As new Mums we are constantly bombarded with advice, suggestions and opinions, particularly in regard to baby’s sleep. Discerning which of these are facts and which are simply sleep myths can be incredibly confusing and stressful.
I can clearly remember, like most mothers I’m sure, the very moment I gave birth to my daughter. I was absolutely overcome with feelings of love and gratitude. But almost immediately, I was equally buried in advice, suggestions, and opinions about how to do the ‘Mum’ job.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard the words, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You’ve got to,” I swear I would be a millionaire. While all this was given with the best intentions, it was overwhelming, nonetheless. Sleep advice was coming thick and fast. It became increasingly difficult to discern the sleep myths from the sleep facts.
So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, that being sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular sleep myths I’ve seen in parenting forums, heard from Mum groups I’ve talked with, or had angrily shouted in all caps on my Facebook page. So what are the top 5 baby sleep myths?
Sleep Myth 1
Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.
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 lots of sleep, up to 19 hours a day! In fact, up until about 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 flake out for the whole night, but it’s just the opposite. 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.
Being overtired can cause an increase in cortisol production, keeping baby from falling and staying asleep. A baby who has had a good amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss their sleep window. How much is a good amount? There are substantial variations depending on baby’s age and the length of their naps. Up to that 6-month mark, it’s not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around 5 hours a day outside of nighttime sleep, so if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.
Sleep Myth 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 can be taught, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently.
If a baby is labelled a ‘bad sleeper’ they are not in less need of sleep, or more prone to waking up. They’ve just learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, they start stringing those sleep cycles together effortlessly. That is the secret to “sleeping through the night” as most parents understand it.
Sleep Myth 3
Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule.
The idea that infant physiology is so flawlessly, naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is, to be blunt, laughable. Mother Nature doesn’t provide us with a ready-to-run baby like she does a wildebeest. Those amazing babies are walking six minutes after birth and outrunning predators within a day! Our babies clearly take a little longer to be prepared for ‘life in the wild’.
Our babies need extensive care and help in their development. Unfortunately, their sleep cycles can be unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle 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 when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
Sleep Myth 4
Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
No. According to a 2016 study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, behavioural intervention, (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 behaviour.’ They conclude that behavioural intervention (sleep training) provides ‘significant sleep benefits above control yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behaviour.’
Sleep Myth 5
Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Putting aside religious beliefs for now, we can probably agree that, even if babies were “designed” somehow, whoever did the designing left plenty of room for some upgrades. Trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a recipe for disaster. Is your toddler designed to eat a whole block of chocolate? Surely not. Will they if you don’t intervene? Without a doubt. Is your baby designed to avoid predators? If so, nobody told my daughter, who would happily pat a tiger if it approached her!
Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years, and probably will for decades 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. You’re in charge because you know best, even if it may not feel like it sometimes.
There are obviously plenty of other baby sleep myths out there, but these seem to be the most common. Remember, there are endless posts on social media and websites that portray themselves as factual. However, 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. Trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, Britain’s National Health Service, The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, the World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health.
As always, if you want more information about the benefits of sleep, I would love to talk to you more about that! So please, contact me for help or more information.