“Is he a good baby?”
This must be the most common question that’s asked of new parents.
The popular belief that ‘good babies’ sleep well and ‘bad babies’ don’t is firmly entrenched in Western culture.
So great is the pressure to prove that we and our babies are doing the right thing, as many as one-third of parents have admitted to lying about their babies true sleeping patterns.
So — let’s get real about babies and sleep. What is normal, anyway? Here are 4 baby sleep myths which have been answered with truths, in the hope that they will bring you more peace of mind:
#1: Back In The Old Days…
Back in 1957, research suggested 70% of babies began sleeping through the night at three months of age. You’ve probably been told this by past generations of mothers, health professionals, and others who have passed this along as fact for almost sixty years.
But here is what they leave out about this baby sleep myth:
- Sleeping through the night was defined as not disturbing the parents between 12 am and 5 am
- Although 30% of babies were not ‘sleeping through’ at 3 months, the information was misinterpreted to suggest all babies were capable of this, and therefore should be doing so.
- Although those babies were reported to be ‘sleeping through’ at 3 months, half of them reverted back to waking again
- At the time of the study, most babies were formula-fed, supplemented with rice cereal and other solids much earlier, and slept in a separate room to their parents. We now know that these things increase the risk of SIDS.
#2: Your Baby Needs To Learn To Sleep Alone
Dr. James McKenna calls them “Stone age babies in a space-age world”. Despite great advancement in science and technology in modern history, our bodies – and those of our babies – remain unchanged.
Babies are designed to be kept safe by their mother, day and night, close to her body. Predators, the environment and other factors make the world an unsafe place for an unprotected infant. Today, as much as in the past, babies around the world sleep safest alongside their mother. Sharing a sleep surface (bed-sharing) or within arms-reach (co-sleeping) are still the natural ways for mothers and babies to spend the night.
Those who say that co-sleeping is unsafe need to realize that no matter where a baby sleeps, there are unsafe practices to avoid. There are also safe sleeping guidelines that exist to prevent harm. They can’t be of help if parents are not aware of them.
When we look at breastfeeding as the normal way for babies to eat, we can then also look at their sleep patterns as the normal way to sleep. Research is clearly showing a link between bed-sharing and successful breastfeeding. In the UK, 70-80% of breastfeeding mothers also bed-share.
Professor James J. McKenna found that babies aged 11-15 weeks who sleep within arms-reach of their mother breastfeed twice as often as those in their own sleep space. Rather than see this as down-side of either breastfeeding or co-sleeping, we can see that safe bed-sharing can support mothers to meet their breastfeeding goals and enable babies to establish and maintain milk production.
#3: Your Baby Should Be Sleeping Through By Now!
Night waking continues throughout the first year – and beyond.
New research from the UK clearly shows that 78% of babies aged 6 – 12 months still regularly woke at least once in the night with 61% having at least one milk feed during the night.
Dr. Amy Brown, program director for the MSc Child Public Health who led the study said: “The findings are very interesting as they … challenge the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night once they are past a few weeks.”
You are not doing anything wrong if your baby continues to wake at night to feed into the second year – in fact, your baby is normal.
#4: Extra Solids And/Or Formula Will Fix Your Baby’s Sleep Problems
The study also debunked the urban myth that starting your baby on solids or supplementing with formula will help them sleep at night. In fact, researchers found that babies fed extra solids and milk during the day we’re still just as likely to wake at night but less likely to be fed.
Over-feeding a baby during the day in an effort to make them wake less at night doesn’t work. There are many reasons babies wake at night, hunger is just one. Encouraging babies to eat more than they need can only make them uncomfortably full and may increase obesity in later life.
Instead of maintaining the myth, that night waking is a short-term problem to be resolved as quickly as possible, we need to better support parents to understand that babies and young children need parenting during the day AND night. By creating a culture where parents hide the truth in fear of judgment, we perpetuate the myth and limit the practical support available to help them cope.
Recommended Reading: Follow our comprehensive baby week by week series. Find out what’s normal for your baby’s age each week, so you can parent with even more confidence.