Sleep myths

When your baby isn’t sleeping through the night or is resisting falling asleep, you will find yourself grasping at any clue as to why your little one doesn’t sleep ‘like a baby’.

The first and possibly greatest myth is found in that little phrase: ‘sleeps like a baby’. The reality is that babies aren’t naturally great sleepers. In fact more than 50% of babies will experience sleep disruption before the age of two years old. You may find sleep evades you in the early days and that the first six months are a haze of exhaustion. Other newborns settle quickly into a good sleep routine only to start waking at around a year or in the toddler years wander through to your room. The bottom line is that babies and toddlers are not great sleepers and to get a good night’s sleep requires a little work on your part as you facilitate your baby to develop good sleep habits.

The second sleep myth has to do with teething. When your baby is waking at night or a goes through a miserable patch, it is easy to blame everything on teething. The truth is that teething does not cause sleep problems. At most, teething can be blamed for two or three unsettled nights, but not months of wakefulness. The vast majority of babies get their first tooth between 6 months and a year of age. It is exceptionally rare to teethe before four months or get the first tooth in the toddler years. When your baby is teething, you can expect some irritability and a change in bowel habits for three days around the eruption of the tooth. Do not blame poor sleep on teething unless:

  • Your baby is mouthing everything day and night and drools excessively
  • Your baby is slightly more irritable and may go off her food
  • Your baby’s poo’s begin to smell a little acrid and this may cause a mild nappy (diaper) rash.
  • You can feel and probably see a little white tooth below the gums. This is the hallmark feature of teething and if you cannot see or feel a sharp white edge, your baby’s sleep cannot be blamed on teething.

The third myth – that the later a baby falls asleep the later she will wake in the night or the next morning can actually cause sleep disruptions. The reality is that babies need to go to sleep early in order to sleep well and late. Overtiredness results in overstimulation and in an over stimulated state your baby may be very difficult to get to sleep. This can result in you having to use extensive measures to help your baby fall asleep, such as rocking or feeding to sleep. This can result in poor habits in the long term. In addition, babies to who are overtired at bedtime are more likely to wake at night and may experience night terrors – screaming at night as if having a bad dream. Finally, there is no evidence that a late bedtime results in later waking.

The myth that can cause a lot of stress for moms and dads is that their baby should fit into a prescribed day sleep routine. Every baby is different and can cope with different levels of stimulation and last for different lengths of time before the next feed. The idea of a four hourly feed routine and three evenly spaced sleeps each day is not necessarily the reality for most babies. Instead of watching the clock and putting your baby to sleep at 9am regardless of her age and feeds, be sensible. The best way to develop a day sleep routine is to follow your baby’s lead and watch her AWAKE times.

There are many myths that go with parenting and these are a few of the most common. To finish off, here are four truths you can cling to:

  • Your baby has the ability to sleep well, it may take a little work but you can get there
  • In order to develop good sleep habits, babies need to learn to self sooth to sleep at night and can do this from about 4-6 months of age
  • Good day sleeps are directly linked to good night sleep.
  • All babies can do well in a routine but it needs to be centered on your baby as an individual.

By Meg Faure