Parenting can be a sensitive topic, and the advice is not in short supply. From the time you celebrate your baby shower to your first visitors in the hospital, you’re bombarded with “advice” on how to parent your baby. And likely, from the moment your baby is born, you’ll be asked how your baby is sleeping, even before your baby has had an opportunity to find their rhythm. So, as an ode to all of the awful and unsolicited advice new parents receive, I’m going to discuss five common myths about sleep training.
Your first week or two of being a parent inevitably blessed you with the most beautiful, peaceful baby who slept most of the hours in the day. You likely didn’t heed the advice of well-meaning friends and family who told you to sleep when your baby slept and took in every moment of your adorable sleeping beauty. And then your baby flipped days and nights and began to be awake more. Now you panicked and began scouring the internet for suggestions on how to get your baby to a.) sleep at night (like the rest of the human world), and b.) sleep longer. And in the process surfing the web for information, and checking out books on baby sleep, and getting well-meaning advice from friends, family, and strangers, you discovered that the wealth of information you were being given was conflicting, making you more confused than when you first began your research. Take a deep breath, put the bad advice, books, notes, printouts, and bookmarks aside and read on while I debunk common myths about sleep training.
1. If you let your baby sleep too much during the day, it will keep them up at night.
Unlikely, but it does occur on a rare occasion. Now, if your little one is sleeping through the day and not getting a wink of sleep at night, you may need to take a look at daytime napping, but again, “sleeping too much” is rarely the case. In fact, newborns need a lot of sleep, and I don’t recommend that your baby be awake for more than 2-2 1/2 hours at a time if they’re under six months of age. For newborns, that number is closer to 45 minutes to an hour.
You might be surprised to hear that overtiredness often keeps babies awake at night because it goes against what we think we know about sleep. The reality is that an overtired baby has missed falling asleep when they were tired, and their bodies are cycling back into wakefulness.
2. Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught.
Yes-ish. Everyone cycles through sleep stages through the night, waking and falling back asleep each night. You likely don’t remember waking because you already know how to slip right back into your next sleep cycle. However, babies can take some time to learn how to smoothly transition between sleep cycles.
If you’re in the habit of nursing or rocking your baby to sleep, your little one can become dependent on that motion or routine to fall asleep — we’ll call it a sleep crutch. As your baby cycles through sleep stages during the night, they wake and don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep without being nursed or rocked, so they cry out for you. Part of sleep training is teaching your baby how to fall asleep independently.
3. Babies will naturally dictate their sleep schedule.
In a perfect world, babies would regulate their own sleep needs and always be well-rested; unfortunately, this is not the case. Much like the constant care babies need with diapers and feeding, they rely on their caregivers to help them develop healthy sleep habits. Left unregulated, babies’ sleep cycles would become erratic; missing a sleep cycle by just 30 minutes can cause cortisol levels to elevate which is when we experience cranky babies who are overtired.
4. Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment.
This is just not true. In fact, you may have consulted the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) for information about safe sleep practices, a source I’m sure you trust. Well, a 2016 study conducted by the AAP found that “Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” And, both parents and babies slept better through the night — win-win!
5. Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night.
Babies don’t come with manuals, so I’m not sure who dictated what babies are or are not “designed” for — sheesh! What I can tell you is that trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits or their behavior is a recipe for disaster.
Look, you’re obviously reading this for a reason — most likely because you’d like your baby to sleep better. I’m here to tell you that I can help you and your baby develop healthy, independent sleep habits that will have the entire family getting restful nights of sleep. When you’re ready to get started, give me a call to see how I can work with your family to guide you to healthy sleep.