I can clearly remember, like most mothers do, the very moment I gave birth to my daughter. I was overwhelmed with feelings of love and gratitude. And then, not long after, I was equally overwhelmed with advice, suggestions and information.
Let me say that these were all thrown at me with the BEST intentions. I was so incredibly grateful for all the mothers in my life who went through these days before me because they helped me get through some of my hardest days. But nonetheless, it was overwhelming! I can’t imagine the number of times I heard the words, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You’ve got to.” If there’s no such number as “kajillion”, it should be created specifically in order to measure the number of suggestions a new mother receives in her first year of motherhood!
Of course, I say this all in fun and take comfort knowing that most freshly new mothers are somewhere out there nodding their heads in agreement. Those feelings of love and gratitude persist for me to this day, and so do the recommendations.
There’s no such thing as a casual mom, as much as we would all love to just “go with it”. This gig is full-time, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or somewhere in between. Your children are on your mind 24/7, no matter what else might be going on. Am I right? Therefore, we tend to do A LOT of research for almost everything. And between the internet, baby books or your mother-in-law, it’s inevitable that we will get some conflicting information.
So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, that being child and baby sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in many parenting forums.
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, in particular, need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about six months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2-2 1/2 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to one hour.
What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually 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, which keeps them from falling and staying asleep. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss the sleep window.
There are substantial variations depending on baby’s age and the length of their naps, but up to that six-month mark, it’s really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around five hours a day outside of nighttime sleep. Therefore, if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.
2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Sleeping is absolutely natural. 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.
The typical “bad sleeper” isn’t less in 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, he will start stringing those sleep cycles together effortlessly; and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night”, as most parents understand it.
3. Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule
Babies need as much help and guidance when it comes to sleep as they do with anything else. Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are 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.
4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
Nope! And this isn’t just me talking here. This is the American Academy of Pediatrics, the most reliable source of baby health information. According to a 2016 study conducted by eight of their top researchers, behavioral intervention, (A.K.A 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 behavior.” Not a lot of gray area there.
5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
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.
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. Of course, some babies are naturally gifted sleepers. But you can’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 more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most important to get the facts on. Remember, with endless posts on social media and access to millions of websites; be sure that you’re getting your information regarding baby and child sleep from a trusted source. Google Scholar is a great, peer-reviewed scientific study on all things baby-related. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, , and the World Health Organization are also excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health.
If you would like more information on the benefits of sleep, please contact me!