So last week, I began with 5 Top Baby Sleep Myths Every Parent Should Know (Part One), so it’s no surprise that this week is all about part two! As I was writing last weeks post, more baby sleep myths kept popping into my head, hence the reason to split them into two posts. So without further ado, let’s crack on with 5 Top Baby Sleep Myths Every Parent Should Know (Part Two). As always, any questions concerns or further info, just DM me here or email me here or arrange a FREE chat here. I’m all over the place! But always here when you need me! If you missed last weeks post, you can read it here…
Myth 1 “Minimising babies day sleep will help them sleep better at night”
This is such a classic myth that somehow, through misinformed (and often well-meaning!) advice and the internet era, creates all kinds of problems. Science tells us that babies and toddlers (as well as adults) need an optimum amount of sleep per 24 hours. This helps keep us healthy and allows babies to do all the behind the scenes developing that goes on for them. Did you know that a babies brain will double in size in their first year! (Why Love Matters, Sue Gerdhart). That’s a heck of a lot of growing and a reason why babies sleep so much. Growing is hard work!
Our circadian rhythm, which isn’t present in newborns, is something that develops over the coming months, is regulated, among other things by the sun and the moon. Day and night. Light and dark. We have many hormones for many functions in our body that regulate our existence. Cortisol and melatonin are the key hormones that govern sleep. So by minimising your babies sleep, often in the hope they will sleep better at night, is actually the opposite. As well as not giving your baby the chance to have all the healthy sleep they need for growth and development, it can cause overtiredness.
Yep, the dreaded overtired baby. Let’s talk about what happens. In normal healthy sleep, a young baby has two main types of sleep. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and NREM (Non-Rapid Eye Movement). A baby up to four months old will spend 50% of their sleep in REM sleep, or ‘active sleep’ (it is about 20% for adults). This is the sleep stage of dreaming and rapid brain growth with constant neural connections being made which are essential to help babies develop normally. Young babies will fall into this sleep stage first. This means they can be easily awakened but usually, after about 20 minutes of falling asleep, they will go floppy and means they have moved into a different, deeper sleep stage (NREM) or ‘quiet sleep’ which is when cells in the body can grow and repair.
If your baby becomes overtired and misses their sleep window, to compensate for being awake, cortisol will flood their body in a bid to stay awake. This can then make it harder for them to settle when they do go to sleep and they will fall into the REM sleep, the lighter, dreaming sleep, which causes them to wake more frequently. This also means they miss the NREM sleep which is also important!
Being overtired can also mean one of two things. Either your baby will fall asleep super quickly and you think ‘woohoo, job done”. But chances are, if they were overtired, they’ll wake more often through the night. Secondly, they may suddenly seem alert and ready to play! Then settling them becomes even harder (and sometimes parents read this as they don’t need to sleep). Then extra sleep cues and support can be needed for them.
The moral of the story is to make sure your baby has well spaced, timely naps throughout the day. Ensure the same with their feeds. Make sure they are stimulated and have a little play after feeds and before sleep to help reduce feed to sleep associations.
Myth 2 “Leaving my baby to cry is ok if it’s controlled crying”
There’s lots of research out there nowadays that simply wasn’t around years ago. The scientific understanding of a developing baby’s brain is so much clearer. The growth and development of a baby, especially in the first year, is more than at any other time of their lives. We now know how important bonding to develop healthy attachments is. How holding, snuggling, cuddling and skin on skin naps with your baby are great (and lovely!) ways to help to bond and offers your baby ways to feel secure and safe.
I think it’s really important to be clear about the difference between your baby crying while you are present to help them be comforted and reassured to your baby crying and being left alone. I think it’s also important to establish a difference between giving your baby space to settle and sleep contentedly which may include some noises, gurgling and even some crying. But learning to understand your baby’s cries so you can recognise a distressed or hungry cry from a ‘just give me a few minutes to figure this sleeping thing out and I’ll really cry if I’m struggling’ type of cry. Often rushing in at the first noise, either when settling at night or night wakings, can actually interrupt their learning to put themselves back to sleep. There are lots of gentle, respectful ways to support your baby and child to sleep. Gentle sleep coaching is real. It gets results! If you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep, don’t hesitate to get in touch.
And always remember, as strange as it sounds, a baby is not born knowing how to sleep! It is a skill they must learn. They had a heck of a lot of help in the womb (it was very secure and loud and there was nearly always movement)! When your baby learns to walk or feed themselves, they take a tumble, drop the spoon, make a mess. And that’s ok. You’re there to guide them. And it’a the same for sleep. You wouldn’t leave your baby to cry alone in the day time so why should it be any different at night? If you establish good, healthy sleep habits from day one then you’ll be heading the right way to a super sleeper! Check out my other 2 posts about sleep shaping in the early months here…
Myth 3 “Creating a routine for my baby is really restrictive and means we can’t go out”
I’d like to explain the difference between a gentle routine and a restrictive routine. Both very different!
