We’re all offered advice about our baby’s sleep patterns. We show you how ten of the most popular myths are mostly rubbish. Our sleep expert Jo Tantum busts those unhelpful sleep myths.
Myth Number One: Sleep when your baby sleeps.
This sounds great. Babies sleep a lot, right? So you’ll catch up on your sleep, and won’t be tired. Perfect! What no-one tells you is that sometimes your baby only sleeps for short stretches in the day, so just as you are snuggling down for a snooze, your baby wakes up. By the time you have changed their nappy, fed them, put them down for a nap, gone to the loo and hopefully had a shower, your baby is awake again. In fact, your baby will usually decide to sleep well in the day the one time you decide to give up on the whole idea and decide the laundry needs doing. Then, and only then, will they have a lovely long sleep of two hours! At least your clothes are clean!
Myth Number Two: The less sleep baby has in the day, the more they will sleep at night.
How many times have we heard this one! This really is a bad piece of advice. If your baby is well rested during the day, they won’t be overtired and grumpy. An overtired baby who has been awake most of the day can take ages to get to sleep at bedtime, as he is overstimulated. He will then crash into sleep for the first part of the night but then wake up often later on. So the moral of the story is, to make sure that your little one has plenty of good quality naps in the day and their bedtime sleep will be better.
Myth Number Three: Those ‘dream feeds’ don’t work.
I’ve been using a dream feed for many years, and I still use it for younger babies and when older babies are waking often in the night. This is a feed you wake your baby up for just before you go to bed. This means you all should get more sleep. This works, as babies have one long sleep in 24 hours. This increases as they grow, so as a newborn, it’s three to four hours. It gets longer as they get older and take more milk at each feed. It makes sense that you can get some good quality sleep at the same time as your little one. I always have the landing light on, so there’s no direct light, change the baby’s nappy, then feed him. Once breastfeeding is established then this can be an expressed bottle so that Dads can have some bonding time with their little one.
I don’t advise a dream feed if baby has digestive issues or reflux, as the more they feed the more they wake.
Myth Number Four: Keeping a baby up late will help them sleep longer and wake later in the morning.
This is another one you will hear from people giving you well-meaning advice which worked for them. But see point number two. The opposite often works better; by putting him to bed early for a week you may stop early morning wakings.
Myth Number Five: Wean early and your baby will sleep better.
Another terrible piece of advice! The guidelines are not to wean until six months unless a paediatrician/ dietician has advised otherwise; for example mothers of babies with reflux are advised to wean early. The number of times I’ve had emails from desperate parents who have weaned early and their baby still doesn’t sleep!
Myth Number Six: Breastfed babies don’t sleep through the night as soon as formula fed babies do.
I’ve worked with thousands of babies and this is a total myth. I was a Maternity Nurse for 10 years and 90% of the babies I cared for were breastfed. They all slept well, settled well at night and continued to stretch the lengths of sleep they had and all continued to sleep well once I had left. As long as your baby is taught how to get to sleep without sleeping props like feeding, rocking or patting, then they will continue to sleep well.
Myth Number Seven: Just because your first baby was a poor sleeper it doesn’t mean your next baby will be.
Each baby will sleep differently. Often, first time babies will be comforted and picked up at the slightest sound, even if they are asleep. You may try lots of things to soothe them almost in a panic. Of course, little ones need comforting and cuddling but if you help them to go to sleep, that becomes how they get to sleep – on you, on the breast, in the
car seat etc. Often when your next baby arrives, they have to fit into the toddler’s routine. You are often more relaxed and confident too.
Myth Number Eight: Babies will sleep better once they are weaned, crawling or walking.
If you have a baby who doesn’t sleep you’ll look for the reasons why. You may hear; “Once they are 12 weeks old, things will settle and they will sleep better.” So you get to 12 weeks and they are still just as bad! You are then told: “Once they are weaned, they will sleep better.” Don’t wait for these milestones to change your baby’s bad sleeping habits; do it now and they will improve quickly.
Myth Number Nine: Baby’s ‘colic’ symptoms will stop at three months and he will then sleep better.
I have never liked the word colic, as its definition is ‘unexplained crying’. Babies don’t cry for no reason, there is always a reason and we need to find out what it is and help them. Wind and digestive issues can often be the case with new babies. Babies are born with an immature digestive system, so breastfed babies can have awful wind depending on what you are eating. Start a food diary to solve this. If your baby is waking often in the night and always seems uncomfortable during and after a feed, see your doctor; it may be reflux or CMPA and you will need to see a paediatrician or gastroenterologist as well.
Myth Number Ten: Getting your baby into a routine will mean you have to stay in all the time.
This is a huge myth.The mums who follow my flexible routines all have full lives; they go to music classes, cafes and swimming and their little ones are well rested and fed. Your daily routine doesn’t have to be rigid, though it does have to take your baby into account. Organise your day between feeds and naps so your baby enjoys time out, classes or play dates instead of being tired or hungry. The best way to work out a flexible routine based on your baby’s natural patterns is to make a 48 hour log. Write down feed and nap times and you will soon start to see some patterns emerging. Then you can write a routine tailor-made to your baby.
Happy sleeping! Jo