Debunking 5 Common Baby Sleep Myths!

Photography: Serina Crinis

By Aileen Dunbar

There is a lot of noise and misinformation out there surrounding baby sleep which can lead to unnecessary stress for parents. In this post, I will debunk 5 common baby sleep myths so you can focus more on enjoying your baby!

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 “signaling” 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[1]. Dr. James McKenna, a pediatric sleep researcher, 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.”[2] Another noteworthy aspect of his research was he found that as babies got older, their ability to self-soothe increases but each baby develops this ability in their own time[1]. 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. ⠀

There is a lot of noise and misinformation out there surrounding baby sleep which can lead to unnecessary stress for parents.

Myth #2. You are creating bad habits by helping your baby fall asleep

It is perfectly normal and does not create bad habits if you support your baby to sleep! First off, babies rely upon their caregivers to return to a calm state if stressed through a process called co-regulation[3]. By using relaxing methods such as rocking, singing, and nursing to help your baby fall asleep, you are creating positive associations with sleep. Furthermore, babies seek more connection when they are facing an imminent separation such as at bedtime, so helping put them to sleep is a way to feel more attached to the caregiver before this separation[3]. Lastly, while sleep is not a state that can be forced into, when you are tuned into your baby’s tired cues, and show them you will take the lead in helping them go to sleep, it helps them trust and depend on you as their caregiver and fosters a secure attachment. ⠀

It is perfectly normal and does not create bad habits if you support your baby to sleep! First off, babies rely upon their caregivers to return to a calm state if stressed through a process called co-regulation.

Myth #3. Short naps are bad naps

First off, short naps are very common, especially in babies younger than 6 months[3]. Other factors can increase the likelihood of babies taking short naps, such as temperament and genetics[3]. If your 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 anything wrong! There are things you can do to try to extend the nap, such as adjusting wake windows (the time between naps as if your baby is under or overtired, this can lead to short naps), holding your baby in your arms and/or using motion to get your baby back to sleep upon waking and making sure they are receiving appropriate stimulation throughout the day.

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