With so much information out there on babies and sleep, as a parent, it can be hard to work out what to do. Do you wake for a dream feed or let them sleep? Is it better to wean earlier to help them sleep? Will my baby sleep better on formula milk? So many questions! That’s why I’ve written this post ‘top baby sleep myths every parent should know (part one)’.
Before we get started, it’s really important to say this. Above all the advice and support I (or anyone else) may offer you, remember to ultimately be guided by you and your baby. If something feels right and it’s working for you all as a family, then please don’t get stressed with a feeling you need to change how you do something. As I often say to the families I work with, there is not always an exact ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ with babies and sleep (and often parenting in general) but different paths to take. I use all my years of experience, science, up to date research and my training to guide me with all the families I work with and all the work I do within The Little Sleep Coach. My approach is all about being gentle, peaceful and holistic with each and every family.
Ok, let’s explore some baby sleep myths…
Myth 1 “Sleep when your baby sleeps”
You might think this advice can potentially work well yet often it doesn’t and here’s why. Your baby, especially when very young, will tend to sleep little and often which is perfectly normal and natural. Yet, a nap for an adult, especially a postpartum exhausted mum, ideally would be at least a 90-minute sleep to be beneficial. Yet by the time you’ve settled your baby then get yourself off to sleep, your baby likely wakes up, especially in the early weeks. Super frustrating!
My suggestion here is to do whatever you like in your baby nap times. It could be a nap for you but just use your baby nap times for whatever you like. You could embrace some self-care by:
• Enjoying a podcast that will make you smile
• Simply rest and relax and put your feet up.
• Call a friend
• Listen to music
• Express some milk
• Doing some gentle yoga stretches
• Catch up on admin or tidying up (can feel therapeutic for some people!)
• Have a nice hot drink
What’s more important is to try to get to bed earlier in the evening. Sometimes I suggest going to bed at 7 pm when your baby does. I know you might miss out on some brilliant tv show or catching up on chores but sleep is so very important and even if you do this for some nights of the week, you may feel just that bit more human! This can be especially helpful if, on the same early night you’re planning, you arrange for your partner or a close family member or friend to do the first night feed (in the early months this will be before between 10 pm-midnight). This way you can aim to get a solid block of sleep in between 7 pm and the early hours!
Don’t forget to ask for the support you need. Ask your partner to take care of the baby to allow you a nap. Or invite friends and family over to allow you a nap while they take care of the baby for an hour or two.
Lastly, I do strongly advise to have skin on skin naps in the early weeks and months as this can encourage you to have a nap too. It’s wonderful to help to bond and also to stimulate your milk production.
Myth 2 “You must dream feed”
A dream feed is offering your baby a feed somewhere around 10-11pm to help your baby go back to sleep with a full tummy and allow you some sleep too.
The reality is that if your baby:
• Has had full, well-spaced feeds during the day
• Has no health-related issues such as allergies, reflux or tongue tie
• Is really well winded during and after each feed
Then between the hours of 7 pm to 7 am, count this as night time for your baby and allow them to wake up naturally for a feed.
If your baby has gone down around 7 pm then it is probable they will wake around dream feed time naturally anyway. I strongly suggest leaving your baby to sleep during those nighttime hours and feeding when they naturally wake. This can minimise creating any habitual waking as well as encouraging your baby to sleep more naturally rather than being woken and then needing to settle back to sleep again. As your baby grows, they will be able to sleep for longer stretches at night. You wouldn’t want to wake them at any other time of the night so be guided by when they need to wake themselves for a feed.
Myth 3 “Formula-fed babies will sleep for longer stretches at night than breastfed babies”
Formula milk can take longer to digest than breastmilk. Therefore the assumption is that by giving formula to your baby for night time will mean they sleep for longer stretches. I think it is important to understand the biology behind breastfeeding at night before deciding to offer formula if you are breastfeeding.
Your body produces more prolactin (the hormone that promotes milk production) when you breastfeed at night. The composition of your breast milk changes through the day and night to support your baby’s needs and this includes reducing the risk of SIDS (please let me make it clear – bottle feeding DOES NOT increase the risk of SIDS, simply breastfeeding reduces it), infections and building up antibodies and your baby’s immune system. Nature has been designed in a way which encourages your baby to wake frequently for night feeds to help support all the good stuff breastmilk does behind the scenes as I’ve mentioned.
