Sleep is important for everyone and when there’s a baby in the house you’ll try anyone’s sleep tip that sounds remotely plausible. But don’t believe everything you hear because some advice is misleading and can create problems. Let’s take a closer look at six common sleep myths.
Start solids to help your baby sleep through
There’s no guarantee that introducing solids early will help your baby sleep through the night. Your bub’s temperament, your parenting style, and family environment all influence sleep, not just food. And what is starting solids early? Research suggests the digestive system is immature and unable to effectively process foods before 17-weeks of age and that introducing solids from four to six months is optimal for physical growth and brain development.
Breastmilk (or if unavailable, infant formula) is optimal nourishment for growth and development until bub is four months of age. When bub is getting enough milk there is no advantage to introducing food any earlier and because the gut is immature, bub is likely to suffer tummy and bowel discomfort resulting in poor sleep.
Adding rice cereal to bub’s milk isn’t recommended either because it can interfere with bub’s internal ‘volume control switch’ that regulates her nutritional needs, which means she’s consuming more kilojoules that can lead to a life-long struggle with weight.
Bub must sleep in her own room
There’s no general rule for what helps bub sleep through because all babies are individual. Sleep in the early months is mostly ‘active’ and bub is usually more wakeful and sensitive to noise during this time but temperament also influences her sleeping behaviours.
Your newborn needs regular milk feeds overnight. Therefore, having her close makes your job quicker and easier, allows you to hear her sleeping noises, and she can be comforted by yours. In fact, SIDS and Kids recommends sleeping a baby in a cot next to your bed for the first six to 12 months of life as this has been shown to lower the risk of SIDS.
Ignore a crying baby so she can self-settle
Crying before sleep can help in some cases but it’s just one of a plethora of sleeping techniques available for parents to try. There’s no one technique that fits all. Every bub, parenting style, and environmental circumstance is different and requires individual adjustments.
Research shows leaving babies regularly to cry unattended for weeks on end has devastating long-term psychological effects but leaving bub to cry for short bursts of time when all other needs are met has not been shown to leave any lasting harmful effects. If you are alone and at breaking point, leaving bub safely in the cot to cry for 10 minutes while you have a shower or get some fresh air away from the noise can be the best approach for both of you.
Bubs younger than four months of age have limited brain development and are unable to self-soothe if left alone to cry. Cuddling your newborn helps her calm and feel secure to fall asleep. Little ones older than four months of age have greater brain development and begin to understand life in systems and patterns. Meeting your older bub’s needs with consistent routines and allowing her to cry a little with intermittent reassurance while she goes off to sleep can help her establish the life-long skill of self-soothing and falling to sleep on her own.
Never wake a sleeping baby
Not waking a sleeping baby can be harmful. Bubs under 2.5kg or with a metabolic disorder need regular nourishment for heathy growth and development whether they wake or not. Bubs that are jaundiced (yellowed skin) are usually tired and don’t wake for feeds even though regular feeds help break down the excess bilirubin. It’s a couple of months before your baby’s night and day rhythms are established so waking her regularly during the day for milk feeds and leaving her to wake for feeds overnight can help.
Putting baby to bed late will make her sleep in
Sounds logical, but it’s actually the opposite that happens. Your bub usually has a set wake-time no matter what time she gets to sleep in the evening. If late nights persist she’ll become chronically overtired, which leaves her in an alert state that makes it hard for her to settle to sleep. Best to watch for tired cues in the evening and start getting bub off to bed before she ‘revs up’ from being overtired.
Baby’s need complete quiet to sleep
While growing in your womb, bub was surrounded by internal noises from the heart and digestive system and external noises from the environment. These noises are familiar and comforting for your newborn so there’s no need to tip-toe about, turn the music down or tell people to whisper. It’s only the sharp banging and yelling that startles bub and these noises can be muffled by playing white-noise at sleep time.