Don't Believe It! Common Myths About Baby Sleep
You'd think since we've been around babies — forever! — we'd pretty much know everything about them. But beware: the more books you read and grandmas you talk with, the more sleep misunderstandings and misperceptions you'll encounter.
Here's one big myth: "New parents are supposed to raise their baby all on their own." Nonsense! Throughout history, new parents have relied on tons of help. Family and friends in most cultures around the world have always "mothered the mother" — until recently, when a ridiculous myth was launched: "You're a wuss if you need a nanny, and incompetent if you need your family's help."
Fact: Raising kids does take a village! So right now is the perfect time to pull in favors. Of course, you should be prepared to return those favors when your friends and family need help from you.
And speaking of myths, here are the top ten mistaken baby sleep ideas you're likely to hear from the moms you meet in the park.
Myth 1: Babies are naturally good sleepers.
Fact : Don't let the phrase "sleeping like a baby" fool you. Babies sleep a lot, but it's broken into bits and pieces throughout the day. And sometimes, just like adults, babies party too hard. They can get so excited by your home's daily commotion that they stay up too long . . . which makes them wired and miserable and makes it even harder for them to leave the party and give in to sleep.
Myth 2: Never wake a sleeping baby.
Fact : Sometimes it's essential to wake your baby up! For example, ifshe poops in her sleep, you need to wake her to change her diaper in order to protect her skin. And waking her up for an 11 p.m. dreamfeed (an extra couple of ounces) may be to the key step in improving her sleep.
Moreover, intentionally waking your baby is an essential stepin teaching her the skill of self-soothing (falling back to sleep on his or her own after being jolted awake by a ringing phone or passing truck).
And don't worry. You'll be able to help her slide back into sleepin no time even before she learns self-soothing once you master the skill of turning on her calming reflex.
Myth 3: Sleeping babies need us to tiptoe around.
Fact : You may like sleeping in peace and quiet, but for your baby, it's really weird! That's because in the womb, she was surrounded by a24/7 symphony of sensations — holding, soft touch, loud whooshing, and lots of jiggling.
So sleeping in stillness is actually a form of sensory deprivationto a baby . . . like locking us in a dark closet!
Of course, chaotic disturbances — like clanging pots — will disturb your baby's sleep. But rhythmic jiggly motion and the right white noise sound (rumbling and low pitched) will be two of your top tools for boosting her naps and nights.
Myth 4: Rocking your baby to sleep every night will make her dependent on it.
Fact : Well, this one is a little trickier.
It's true that rocking and nursing your baby to sleep every night will delay her learning how to get to sleep on her own. However, rocking and nursing your baby to sleep is absolutely delicious and will probably become one of your most treasured memories of these early days. (And babies are held and rocked nonstop in the womb — so your little friend is already "hooked" on these sleep cues from before Day 1.)
Fortunately, it's super easy to enjoy as much holding, nursing, and rocking as you want, without causing sleep problems. All you need to do is add other soothing sensations to your bedtime mix (like white noise and swaddling) and use the quick "wake and sleep" technique (which I'll teach you soon) to turn your baby into an excellent self-soother.
Myth 5: Colic is crying caused by mysterious stomach pains.
Fact : For thousands of years, colic (sudden screaming fits that totalthree or more hours a day) has been a medical mystery. This crying starts at two to three weeks, hits a peak at six to eight weeks, and then gradually disappears by about three months. But, the fact that most screaming babies can be quickly calmed with the 5 S's shows this crying isn't caused by pain.
Doctors and grandmas have always assumed colicky babies were upset from stomach pain — overfeeding, indigestion, or acid reflux pain. Although some do grunt and fuss right after a feeding — and 5 to 10 percent get better with a change in formula or their mom's diet — it is now clear that this daily wailing is not caused by stomach pain.
How can I be so sure? For a bunch of reasons:
- Ninety percent of fussy babies show no benefit from dietary change.
- The crying often improves with vacuum cleaner sounds or bumpy car rides. Yet loud noise or cruising the interstate does nothing to relieve severe pain. (It certainly wouldn't help our stomachs!)
- Most colicky babies calm in minutes — or less — when their parents correctly imitate the womb sensations. (I'll talk much more about how to do this by using the 5 S's to turn on the calming reflex in the next chapter.)
Myth 6: Letting your baby cry to "blow off steam" is healthy.
Fact : Psychologist Lee Salk said it best: "Crying is good for the lungsthe way bleeding is good for the veins!" I totally agree. Just because your baby is capable of screaming doesn't mean it's beneficial for him to go on and on.
The idea that wee ones need to scream to exercise their lungs or to "blow off steam" to unwind from the day's chaos makes no sense, biologically or emotionally. First, crying is not a lung exercise (the lungs of calm babies are just as strong as those of colicky babies). Second, letting your baby "cry it out" is as crazy as ignoring your screeching car alarm while you wait for the battery to go dead.
Young infants only cry for one reason: they need help! The solution is to figure out how to meet their need.
Myth 7: Some babies hate swaddling.
Fact : It sure looks like some babies hate swaddling! They fight and strain as soon as they're enveloped. But remember, in the womb, babies are perfectly content . . . yet they have no freedom to move.
As I'll describe in the section on swaddling, your baby may struggle when her arms are snugly straightened into the wrap. But then, when you add the other special steps that switch on her amazing calming reflex she'll tend to soothe quickly, stay calm longer, and sleep better.
Myth 8: We should teach babies to sleep in their own room.
Fact : We all want our babies to grow up to be independent. But that's a goal that will take a long time to achieve — as any parent of a fifteen-year- old will tell you!
In truth, having your baby sleep in another room during the first months is inconvenient — and may even be a danger. It's inconvenient because you have to leave your warm bed and stumble down a cold hall every time your hungry baby cries. And it's a danger because sleeping in the same room can reduce a baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome (also known as SIDS).
Myth 9: Your baby needs to adapt to the family, not the family to your baby.
Fact : This one is sooooo wrong.
As your little girl gets closer to her first birthday, teaching limits will definitely become a major parenting objective, but for now your main goals are to build her confidence and trust in you. Feeling secure is a much earlier priority for little kids than feeling
Remember, in the womb, you rocked and carried (and fed) your baby every single second. So during the first months, even if you hold her twelve hours a day, that's an immediate 50 percent cutback — from her point of view.
I want every child to learn good table manners, but it's crazy trying to teach them to a six-month- old. As the Bible says, "To everything there is a season." And now is the season for cuddling your sweet, kissable baby and making her feel protected and loved. There will be plenty of time for training and discipline in the months ahead.
Myth 10: It takes months for babies to learn to sleep well at night.
Fact : Many parenting books perpetuate this myth. They state that a baby's brain is too immature to learn to sleep six hours before the age of three to four months. But I disagree.
As you now know, babies are learning even in the womb! And with a few simple tips, you can help your little one sleep hours longer in just weeks, not months. And now that you know the myths, let's get on to the facts about babies and sleep.
Excerpted from The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep by Harvey Karp. Copyright 2012 by Harvey Karp. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins.