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5 Common Myths about Baby Sleep

I can clearly remember, like most mothers I’m sure, the very moment I gave birth to my first child. I was absolutely buried in feelings of awe, love and gratitude.

At the same time, I was equally buried in advice, suggestions, and information from everyone around me.

All of it can be very overwhelming to a new mom who is flooded with emotions and hormone fluctuations and of course lack of sleep.

What makes it even more complicated is that even though there is so much information available to parents, at times that information can be conflicting. And to add to the confusion, there are some who claim opinion as fact.

So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, that being sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular myths I see in parenting forums, hear from Mom's groups or see posted on Facebook.

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 his naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months of age, 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 an hour of awake time.

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 quite 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 6 month of age mark, it is really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping up to 5 hours per day outside of nighttime sleep, so if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.

2. Sleeping is part of 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.

The cliche “bad sleeper” baby isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up. They have 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, and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night” as most parents understand it.

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 from day one is, to be blunt, laughable. Nothing against Mother Nature, but much to my dismay I found out from first hand experience that sleep (and breastfeeding for that matter-a topic for another day...), does not just happen naturally.

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 are tired and dictate their own sleep schedule, it simply doesn’t work that way.

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. And according to a 2016 study conducted by eight of the top AAP researchers, behavioral intervention (also known as 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 whole lot of room for misinterpretation here. Sleep training is not detrimental to your child.

5. Babies are not made to sleep through the night.

It is true that newborns babies need a lot of help with comfort and self soothing. There is a level of intervention we parents provide to help settle our newborns and especially to assist with sleep. The trouble comes when a baby grows out of the newborn stage and no longer needs that intervention for sleep. After the critical newborn period, some babies get stuck with sleep props and start to rely on this external intervention (like rocking, pacifier, feeding to sleep etc) to fall asleep instead of independently falling asleep.

Then they are waking at the end of each sleep cycling looking for assistance to enter the next sleep cycle. So yes babies are made to sleep through the night and it is the ability to connect sleep cycles on their own that is the key.

Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through the early years, and probably will for decades after that. This is especially true when it comes to their sleep.

There are obviously plenty more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most common ones. Google Scholar is a great place to get the facts or basis in actual scientific evidence on infant/toddler sleep.

Remember, you will see endless posts on social media and websites which are portrayed as factual, and there is nothing stopping someone from making a claim, regardless of its accuracy. Be sure to find peer-reviewed scientific studies on all things baby-related, and refer to trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations. These are excellent sources of information that you can feel confident using to answer questions about your baby’s health.

And if you want more information about the benefits of sleep, Tara and I are more than willing to talk with you about it...we can't stop talking about it!

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