There is so much information about babies and sleep that it can truly be overwhelming! Not only is there the advice from your mom, your mother-in-law, and your friends but also on the internet through Facebook groups or social media, in general, is just exploding with what to do, how to, and when to do it. How much of it is actually true?
So much of what our mothers or grandmothers knew to be right in their time, has been proven scientifically and medically inaccurate as of today. The same goes for all the advice on the internet, not only is most advice based on one personal experience (which means it isn't necessarily true that it would work for you too), but there is also no medical or scientific base to it.
So let's get down to taking apart these common myths!
1. "Your baby shouldn't sleep a lot during the day"
As far as myths go, this is far from the truth! Babies do need quite a bit of sleep during the day! The National Sleep Foundation suggests that an infant needs anywhere from 11 to 19 hours of sleep in 24 hours. For starters, there aren't enough hours in the night for an infant to sleep 19 hours. But also because if an infant sleeps throughout the day, preventing them from becoming overtired, they will be calmer and have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep. An overtired baby is a baby who struggles to fall asleep, stay asleep, and they tend to wake frequently throughout the night.
2. "Babies need quiet to sleep"
During the day, I actually tell parents to let their newborns nap in the noise and light of the day to begin to help them understand the difference between night and day. If your little one becomes accustomed to the noises of your family during the day at an early age, they will be able to easily take naps just about anywhere!
3. "Never wake a sleeping baby!"
Instead, YES, you should wake a sleeping baby! For a couple of reasons! First off, you want to be maximizing their caloric intake throughout the day. This means frequent feedings throughout the day and in order to do that, you just can't let your infant sleep 6 hour stretches in the day. They will be waking frequently at night to recuperate what they didn't get during the day. Secondly, if your little one IS doing 6-hour stretches, you want that to happen at night and not in the day! We want to be sure they are getting adequate rest during the day with evenly spaced naps that allow for optimal day time feeding. This can only happen if you do wake your little one from naps if they tend to sleep long stretches during the day.
4. "Just let your baby sleep on their tummy, they sleep better!"
While most infants do sleep well on their tummies, this is extremely dangerous as it is a known cause for SIDS. Infants tend to sleep deeper when they are on their tummies and do not wake in the case of danger. Instead of placing your infant on their tummy, try swaddling! So many mothers say their little one struggled or didn't like being swaddled or that they fought it. Believe me, just try it and you will see your little one calm almost instantly and sleep better. Just think about how they were in the womb, in a small, comfortable place.
5. "You shouldn't hold or rock your baby to sleep"
While most parents tend to fear that they will be starting their little one off on the wrong foot by creating sleep props, it isn't always the case and you can always use it this prop to your advantage. When a baby is in utero, they are feeling mom's constant movement - walking, swaying, jogging, yoga - and if you had really paid attention, this is when baby slept and generally the moment we stopped moving or laid down in bed to sleep, baby started wriggling and kicking. The movement rocked or soothed them to sleep. So it is only natural that the same movement helps them in the real world. If nothing else is working, then it is completely fine to rock your baby to sleep. I have lots of great techniques to use to help to transition if your little one is having a hard time settling after about 4-6 months.
6. "Babies need to sleep in their nursery"
Another one of those situations that are completely based on the family's preference. While I do highly suggest that the baby stays in the parents' room for at least the first 6 months of life, it is even better if they stay until a year old for SIDS prevention. In those first early days, it is even easier for mom and dad if the baby is in the room to facilitate easy night feeds. Will a baby sleep better in another room? Not necessarily - they do need you and your support throughout the night and some little ones do better in close proximity to mom and dad. Once they are about 6 months of age, they do become more aware of their surroundings and become easily distracted. So if they are in your room, I generally suggest this is the time to move them away from the side of your bed to start leading them towards an independent sleep space.
7. "They'll sleep through the night when..."
This seems to be THE question I find everywhere, "when will my baby sleep through the night?" and the answers are very broad and based on so many theories, such as:
Bigger babies sleep through the night earlier
Starting solids will help babies sleep through
Supplementing with formula will help babies sleep
Bottle-fed babies sleep better
Topping off baby with a bottle before bed will make them sleep longer
Babies will sleep through when they are a certain weight/age
And you know what? None of these are true! Not one! There is no magic answer to this question because each baby is unique. Each little one has their own sleep, feeding, and comforting needs. Just take twins or triplets for example. They are genetically identical in every way, yet their sleeping patterns and needs are completely different. Your little one will start sleeping 10-12 hours straight when they are able to and with a little bit of your guidance. Just so you know 80% of infants ages 6-18 months wake 1-3 times per night!*
8. "Cry-it-out is the only way to teach them to sleep!"
This is just as far from the truth as anything! There are so many gentle, responsive methods out there that are so much more respectful and supportive to a growing and developing little person. The fact that most parents have to repeat the cry-it-out (also known as the extinction method) process all over again later on in the little one's life, suggests to me that it doesn't even work that well! An infant left to cry alone creates a situation of high stress for them. Stress creates an abundance of cortisol and makes it harder for them to sleep. Also just because they aren't crying any longer, doesn't mean that they aren't in a state of stress, they have simply stopped signaling their distress.**
The methods I use to teach independent sleep are completely responsive and support the growing, developing mind of an infant. It is often said that by creating a strong foundation with dependence we then allow a child to become more independent. I take that as meaning if a little one is sure that they can rely on you for the important things, then they will feel freer to explore the world independently.***
They will not have to worry about your connection with them. Sleep is a time when they say goodbye to their security blanket of mom and dad, so it is only normal that it can be scary for them to let go and feel that they need their parents' support.
If you feel like your child is extremely dependent on you in order to sleep, what we do with their dependence is to use it as a base from which we can build a healthy relationship with sleep. Use what they know in their short time on earth as a springboard towards independent sleep.
If you have any questions about your little one's sleep or want me to debunk something you have heard about infant sleep, please comment or send me an email - firstname.lastname@example.org. I also offer free 15-minute phone consultations & would love to chat! Book here!
* Anders, T. F., Halpern, L. F., & Hua, J. (1992). Sleeping through the night: a developmental perspective. Pediatrics, 90(4), 554-560.
** Hookway, Lyndsey. (2018). Holistic Sleep Coaching - Gentle Alternatives To Sleep Training: for health & childcare ... professionals. Place of publication not identified: PRAECLARUS Press.
***. Neufeld, Gordon