“You’ll never sleep again!” and other sleep myths people tell you when you’re having a baby
What’s the first thing everyone says when you tell them you’re expecting a baby? “You’ll never sleep again!” Well, maybe that’s the first thing after “congratulations”, but still, myths about infant sleep and the feeling that you’ll never get a good night’s sleep again surround the expectation of a child. What are the major sleep myths related to infant sleep and what can you do to help your baby sleep well?
Before we start, it should be noted that the way you take care of your baby is absolutely fine! This article covers ways in which you can help your baby sleep through the night quicker. If you’d prefer to co-sleep, hold them while they take naps, or anything else you choose, that is completely okay, it just may delay them sleeping through the night earlier. Also, some of the recommendations listed below about sleeping through the night and the age at which it’s possible to stop feeding your baby overnight won’t work for every baby. If your baby is premature, is having any sort of health issues, or is otherwise under weight in any way, you may need to feed more consistently or nurse on demand longer. Also, if you are exclusively breastfeeding, you most likely will feed your baby on demand, including in the nighttime, through the first six months. Always check with your doctor if you have any questions.
Even if all of the things listed below don’t work for you, some of these may be helpful. It’s always good to discuss myths within a certain area, so read on for the most common myths related to infant sleep.
Sleep Myth #1
“You won’t get a good night’s sleep for the first five years (at least!)”
First, it should be established that a baby younger than 2-3 months most likely won’t and shouldn’t sleep through the night just yet. It’s no secret that a baby who has just come home or who is only a few weeks old will be waking up at night to eat. However, there are a few things you can do at this age to establish good sleeping habits and to help them put themselves back to sleep when they wake up in the night. You should start to establish sleep training habits as soon as possible, most likely starting around 2 weeks old. This leads to our next sleep myth…
Sleep Myth #2
“Infants are too young for sleep training”
This is a myth I hear all the time and it’s completely incorrect! As far as sleep training goes, the sooner you start, the better. Just because a younger infant won’t be ready to sleep through the night, doesn’t mean you can’t start with sleep training.
To get started, work toward a set bedtime routine and schedule. An appropriate bedtime for a one month old is around 9:00 pm and once they are 3-4 months old, that bedtime can move to around 7:00 pm. When a baby wakes up at night, it’s best to keep them in the darkened room and keep everything very quiet. This establishes that it’s still night time and they should go back to sleep. If you need to feed them overnight, keeping them in a darkened room helps them to not wake up fully while they’re eating and helps them to go back to sleep when they’re done.
To establish a sleep routine, make all of the features of going to sleep into a schedule that will be similar or the same from night to night. This would include a diaper change and getting into pajamas. It may also include taking a nighttime bath, reading a book, or singing a lullaby. Whatever you include in your baby’s nighttime routine, make sure it’s calming. If a bath is a very exciting time for your baby, don’t include that into the nighttime routine because it’s more likely to wake them up again. At this time, you should dim the lights and may want to include a sound machine. A sound machine that plays white noise or a soft lullaby can help to create a calming environment and can also help to block out the sound of people in the house and outside noises. If you’re going to use a sound machine, make sure it plays when your baby is falling asleep, and then stays on throughout the night. This will help indicate that your baby should go back to sleep as long as the sound machine is playing. One thing not typically included in the nighttime routine should be a bottle or nursing. You want to do this before the nighttime routine is started, so your baby doesn’t associate eating with sleeping. You can feed them right before you start your nighttime routine, but it’s best to move it out of their bedroom or sleeping space. This brings us to sleep myth number 3…
Sleep Myth #3
“It’s not important to lay your baby down when they’re still awake.”
If you’ve heard you should have your infant fall asleep in your arms before laying them down and quietly sneak out of the room then you’ve heard sleep myth number 3! One of the best things you can do for your baby is teach them how to self-soothe. A major way you can do this is to lay your baby down when they’re drowsy, but still awake. Do the best you can to not have them fall asleep while eating. You can do this by separating the bottle or nursing from the bedroom where they sleep. Also, pay attention to signs of sleepiness in your baby. These include rubbing their eyes, yawning, and crying. Keep in mind, crying is a late sign of sleepiness, so be on the lookout for the other signs to start the nighttime routine.
Also, it’s important to know that everyone wakes up throughout the night, and babies are no different. When we say “sleeping through the night”, what we mean is that your wake ups are so brief and you’ve put yourself back to sleep so quickly, that you didn’t even realize you woke up. Babies wake up throughout the night, but will need our help in the beginning to go back to sleep. In the early months, they will require feeding overnight, but as they are nearing 3 months old, they likely are able to make it through the night without a bottle or nursing. Keep in mind, this is dependent on your specific child. Some babies may require nighttime feedings longer, and this may differ between formula or breastfed babies.
Teaching them to self-soothe will help them learn how to fall asleep and put themselves back to sleep when they wake up overnight. Having a sound machine, a darkened room, and a quiet and calm nighttime environment will help to establish this.
“Having a pacifier will help your baby self-soothe.”
This one is not completely a myth, but there is a caveat. Sucking can be very calming and soothing to an infant. This is why babies are prone to falling asleep while eating. A pacifier can help your baby to self-soothe, however, it can be difficult for them to find their pacifier in the night when they wake up. This may require you to wake up to give them their pacifier again. Even if you just need to pop it in their mouths to help them fall back asleep, if they continue to lose their pacifier in their crib, you’ll have to keep getting up to settle them. It’s up to you whether to include a pacifier in your baby’s nighttime routine. It can be very helpful for initially teaching self-soothing skills, but may cause difficulties for you to teach your baby to sleep all night without needing your help.
What’s also important is that there is no right or wrong way to take care of your baby, other than to make sure they are safe, happy, and healthy. Whatever way you do that, is perfect for you and your family.
A note from the author:
I personally have three kids, a two year old and 10 month old twins, and I work full time. As you can imagine, a good night’s sleep is really important to me so I can be functional during the day. I do make sure to lay my babies down when they’re drowsy, but awake, keep them in a darkened, quiet room if they wake up overnight, and keep a sound machine on throughout the night. But I also do things against these recommendations, such as letting them sleep in my bed if they wake up overnight, letting them use a pacifier, and snuggling them their entire nap if they fall asleep in my arms. Why don’t I always take my own advice? Because I’m a mom first. I know this time is short and precious. Sleeping through the night is important, but the infant phase will be gone before I know it. So adapt these recommendations to your life and enjoy your babies as well.