The truth about babies and sleep

The truth about babies and sleep

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Desperately tired parents get plenty of advice about how to help their baby sleep – and some of it is flat out wrong. In the spirit of saving time, and maybe your sanity, we've sorted out fact from fiction. Here's hoping it helps your baby (and you) rest easier.

Myth #1: Newborns don't need a bedtime routine.

Oh, but they do. "Even very young babies benefit from scheduling and consistency at night," says Kim West, a sleep consultant and author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight. "It lays the groundwork for learning how to sleep through the night once they're older."

Myth #2: Infants can sleep through the night.

Babies wake up four to five times a night – just like adults. The catch is that adults know how to get themselves back to sleep, and very young babies don't. Mary Ann LoFrumento, author of Simply Parenting: Understanding Your Newborn & Infant, says that most babies aren't able to consistently soothe themselves to sleep until age 6 months or older.

Myth #3: You can get an infant to sleep through the night by starting her on solids early.

Many parents think that adding cereal to milk will help their baby sleep longer because she'll have a full belly. But adding cereal to milk before a baby is 6 months old is a bad idea, says Claire Lerner, senior parenting adviser at Zero to Three, a nonprofit that promotes the health of infants and toddlers. A young infant's digestive system isn't mature enough to handle cereal, plus they could gag or inhale the thickened mixture into their lungs.

Myth #4: It's okay to let your baby sleep in a moving seat or swing.

A few minutes in a moving swing or bouncy seat can soothe a fussy baby, but don't let it become a crutch. Not only might a baby grow to depend on the motion to fall asleep, but sleeping in a moving seat keeps your baby in a light sleep. This means he won't get the deep, restful sleep he needs, says Lerner, and deep sleep is when the brain sends out growth and developmental hormones.

Myth #5: If your baby doesn't nap during the day, she'll sleep longer at night.

Skipping daytime naps can sabotage sleep by making your baby overtired. And an overtired baby may have trouble settling down at night. Babies who are overtired often sleep more fitfully and wake up earlier, not later, the next morning. "You have to fill your child's sleep tank during the day to get her to sleep well at night," says West.

Of course, children naturally need fewer naps as they get older. The transition from two naps to a single afternoon nap usually happens between 15 and 18 months. Expect naps to be a thing of the past by age 5.

Myth #6: Some children are just bad sleepers.

All children can be taught to be good sleepers, says LoFrumento. "If a child is older, it may take longer, and it might take more effort, but every child is able to learn how to fall asleep well on his own."

Learn more:

  • Bedtime routines for babies
  • Finding the right sleep training method for your baby
  • Expert sleep strategies for babies

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