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Debunking Common Baby Sleep Myths- Part I

There is a lot of noise and misinformation out there surrounding baby sleep which can lead to unnecessary stress for parents. So I wanted to devote my next two blog posts to bust some of the common myths and hopefully reduce stress so you can enjoy your time with baby more!

Myth # 1. You need to teach your baby to self-soothe.

The term self-soothing comes from a study on infant sleep done by Dr. Tom Anders in which he determined there were two key ways in which infants respond to their own awakenings: those that involved “signalling” meaning they needed help from their parents to get back to sleep and those which involved “self-soothing” meaning babies went back to sleep on their own. Dr. James McKenna said the following with regards to Dr. Anders’ research: “... he did not conclude that self-soothing represents an important developmental milestone that all infants need to be trained to achieve, though this is what parents often hear.” Another noteworthy aspect of his research was he found that as babies got older, their ability to self-soothe increased but each baby develops this ability in their own time. My takeaway from this is we don’t need to be involved in teaching our baby to self-soothe but can let nature take its course. Myth #2. You are creating bad habits by helping your baby fall asleep.

It is perfectly normal and not creating problems to support your baby to sleep! First off, babies rely upon caregiver to enter into calm state through a process called co-regulation. To be able to be relaxed enough to enter into sleep, using relaxing associations like rocking, singing, nursing, etc. are all great ways to help with this. According to Dr. Gordon Neufeld, a developmental psychologist, babies and children seek more connection when they are facing an imminent separation such as bedtime, so helping put them to sleep is a way to feel more attached to caregiver before this separation Lastly, while sleep is not a state that can be forced into, when we are tuned into baby’s tired cues, and show them we will take the lead on helping them go to sleep, it helps them trust and depend on us as their caregiver and fosters a secure attachment. Myth #3. Short naps are bad naps.

First off, short naps are very common, especially in babies younger than 6 months. Other factors can lead to babies being more likely to be cat nappers, such as temperament and genetics. If baby only takes 25-30 minute naps, but wakes up seeming refreshed and well-rested, then it is likely they are getting the rest they need. As babies get older, it is quite possible you will see them start to take longer naps without you needing to do anything to make this happen. But for some babies, they just continue to take 30 minute naps and although it can be very frustrating, it is normal and you don’t need to stress that it means there is something wrong with your baby or that you are doing something wrong! There are things you can do to try to extend the nap, such as adjusting wake windows (the time between naps as if baby is under or overtired, this can lead to short naps), holding baby in arms and/or using motion to get baby back to sleep upon waking, making sure they are receiving appropriate stimulation throughout the day, etc.

Myth #4. Motions naps do not count as real naps.

This is another common but inaccurate myth. According to sleep scientists, the primary purpose of naps is to relieve sleep pressure, which is biological mechanism that drives us to sleep. The longer a baby has been awake, the more sleep pressure increases and it builds up more quickly the younger the baby is. This means that any time a baby naps, no matter the length of nap or where the nap takes place (i.e. stroller, carrier, car seat, etc.), the nap has been “successful” in the sense that it has relieved the sleep pressure. So there is no reason to feel guilty if your baby naps better on the go or in the carrier. In fact, there are many benefits to the parents’ mental health if they can be on the go for at least one of their baby’s naps so they aren’t stuck in the house all day!

Myth #5. Baby sleep progresses in a linear fashion.

This myth implies that once baby starts sleeping longer stretches at night, it is thought it is not typical for them to start waking more frequently again. It has been shown that it is common for infants between 6-12 months who were sleeping longer stretches to start waking more frequently at night (Scher, 1991, 2001). Another study which examined infants between 3 to 42 months found that “sleep duration and number of night waking episodes were unstable” for these children during this time period (Scher et al., 2004). Therefore, it is more than likely not something you are doing that is causing your baby to all of a sudden wake more frequently. It could be due to factors such as teething, increased separation anxiety, reaching developmental milestones, growth spurt, etc.

Stay tuned for my next post where I debunk 5 more common baby sleep myths!


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