These Are The Biggest Myths About Babies And SLEEP
Everyone has an opinion when it comes to baby sleep (I probably have more than most!), but sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Here, I will tackle a few of the myths surrounding baby sleep, in a series of True or False statements.
1. The earlier you start a routine, the better: FALSE
I do like a little structure in the daytime for little ones, but I really don’t feel like extra pressure, along with getting to know a newborn baby, is the right thing to do. You need the early weeks and months to simply get to know each other. Having a ‘routine’ may often involve waking babies in order to put a little shape on their day, and newborns (and parents) should definitely not be pressured into a pattern too early. In the first few weeks, they will have their own schedule and we need to be supportive of it. From around four months, you will start to see some sort of daytime pattern emerging, as their own body clock (circadian rhythm) starts to emerge; by six months, if you’ve not already done so, you can start to put a better structure in place, as you will have also started to introduce solid foods and the day may start to become more ‘regular’.
2. Filling little ones with food will make them sleep better: FALSE
The reality is this: If your little eight-month-old is having a very heavy tea in the evening, they are probably going to top that up with a feed of milk before they go to bed. That may be pretty uncomfortable for them as they settle, and could result in pain or trapped wind. Be careful what you feed them at teatime. I always recommend a lighter meal around then; safe in the knowledge that they won’t be hungry, or indeed unsettled because of food, as they will have had a full milk feed too.
And please don’t go putting baby rice in their bottles. It won’t help and can be dangerous to do it before your little one’s digestive system is ready.
3. All infants should sleep on their backs: TRUE (almost always)
The ‘Back to Sleep’ safe sleep programme initially recommended that babies sleep on their sides or their backs. This is particularly relevant for smaller infants who are not yet moving around the cot. The advice was changed a short while later and side sleeping was no longer a recommendation, as babies often rolled form their sides to their tummies. A mobile child will find their most comfortable position and it can be very difficult to keep them on their backs. So yes, it is true that the safest option is on their backs, but at least one possible exception I can think of is a baby with reflux who will experience pain in this position.
Babies are at lowest risk of SIDS when sleeping on their backs, and at most risk while sleeping on their tummies; while many babies are more comfortable sleeping on their sides, which although controversial, is the middle ground. There is not enough statistical evidence to state that side-sleeping poses a greater risk. It is often recommended that parents use a sleep positioner that will stop them from rolling onto their tummies, and place them on their sides to alleviate any discomfort.
4. If you let them sleep in your bed, they will never get out: FALSE
I have mentioned co-sleeping before and how it can be a really successful way of managing sleep for all the family. As long as it is done in a safe manner:
- Make sure that you or your partner are not overtired and that you haven’t been drinking, or taking drugs or medication.
- Ensure that your bed is absolutely safe for your baby, with a flat, firm mattress and no gaps between the mattress and headboard.
- Remove all pillows and bedding - duvets and blankets - in the early months, and dress both baby and yourselves warmly to compensate.
There may come a time when you want to make a change, however, and it could be for a whole host of reasons. Just know that it won’t take long for that change to settle in. It might not be easy but that is where support from a sleep professional (like me!) might be very useful.
5. Putting kids to bed later = a lie in: FALSE
Sorry, this just isn’t going to work! It’s a bit of wishful thinking and I’m sure we have all tried it at least once. Your little one may often appear a little wired if they stay up past their normal bedtime, but it’s a false sense of energy and a bit of an adrenalin rush due to overtiredness. If they don’t get to bed before they are overtired, you could be in for a night of it! They will find it harder to get off to sleep in the first place and then will struggle again to go back to sleep if they wake early.
Remember, baby sleep myths are usually just advice from well-meaning friends and family, so just take them with a pinch of salt.
Niamh O’Reilly is a sleep coach. She's also a baby and childcare guru, a 'parent nanny' and the answer to many a weary parent's woes. When it comes to baby and child issues, Niamh is your woman. Always on hand to offer a no-nonsense solution, in an approachable way. A regular in the Irish media, (most recently as TV3’s Late Lunch Show's 'parent nanny') over the next while at HerFamily.ie, Niamh will share some of her experiences, helping you attain that ‘holy grail’ – nights of uninterrupted sleep for all of the family.
Niamh's book, No Fuss Baby & Toddler Sleep, is now available to buy from all good book stores or online from Amazon.com.