Blah, blah, blah – The sleep advice rolls in
I can clearly remember, like most mothers do, the very moment I found out I was pregnant for the first time. It didn’t take long after seeing the double pink lines on the test to become excited, grateful, anxious and overwhelmed. I remember my husband and I had a conversation a few days later about how much we needed to “bank” our sleep in the coming months.
As the months passed and my belly grew, I was inundated by advice and guidance from family, friends and even strangers. Let me say that I now know these were all thrown at me with the BEST intentions. I was so incredibly appreciative for all the mothers in my life who went through these days before me because they helped me get through some of my hardest days of my pregnancy and the early days with my son, Lincoln. But nonetheless, it was overwhelming to receive such a flood of information! Thinking back, I can’t even begin to count the number of times I heard the words, “You should,” “You’ll want to,” and “You’ve got to”. If there’s no such number as “kajillion”, it should be created specifically to measure the number of suggestions a woman receives during her pregnancy and then in her first year of motherhood!
Of course, I say this all in fun and take comfort knowing that most freshly new mothers are somewhere out there nodding their heads in agreement. Those feelings of love and gratitude towards the moms that have come before me persist for me to this day, and so do the recommendations they offer.
Life of the millennial mom: Guidance and advice overload
There’s no such thing as a casual mom, as much as we would all love to just “go with it”. This gig is full-time, no matter if you’re a stay-at-home mom, a working mom, or a mom like me that is trying (and sometimes failing) to do a little bit of both. Regardless of which camp you fall into, your children are on your mind 24/7, no matter what else is going on.
As millennials, we live in an age of infinite information, so we tend to do a LOT of research for almost everything. And between the perusing the internet late at night when we should be sleeping, flipping through baby books that were handed to us from friends and family and reading the comments on our most recent Facebook post or Instagram photo, it’s inevitable that we will get a LOT of conflicting information.
So today, I want to focus on my area of expertise, pediatric sleep, and try to dispel some of the more popular myths I’ve seen or heard in many parenting forums.
Myth one: Sleeping too much during the day will keep baby up at night
Not likely, except in extreme cases. Unless your little one is sleeping practically all day and up all night, you probably don’t need to concern yourself with the length of their naps. Newborns, in particular, need a ton of sleep. Most of the time that I hear from families reaching out for help with their little ones, they are keeping them up too long during the day. Newborns have an awake threshold that maxes out around 45 minutes to one hour. Even as those newborns get a little older, the wake time doesn’t increase all that much. In fact, until about six months, recommend that your little one be awake for no more than about two to two and a half hours at a time.
What keeps babies awake at night, more than anything else, is overtiredness. You might think that an exhausted baby is more likely to sack out for a full night than one who slept all day, but it’s actually just the opposite. The reason we refer to it as being “overtired” is because baby has missed the “tired” phase and their bodies start to kick back into gear, which keeps them from falling and staying asleep. You can read more in a recent post of mine about what happens, biologically, when this tiredness sweet spot is missed. A baby who has gotten a decent amount of sleep during the day is far less likely to miss the sleep window.
There are substantial variations depending on baby’s age and the length of their naps, but up to that six-month mark, it’s really not uncommon for baby to be sleeping around five hours a day outside of nighttime sleep. Therefore, if your little one is still within those guidelines, let them snooze.
Myth two: Sleeping is a natural development and can’t be taught
Sleeping is absolutely natural. Everybody wakes up and falls back to sleep multiple times a night, regardless of their age. So no, you can’t teach a child to be sleepy. What can be taught, however, is the ability to fall back to sleep independently.
The typical “bad sleeper” isn’t less in need of sleep, or more prone to waking up, but they have learned to depend on outside assistance to get back to sleep when they wake up. Once your little one has figured out how to get to sleep without assistance from outside sources, he will start stringing those sleep cycles together effortlessly; and that’s the secret to “sleeping through the night”, as most parents understand it. Spoiler alert… No one really ever sleeps through the night, but that doesn’t mean that your one-year-old baby needs to be waking YOU up every two hours.
Myth three: Babies will naturally dictate their own sleep schedule
Babies need as much help and guidance when it comes to sleep as they do with anything else. Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles are unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. If they miss their natural sleep cycle by as little as a half hour, their cortisol production can increase, which causes a surge in energy and things quickly spiral out of control.
So as much as I wish babies could just fall asleep when they’re tired, it simply doesn’t work that way. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t respond to their cues, but you shouldn’t rely exclusively on them either.
Remember back to the first days of motherhood when you assisted your baby in learning how to eat. Whether they were learning to latch onto a bottle or to you, it was (most likely) something that they needed help with! Sleep is no different than eating in this way. It is most definitely a basic need, but it is one that they need to be coached into doing correctly.
Myth four: Sleep training is stressful for the baby and can affect the parent-child attachment
Nope! And this isn’t just me talking here… The following information is coming straight from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the most reliable source of baby health information. According to a 2016 study conducted by eight of the top researchers of the AAP, behavioral intervention, AKA sleep training, “provide(s) significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey(s) no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.” There’s really not a lot of gray area there!
In fact, I have read other studies that are nicely summarized in this post that equate the stress associated with a few nights of gentle sleep training to the same stress endured by little ones when they make the transition to daycare or cope with the physical stress that is associated with getting their vaccines from their pediatricians.
Myth five: Babies are not “designed” to sleep through the night
Trusting your child’s physiology to dictate their sleep schedule, their eating habits, their behavior, or just about any other aspect of their upbringing is a recipe for disaster.
Our little ones need our expertise and authority to guide them through their early years and decades following that. This is especially true when it comes to their sleep. Of course, some babies are naturally gifted sleepers. But you can’t rely on the advice of those who tell you that babies should dictate their schedules. You’re in charge because you know best, even if it may not feel like it sometimes!
It would be rare for us, as parents, to allow our kiddos to tell us what they will and will not try when it comes to their nutrition. Sure, there are days when they get to pick and days when the options we give them are more out of convenience than nutritional value, but on a day-to-day basis, we are supporting our children in making good choices when it comes to eating. Similarly, we are responsible for teaching these little bundles the skills of good sleep, as well. Plus, it has some major benefits in it for us!
Wow — That’s a lot of new information for me to process about my child’s sleep
There are obviously plenty more myths and misconceptions surrounding babies and their sleep habits, but these are some of the most important one to get the facts straight around. Remember, with endless posts on social media and access to millions of websites you have to be sure that you’re getting your information regarding baby and child sleep from a trusted source. Google Scholar is a great place to get your hands on peer-reviewed scientific studies on all things baby-related. The AAP, the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization are also excellent sources of information. When searching in these places, you can feel confident about the content that you are reading as you seek answers to the questions you have about the growth, development and changes of your child(ren).
And, as always, if you would like to chat more about these myths, or anything related to pediatric sleep, you know where to find me!