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Little Kids, Big Questions
is a series of 12 podcasts that translates the research of early childhood development into parenting practices that mothers, fathers and other caregivers can tailor to the needs of their own child and family. Click here to listen to or download the podcasts. This podcast series is generously funded by MetLife Foundation.

Sleep Myths

Myth 1:  Later to bed = Baby sleeps later in the morning

Sleeping in—it’s wishful thinking for many parents.  Actually, the thought that babies will sleep later if put to bed later is a common myth.  Babies sleep better, longer, and cry less if they are put to bed early in the evening. Babies who go to sleep late in the evening are often "over tired", even though they seem to have energy.

Look for your baby’s "sleep signals" that show when she is tired.  Seize the moment before the “sleepy window” has passed. The first signs of tiredness—eye rubbing, yawning, slowing down—should signal a transition to the bedtime routine. This may occur as early as 6:00 or 7:00 pm for babies. 


Myth 2:  Babies should sleep through the night

Many parents dream of nothing more than getting their baby to sleep through the night.  Most babies have the capacity to make it 8 hours or more without a feeding when they are about 4 months and at least 16 pounds.  If babies at this age and stage are still waking up in the middle of the night, the problem is usually not the waking up…it's the getting back to sleep.

Most babies (and adults) wake up one or more times during the night.  As adults, we usually just roll over and go back to sleep.  Babies typically wake 2 to 4 times a night.  But while some babies cry briefly and then soothe themselves back to sleep, others don't.  They have not yet learned how to get themselves back to sleep, so they cry out for help.

The key is helping your baby learn how to get herself to sleep.  Creating a soothing routine of lullabies, books, and rocking before bedtime is very important.  Then put your baby down in her crib while she's still awake.  This gives her the chance to learn what it feels like to fall asleep on her own.

If your child is over one year of age, consider offering him a “lovey” (stuffed animal or special blanket).  Babies will often comfort themselves with these objects, which helps them fall asleep.  You may also hear your baby singing or talking to herself before drifting off to sleep.  These are all ways babies have of putting themselves to sleep. 


Sleep Myth 3:  “Crying It Out” is bad for baby

Crying is a common and (understandable!) response to saying good-bye to a loved parent at bedtime.  However, learning to fall asleep on one’s own is an important skill that you can help your baby learn when she is old enough—at about 4 months.

Most experts and research agree that letting a baby or toddler cry as they go to sleep will not have any long-term damaging effects. A child who is well-loved, nurtured, and responded to during the day will not be hurt by fussing a bit before bed in the evening.  And the good news is that the crying at bedtime will probably only go on for a few days before your baby adapts and begins to learn how to put herself to sleep.

But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy choice for parents.  Many parenting decisions, and especially this one, involve understanding temperament—not only your baby's, but your own as well.  If letting your baby cry herself to sleep is too emotionally painful for you, there are other options.  For example, you can go back to check on her every 10 minutes (but without rocking or nursing her).  Or, you can decide on a certain length of crying that you are willing to put up with (say 15 minutes) and if the crying goes beyond that, you will go in to comfort the baby.  Another option, if your partner is able to endure more of the crying, is that he or she takes on the bedtime routine. In any case, it is important for the two of you to be in agreement about your bedtime plan. Finding an approach that works for both your baby and your family is important.


Sleep Myth 4:  Babies on solid foods sleep longer

Many parents have heard that starting solids early (before 4-6 months) or adding cereal to their baby's bottle will help their child sleep through the night. This is a myth. There is no research to support it, and in fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages feeding babies solid foods before four months of age. This is due to their immature digestive systems and their lack of oral-motor skills. Some studies even indicate that early introduction of solids can trigger food allergies.

It is normal and expected that babies younger than 4 months will wake during the night.  Beginning at about 4 months, you can start helping your baby learn to sleep though the night.  (See above on how to teach your baby to fall asleep on his own.)

Until then, your young infant will be plenty full on a liquid (breastmilk or formula) diet, without using solids.  Make the baby’s last feeding part of his bedtime routine.  And try to put your baby down while he is still awake, but drowsy.  If you have concerns about your child's weight gain or sleep patterns, talk to your health care provider.

 

 

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