When the quality is off, the quantity will be off too. For example, if naps are too short and bedtime is too late, that inconsistency or imbalance will automatically guarantee night waking. Most infants fall asleep more easily and sleep longer if they’re put down before they get tired. A bedtime that is off will make them overtired and take away the sleep their bodies need to reenergize and function, and it will likely make them wake up in the middle of the night or really early, ready to party at 5 am. If your bedtime is too late, take it slow: move the bedtime routine forward by 15 minutes every two to three days. This should guarantee an earlier bedtime for baby and longer sleep for all in a week or two.
Myth 6: Baby shouldn't sleep with a pacifier.
The use of a pacifier during sleep can actually be beneficial. Offering a pacifier at nap and bedtime has been associated with lowering the risks of SIDS, especially during the first several months of life. The sucking keeps the airway passage open, amongst other things. Some babies take them, some don’t; and that’s okay. If your wee one doesn’t take to the pacifier, don’t freak out. You don’t need to force it on him. If it falls out of his mouth while he sleeps, don’t place it back in. If you are breastfeeding baby, some experts suggest waiting 3 to 4 weeks to introduce a pacifier, or until you settle to a good nursing routine.
Myth 7: I can sleep train baby right away.
Newborns are too biologically immature to be sleep trained right after birth. In fact, the best time to start teaching baby to sleep through the night is around 4 months old (from the actual birthday – not the due date). Prior to that, we cannot create a sleep pattern or schedule. So until then, your only goal is to love and bond with baby. The reliance that you will create with one another in those first few months will end up helping you guide baby to sleep all night long.
Original photography by Desiree Walters for Well Rounded NY.