I can remember the very moment I gave birth to my first child. I was absolutely buried in feelings of love and gratitude. And then, about ten to fifteen seconds later, I was equally buried in advice, suggestions, and information. This was all thrown at me with the best intentions, but it was overwhelming nonetheless. I can’t count the number of times I heard the words, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You’ve got to.”
The cherry on top of all the advise: The overwhelming amount of information we have access to, thanks to the internet and social media groups. Our kids are on our minds 24/7, no matter what else might be going on, so we tend to do a lot of research, and it’s inevitable that we get some conflicting information.
So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, as a pediatric sleep specialist, and certified sleep consultant, and try to knock down some of the more popular myths I’ve seen in parenting forums and mom groups.
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 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 sleep a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually 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. So, if you're letting your baby skip naps, and delaying bedtime in hopes of better sleep at night, stop. right. now.
2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Sleeping is natural, absolutely. Also, No one sleeps through the night; 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.
A baby pulling all nighters isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up than a baby who sleeps well. They’ve just learned to depend third parties to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one has figured out how to fall sleep without help from other sources, she'll start stringing those sleep cycles together easily, consolidating her sleep. 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 naturally programmed to regulate a baby’s schedule is not realistic. Nothing against Mother Nature, but she doesn’t provide us with a ready-to-run baby like she does with other animals. (Seriously? Walking six minutes after birth? Outrunning predators within a day? Our babies are cuter, but clearly not as prepared for battle straight out of the womb.)
Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles can be 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. As much as we wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. We should respond to their cues, but shouldn’t rely exclusively on them.
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. If there’s a more reliable source of baby health information, they’re astoundingly bad at marketing themselves. And 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.
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. Is your toddler designed to eat three pounds of candy? No. Will they if you don’t intervene? Absolutely. Is your baby designed to avoid predators? If so, nobody told my little ones, who would have happily hugged a hungry Siberian tiger if it approached them.
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, for sure, 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.
There are plenty more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits. Remember, there are endless posts on social media and websites that portray themselves as factual, but there’s nothing stopping them from making that claim, regardless of their accuracy.
You can find peer-reviewed scientific studies on all things baby-related, and trusted sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the National Institutes of Health, Britain’s National Health Service, Canada’s Hospital for Sick Children, the World Health Organization, and other national children’s health organizations. These are excellent sources of information you can feel confident about using to answer questions about your baby’s health. And there's also me, an expert in all things sleep, who can provide you with reliable information to help you make informed decisions about your little one's sleep.