You can’t go anywhere these days, without someone asking you how your baby sleeps. It’s as if having a baby that sleeps through the night is a flashing neon sign signalling “good parenting ahead” Well, I’ve got news for you – this is not only untrue, it’s far from it!
Sleep is complex, and unpredictable, leading to perhaps the biggest parenting roller coaster most parents will encounter. To say it’s an emotional time would be an understatement.
Between Dr. Google, and all your Mama Friends, there is enough information out there to overwhelm any parent.
Sometimes this advice helps, sometimes it doesn’t. With so many differing opinions, it’s easy to doubt your next move. Especially since the baby sleep world is chock-full of myths, inaccurate statements and old wives tales.
These myths are shared far and wide, on forums, Facebook groups, and yes even in some of the best-selling baby books! The stress and overwhelm brought upon Moms from this misinformation, is admittedly part of what keeps me in business (it’s sad, but true)
But, my goal and mission as a Sleep Coach is to change the way the world thinks about sleep, one family at a time.
Okay! Now let’s get into some serious myth busting.
This first myth is ONE thing that I wish all parents were taught back in prenatal class, because it is a big one.
Myth #1: If you want your baby to sleep well, your need to train them to sleep
FACT: Babies do NOT need to be trained or taught to sleep!
Sleep is a normal biological function. It is something that is innate, meaning we are born knowing how to sleep. In fact we sleep in the womb!
Sure there is a developmental piece to sleep. Over time we establish a circadian rhythm, and our sleep cycles change to resemble that of an adult. But this takes time, and years to fine tune. We as parents actually have very little influence on the circadian rhythm.
When we are parenting them to sleep (or back to sleep), we are merely setting the stage. They do the rest. It is their bodies (not us) that make them sleepy. Try as we might, we cannot make them sleep if they are not sleepy.
What we can do is help them to build up their sleep drive by engaging them in lots of eye contact, developmentally appropriate play, and physical activity during the day. Collectively, this contributes to something called sleep pressure. Which is part of what makes us sleepy.
2) Myth #2: Sleeping through the night is necessary for optimal health and development
FACT: Night Waking is Normal and Healthy
I think much of the worry and anxiety over infant sleep comes from the belief that sleep is beneficial to our health and development.
Research tells us this, so it must be true!
It is true that there is a growing base of literature speaking to the benefits of sleep on health, brain health (think memory), academic performance, mood, and even behaviour.
The thing is though, that there is not much research looking at these qualities in BABIES!
Here is what we do know…Night waking is not only normal, but healthy and necessary!
There have been multiple studies looking at infant sleep. The estimates vary depending on the study viewed, and the parameters used, but it is thought that the vast majority of infants, babies and toddlers wake during the night for one reason or another. In fact, a pretty well respected study tells us that more than 80% of babies aged 6-18 months wake at least 1-3 times per night. Now before you start freaking out, just remember this does not mean that you are doomed as a parent! There are plenty of ways you can improve, or make the most of your nights.
Myth #3 Feeding or rocking to sleep is a bad habit
FACT: Feeding to sleep is natural, and one of nature’s greatest gifts to parents! (IMO)
Ahhh sleep associations. By now, I am sure you have heard of the so-called dangers of helping your baby to fall asleep by rocking or feeding to sleep. This belief has been perpetuated by fear. Infant sleep is hard enough as it is, the thought of it becoming harder, or having to fix something is indeed quite scary to parents. The belief comes from the fact that we can develop preferences over time when we repeatedly have the same conditions with which we fall asleep.
There is truth to this. I have a very strong sleep association for my pillow, for example. I have learned over the years that if I don’t have my pillow, such as the case when travelling that I am bound to have a less than perfect sleep. Some people prefer a certain set of sheets, or blanket (and don’t even get me started on loose and wrinkly sheets haha! If I could have someone come and change my sheets daily, I would be in heaven! Am I right!?)
