New parents are inundated with unsolicited parenting advice and no topic is more eagerly discussed than sleep. After countless sleepless nights, the exhausted state many find themselves in can make it harder to separate fact from fiction. So here, for the benefit of tired parents everywhere, is a list of baby sleep advice you can safely ignore.
1. If you don't sleep train your baby their sleep will always be bad.
This myth presumes that babies need to be taught to sleep. Only they don't. Babies have been sleeping perfectly well of their own accord since they were in utero. They weren't taught to sleep then and they don't need teaching now. Sleep is a normal bodily function, just like eating and going to the toilet. It doesn't need any teaching. Babies don't 'learn' to fall asleep alone, they don't 'learn' to sleep through the night. These things just happen as they mature and their brain and body develops. Plenty of research has shown that baby sleep consolidates naturally without any parental intervention.
2. Your baby will never learn to self settle unless you teach them.
You don't need to teach your baby to self soothe. The ability to self settle to sleep is a developmental milestone. The child can either do it, or they can't. There is nothing you can teach to change that. They need time to develop, for their brains to connect and grow, just as they do with any other developmental milestone. The ability to self settle depends on a certain level of brain development that babies just don't have. Research has found that babies who are quiet after being sleep trained are not soothed or settled, they are still stressed, they have just learned that there is no point vocalising this stress any more as they are not responded to.
3. Feeding or rocking your baby to sleep is a bad habit you need to break.
Anything that makes your baby feel calm enough to sleep is a parenting win. Feeding to sleep is what babies are biologically meant to do. The action of sucking helps them to relax and it is usually one of the easiest ways to get them to sleep. Feeding your baby to sleep won't make them wake more, but it may make them sleep more quickly. The same is true of rocking. Rocking a baby to sleep is innate, it just comes naturally and it works. Gentle swaying motion is a sure-fire sleep inducer, whether it's a parent's arms or a rocking hammock. Again there is no reason to stop rocking, it isn't a bad habit. When the baby grows they will outgrow the need for rocking naturally. You don't see many eighteen year olds who still need rocking to sleep do you?
4. Sharing a bed with your baby is dangerous.
Sharing a sleep surface with your baby can be dangerous. Especially if you smoke, if you've drunk alcohol, taken medication or fallen asleep accidentally with them on a sofa or in a bed surrounded by duvets and pillows. If you have planned to bedshare however, and removed anything that can add risk, research has found it is no less safe than if your baby slept alone in their cot. Planned bedsharing following safety guidelines usually means a lot more sleep for everybody. Bedsharing is also known to aid breastfeeding which lowers the baby's risk of SIDS. Don't worry that you'll never get your baby out of your bed either, research has shown that as they get older, bedsharing babies are no more likely to sleep with their parents than babies who slept in cots.
5. Babies should sleep through the night by six months.
Most people believe that babies should sleep through the night by six months. If they are waking past this they are often considered to have a 'sleep problem'. Research paints a very different picture however. At nine months 58% of babies still wake regularly at night. A more realistic age to expect your child to sleep through the night is somewhere around two years of age. As adults we often wake in the night, why would babies be any different?
6. Babies don't need night feeds once they're over six months.
I'm 39 and I frequently have a drink in the middle of the night, as do many other adults. Who says babies don't need the same? Who says they should stop being hungry at 7pm? Who says they don't ever wake with a dry mouth or a sore throat? This is truly one of the most ridiculous myths out there. There is no evidence to support it, just as research proves that feeding babies more in the day doesn't make them sleep better at night. It's just simply not true.
For more baby sleep myth busting check out 'Why Your Baby's Sleep Matters'.