Is your grandmother telling you your baby doesn’t sleep well because you haven’t gotten him used to taking naps with a vacuum running under his crib? Does your best friend insist that all you have to do is mix some rice cereal into your little one’s bedtime bottle and your night-wake issue will be a thing of the past?
While everyone is just trying to help, the advice of others regarding how to deal with your baby’s sleep challenges is often both frustrating and exhausting!
Here are six myths about baby sleep that, and what you really need to know:
Babies can’t develop habits. Here’s the thing: it’s not so much about “habits”, it’s more about the way your baby may learn to fall asleep. If, from Day One, a baby is only ever put to sleep by feeding or rocking, then by, say, four months of age we can’t expect that baby to simply and suddenly know how to put himself to sleep and begin sleeping longer chunks at night. Four months is also the point at which your baby has exited the newborn stage and is more alert and much more easily stimulated; often, this results in more frequent night wakes and shorter naps, particularly if baby has developed strong sleep associations with props 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 his own to get proper, healthy rest.
If you help your baby learn to fall asleep independently, you will just have to “re-sleep-coach” her whenever she goes through a new milestone. This really needn’t be the case. Once your baby has developed strong sleep habits, he will generally get through issues like teething, mild illness, milestones, etc. without a big disruption to his sleep. If this is not the case, it’s probable that your little one is still somewhat reliant on some sort of sleep “prop” and hasn’t fully learned how to go to sleep on his own just yet. Avoid changing the way you manage sleep when your wee one is going through a change or an illness. Of course, there may be some extra snuggles and a doctor-recommended remedy required, but remember 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 pass a marching band through your baby’s crib while he’s napping to ensure he becomes a great sleeper. Do you go to sleep with the lights on and the stereo blasting? I’m going to guess no. This is not how human beings naturally and easily fall asleep. We like it dark, and we like it quiet. The less stimulating the environment, the easier it is for us to sleep – adults and babies alike. I recommend a dark, quiet, peaceful sleep environment for the most restful sleep for your baby.
Your baby will get addicted to white noise, so don’t use it. If you live on a busy street, have a noisy pet, or your toddler is running up and down the hallway while your baby is trying to nap, white noise can be a great thing! White noise can be very effective at drowning out external noise when your baby is trying to sleep during the day and trying to get through those early-morning hours of light sleep without the sound of the garbage truck waking her up! If using a sound machine, 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. Though that might seem intuitive (i.e. exhaust your baby during the day and he’ll sleep better at night!), it is simply not the case. 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 watching for your little one’s tired signs to avoid putting him down for sleep when he is already overtired. Overtired babies will generally have more disrupted nighttime sleep than babies who go to bed well-rested from good daytime naps.
Rice cereal before bed will help your child sleep longer. There is simply no evidence that this works. Your baby’s tummy can be filled to the brim but, if he has not mastered independent sleep, he will still wake during the night without the skills to fall back asleep on his own during the night (or after a very short nap!). A better solution than rice cereal option 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.
Erin is the owner of
The Happy Sleep Company, my own Infant & Toddler Sleep Consulting
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