Is this a bad habit? I’d argue it’s a preference, and that we all have preferences.
Is it really that terrible for our babies to also have a preference?
But also, the universe, mother nature, God, or whomever you credit with our existence was pretty dang purposeful when it came to humans. Every part of our bodies are interconnected. All the parts work together. It’s quite magical really. If babies are not meant to fall asleep at the breast, then why would breastmilk be full of delicious relaxing properties that lull little ones (and Mamas) to sleep?
Interestingly, research also now tells us that there are neurocogitive benefits to being rocked as well. This makes sense if you think about our ancestors. Back in the day, we weren’t left in cribs or bassinets to sleep. We were carried around while our mothers gathered food and supplies for the village. We also slept on the go in the womb.
I say do what works! Sleep is hard enough without worrying about what might happen in the future.
Myth #4 Don’t respond too quickly, or your baby will never learn to self soothe. They need to cry it out.
FACT: Responsive loving care is important for attachment AND sleep
This one is a doozy! There is so much going on. So let’s keep it simple…
It is impossible to spoil a baby!
You simply cannot respond too much, or too quickly. The research just doesn’t support this old school thinking. It also ignores the science behind attachment. Responsive loving care is always best. It’s good for relationships, connection, and yes even sleep!
Do not mistake babies who are able to find their hand (or a soother), or who can lay awake calmly until they fall asleep, or back to sleep with the ability to self-regulate. This is more about temperament, and the unique characteristics of the child than anything else.
The thought of having a baby who self soothes is wonderful. I can see why parents are anxious to teach this skill. Problem is it is not developmentally possible. Self-regulation builds slowly over time, and doesn’t reach maturity until adulthood!
Some babies signal (read fuss or cry) for our help more than others. Period. This is not because of something you have done (or not done) as a parent.
BUT – by consistently providing responsive, loving care, in a nurturing, supportive environment you can help them to learn ways to help themselves sleep. Babies learn to regulate by having us support them through the process. But this takes time! It certainly doesn’t happen overnight, in a week, or by leaving them alone to cry.
Myth #4 Feeding your baby solids, or topping up with formula can help them to sleep longer
FACT: Adding solids, or additional feeds has zero impact on sleep, and can actually make sleep worse!
Oh if I had a dollar for the number of times I have had this conversation! I get it, I really do. I remember the early days with my twins, where I was lucky to get an hour of sleep in between feeds.
I would have done anything to have got an extra 30 minutes of sleep!
I think this myth is perpetuated by our parents and grandparents generation, because of how common it was to add cereal to bottles back in the day. See the thing is, we now know this does not work.
Feeding your baby solids, adding cereal, or a top up (or extra scoop) of formula to a bottle does NOT extend sleep. Which is sort of weird, you would think it would…right? You would think that having a full belly would help sleep. Nope, sorry. The research has made it very clear that it doesn’t work. I know I can’t sleep well if I have a full tummy.
Perhaps more importantly, it can make sleep worse. Why? Because adding solids before 6 months is associated with greater allergies. And, topping babies up with extra feeds is associated with reflux. There is also the microbiome to consider…but that rabbit whole we do not have time for today (but you should google it!).
When it comes to solids, and extra feeds….Just don’t do it!
Okay, well there you have it. These are some of the things that I hear on a day-to-day basis. They are a select few, of the many myths in the baby sleep world.
The key takeaway here. Knowledge is always better than opinion.
Scratch that. While informed is best. Parenting really is much easier than needing to stay on top of the facts and research. Instead, just follow the needs of your child.
If you follow the needs of your child, whilst listening to your gut, you will almost always get parenting (and sleep) right.
You got this mama!
PS – if you are tired, and want to try and improve your family’s sleep, the easiest place to start is with the bedtime routine. You can download my FREE Ultimate Guide to Bedtime Routines by clicking here. https://maisieruttan.com/bedtime-routines/
Love and thanks,