Everyone has an opinion. As a new mom, a veteran mom or even in your pregnancy, opinions and suggestions are thrown at you in every direction. “You should do this,” “You’ve got to try this,” “This is what we did.”
Some tips are contradictory, some are based on folklore, some are just personal opinions that really don’t sit well with you, and some are just plain untrue. While the recommendations come with good intention and we are always grateful for the support of our network, it’s important to take it all with a grain of salt and seek out experts we trust for guidance.
The thing about the job of a mom is that you are meant to be an expert in your field from day one, when really each day is new, the learning curve is wide, and you are learning on the fly. We all are. Every child is different, every situation is different.
The one thing that we do know to be true, is that a baby’s sleep is not a straight line. And there comes a lot of sleep deprivation for new parents when they bring their little one home. Sometimes it gets easier, and sometimes it doesn’t.
I’m here to help guide you into the easier territory, and I’m here to help get you out the tougher one.
With all the info that gets thrown at you, the first thing you may need to wrap your head around, is what is true and what is a myth. As an expert in the field of sleep and mom of 4 great sleepers (it took work), I’m here to dispel 5 popular sleep myths that come up often online.
1. Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night.
Nope. Not likely. Except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you don’t need to worry about the length of their naps. Newborns especially need a ton of sleep. In fact, up until about 6 months, I don’t recommend that your little one be awake for more than about 2 - 21/2 hours at a time. For newborns, that number is more like 45 minutes to an hour.
What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to crash 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 (known as the second wind), 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 mark, it’s really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around 5 hours a day outside of nighttime sleep. So, if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them sleep.
2. Sleeping just comes naturally. It cannot be taught.
Sleeping is natural, of course. 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. Which then contributes to staying asleep.
The typical “bad sleeper” of a baby 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, 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 determine their own sleep schedule naturally.
I mean, this would be nice. It would be nice if we all had this predetermination programmed in our bodies. But unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. I still need to work at maintaining my own schedule to get myself to bed on time.
Our babies need our help, with everything. Sleep especially cannot be ignored. They need extensive care and help in their development seeing as their sleep cycles are unregulated and erratic at this stage. They don’t know when the best time is to catch that optimal sleep window. 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 can quickly spiral out of control. So, as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, this is not the case. Not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their sleep cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
4. Sleep training creates stress for the baby/child and can have an effect on parent-child attachment
There is so much research out there on this, and it’s just not true. Not just from me. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics. 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 whole lot of gray area there.
What often gets missed on this topic is the benefit of sleep you are providing to your child. Sleep training is not a long-term program, the initiation of good sleep habits is, but learning new sleep skills and readapting to a new sleep environment is a short-term course of action with long term goals, if maintained. What I’m saying is helping our child through this process, will only give them the tools for better sleep which makes for a happier child and parent. It feels like a much easier bonding experience when both parties are happy, I think.
We all resist change. It’s not easy and often feels super uncomfortable, until it doesn’t. Our baby isn’t sleeping, so we will keep it that way to avoid the discomfort of training. Is the lack of sleep comfortable? Nope.
5. Babies are not supposed to sleep through the night
Maybe yes, maybe no. Again, trusting that our children were born with a preprogrammed schedule is like assuming they will learn to eat, talk and dress themselves without us intervening. Parenting is easy then!
Joking aside, our kids need us. We should definitely follow their lead, that’s important. Feeding our babies in the night is important, we will never doubt that. But every few hours at 9 months? Do they need that?
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. Some babies are naturally gifted sleepers (yay, for those little guys), but don’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.