Therefore, if you are breastfeeding well during the day, I advise to simply continue through the night. Offering a formula bottle may potentially allow your baby to sleep a little longer before needing another feed but stopping breastfeeding in the night isn’t good for your baby or your milk supply! Whether breast or bottle feeding, ensure they are well fed and winded during the day with some play and stimulation between feeds and sleeps to help support their nighttime sleep.
Myth 4 “Weaning early helps babies sleep better”
It is advised in the UK that weaning ‘should start when your baby is around 6 months old’ (NHS guidelines). There’s a lot of advice to also say that earlier is ok and especially a huge myth that weaning your baby onto solids will help them sleep better. Your GP may recommend earlier weaning for your baby (ie, if they have reflux). I suggest doing what feels right but hold the six-month mark in mind. Be guided by your baby but please don’t start weaning early to help with sleep. In fact, it could make your baby more hungry and impact on their nutritional intake and affect their growth and development. Many babies I’ve cared for have been at or nearly at the six-month mark. Bear in mind, before six months, your baby can be more prone to allergies as their gut and immune system are too immature to process some solids.
Before weaning starts, your baby needs to:
• be able to sit up unsupported
• be able to hold their head up
• have lost the ‘tongue thrust’ reflex
These things will usually have happened by 6 months. They are all connected with your baby being able to chew and swallow solids foods safely. Signs a baby could be ready might be chewing their fist, not seeming content after a feed and excessive dribbling.
In connection to sleep, it seems the myth believes that ‘solid’ food will be more sustaining for your baby, therefore, enabling them to sleep longer. This is simply not true!
There’s absolutely no doubt milk, be it breast or bottle, is the most nutrient-rich substance your baby will have in their first year. Any solids (whether offering purees or baby led weaning) you should think of as a supplement to support your baby in getting used to flavours and textures rather than actually being all the nutrients they need. This way of thinking will help you to take a more relaxed and stressfree approach to early weaning. Then you can prioritise milk feeds and ensure your baby gets all they need. Think ‘food for fun before one’!
Imagine if you pureed a carrot, a few spoonfuls of plain carrot puree is simply not as calorific as milk and fulfilling your baby’s dietary needs. I suggest being guided by when your baby is ready but remember to begin slowly and focus on milk feeds.
So if your little one isn’t sleeping well at night and they are younger than 6 months, look to other areas. How is their day time feeding? Is something in their sleeping environment hindering their sleep? What about the timings and length of their day time naps?
Myth 5 “Babies will sleep better once they hit certain milestones like crawling or walking”
It’s certainly true that your baby will have lots of milestones along their baby, toddler and childhood journey. Often parents believe once their baby starts being more mobile, either with crawling or walking, they will sleep better as they are more active. Similar to the point above, perhaps you have been told ‘once they are weaned they will sleep better’, but you reach that point, and sleeping is still the same. The truth is, a lot of families do wait for these milestones and become disappointed and frustrated when nothing changes or sleep gets worse. All babies are unique and some are more affected by these developmental milestones than others.
My advice here is simple. Don’t overthink or think ahead with what might change with your baby’s sleep. Take a day at a time and continue to establish healthy sleep habits and routines to encourage their ability to become a super sleeper. Check out some of my other blog posts for support with helping your little one sleep better:
So there are 5 Top Baby Sleep Myths Every Parent Should Know (Part One) explained in a way I hope makes sense. I hope it helps to give you a clearer idea about how to move forward with your little one’s sleep. Remember that my goal for you is to feel empowered as a parent. To know that, as a parent, you have choices. My hope is that by providing lots of useful, important up to date information you can make an informed choice about what works for you as a family. So if you choose to dream feed, dream feed away! If you choose to let your baby wake up naturally for night feeds, super! I offer the choices and support whatever you choose. If you’ve enjoyed reading this post, you might find others I’ve written helpful too. And keep an eye out for Peaceful Parenting Solutions coming your way soon – online courses to support you even more through the early years.
P.S. Just so you know, I always add in a couple of affiliate links with each post. This always includes a great offer that I think might be of interest to you as a parent. Clicking one of my links and making a purchase on that really cool new item (for you or your baby!) is at NO EXTRA COST to you. I receive a small commission from the retailer. That helps me with the running costs of my website, business and blog. Thanks for all your AMAZING support! xx