Gentle Routine vs Restrictive Routine
A gentle routine involves working out your family lifestyle. Do you have older kids to get to school? Is your baby at nursery or other childcare? What is your parenting style? Once you have an idea about these kinds of things, you can work out a sensible time to aim for your baby being up every morning. Then you can work back to how much sleep they need per night and day. You can find this info in your FREE Ultimate Infant Sleep Guide. Grab it here…
Then you can look at their feeding times and plan the day accordingly. Add in a bedtime routine and already, you’re creating a flexible day for your baby that fits around their needs but always with wiggle room and the ability to plan outings, playdates and classes. If you’re not sure about the timings of their naps and feeds, keep a food and sleep diary for a few days to keep a track. Then you can build their routine around their existing pattern. It may be that you don’t need to do too much. Your baby might already have developed a natural one. If not, don’t worry. A little bit of tweaking and you can put one in place for them. I love creating routines for little ones so if you feel you need a helping hand with this, reach out and we can schedule in a sleep package that’s right for you and your family.
On the other hand, a restrictive routine means you schedule timings to the point where it’s on the dot and irrelevant of your babies needs. It may keep you on track in the short term with knowing what’s what but really not helpful in learning your babies natural hunger or sleep cues. By taking over and doing what you are told (by said restrive routine), it impacts your ability to be responsive and in tune with your baby. This option may work for some families and as the old saying goes, ‘if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ however, the truth is that often these types of intense, by the minute schedules cause stress and anxiety for parents and miss your baby’s true needs.
The motto here is simple. Be guided by your baby and add a dash of your own understanding of their feed and sleep needs will equal a more contented baby and more contented parents! A gentle routine isn’t restrictive or stressful, it’s simply about doing the same rituals in the same order each day.
Myth 4 “Giving my baby a dummy means I’m creating problems for later on”
Safe sleep guidelines by the Lullaby Trust suggest a dummy from when your baby has established feeding well (around 4 weeks) can reduce the risk of SIDS. While, of course, this is a great positive for a dummy, many parents worry they will cause problems later on.
This isn’t actually true. There are many tricks to help remove any stress (for you or your little one) with dummy removal. Often the problems kick in when your baby is now a toddler and still has a dummy. This can be a problem as they’ve become well attached and will most likely be using it as a sleep prop. If this is you, check out my My Stress-Free Way of How to Ditch the Dummy. Or there is the losing it in the night common scenario. You can get around this issue in several ways. Get a glow in the dark one. Have lots in their cot. Or remove their dummy as soon as they are asleep. If you do this from when they are small, you will likely find they not only need it less but come to not need it at all.
There are some schools of thought that want to avoid a dummy at all costs – the idea being that if your baby is well fed, stimulated and rested, they won’t need a dummy. The truth is that all babies love something in their mouth. Be it a nipple, a dummy, a toy, a thumb, even your finger. It’s nature. Some babies don’t take to a dummy and some do. And it’s your choice as to whether you offer a dummy to your baby. Making an informed choice is your choice as a parent.
If you are considering a dummy, I highly recommend these. MAM has always been the best, in my years of experience.
Myth 5 “Sleep regressions are real and unavoidable”
Firstly, let’s be clear about one thing. The word regression is actually a progression. I know! It implies your baby is taking a step back when actually, their development is pushing forward and things are changing for them, hence the sleep disruptions. It niggles me they are named regressions as it feels negative when it’s really quite a positive thing (I know and I’m sorry if you’re a sleep-deprived parent but it’s true!). So while they do exist, it’s a developmental phase rather than a regression. And there are things you can do to help avoid them; right from the beginning.
Usually, the first one to hit is around the 4-month mark. At this age, your baby is likely to start to roll, laugh and become more active with their surroundings. Exhausting work for a baby! Behind the scenes, their sleep pattern is maturing. So rather than just REM and NREM sleep like we talked about earlier, they begin to have stages of NREM which go from light to deep. As they start to need more NREM sleep, they will be in lighter sleep more often for a while. This is what the new frequent waking is about.
If you encourage healthy sleep habits and sleep shaping from day one, then the chances are, these first (and future) sleep regressions will be minimised. This will be because a baby who has learnt to settle themselves and not associated feed to sleep needs will likely be able to resettle during these light sleep phases. A baby who has been helped to sleep with rocking, feeding, will often look for those same ways as they got to sleep at night.
These phases can vary greatly for each and every baby but rest assured, by maintaining a gentle routine and lots of healthy sleep habits, these ‘sleep progressions’ as I like to call them, can be dealt with more easily for everyone!