Sometimes I wonder where people come up with certain phrases. In my line of work, phrases such as "sleeping like a baby" and "early to bed, early to rise" just seem wrong. I mean, every mom with any memory of the newborn stage will tell you that sleep doesn't come easy. There are common misconceptions surrounding infant sleep, and I think it's time I address them.
1. Babies are born to sleep; it's natural.
Ummm... no! While sleep organization does naturally develop, we all know that the skill of falling and staying asleep certainly doesn't. Ask the mom of the newborn who refuses to sleep, day or night. Ask the mom of the 8-month-old who only takes two 30-minute naps a day. Ask the mom of the 18-month-old who has never slept through the night. It doesn't just happen! As parents, we will spend many years teaching skills of various types to our children. One of the most vital skills we can teach them is the skill of falling and staying asleep! Like any other learning process, it takes consistency, practice, and the right timing. No, your baby isn't going to respond as well to training at 3 months old, when daytime sleep is not yet organized, and their bodies simply aren't capable of a predictable schedule. Neither is your baby going to be able to consistently put herself to sleep if she is sometimes rocked to sleep, sometimes nursed to sleep, or is regularly allowed to take mini-naps in the car. When each of these components align, and parents are able to go into the training period with a specific plan, beautiful things can happen! And babies can learn to sleep well!
2. Keeping your infant up later will help her to sleep later in the morning.
Nope. Not true. In fact, pushing your infant to stay awake too long before bedtime often results in more frequent night wakings and early morning rising. There's a reason for this. When babies are kept awake beyond the point at which they are ready for sleep, their bodies release cortisol and adrenaline as a stress-response mechanism because they are too fatigued to function without the assistance of these hormones. Oftentimes, if your baby is waking earlier than desired, moving bedtime 30 minutes earlier can make a huge difference! Respecting our baby's sleepy cues and putting her to bed when she signals will be much more effective for later morning sleep than pushing her into too late of a bedtime.
3. Avoid schedules; babies aren't robots.
Okay, this one is somewhat true. When my daughter is having an "off" day, my husband often reminds me that she is not a robot, she's a baby (well, now a toddler). So, while we do need to give our little ones some grace when it comes to expected naptimes and bedtimes, schedules are not a bad thing when it comes to improving baby's sleep. Somewhere in the range of 4-6 months old daytime sleep organizes, and babies fall into a fairly predictable pattern of sleep schedules, in line with their circadian rhythms. A morning nap around 8:30-9:00 AM, an afternoon nap around 12:00-1:00 PM and a late afternoon catnap (which is typically dropped by 8 months) tend to coincide with these rhythms and prove to be times at which babies are primed for restorative sleep. While schedules in the first year to year-and-one-half should not be rigid, a flexible schedule surrounding the framework provided by these natural rhythms can greatly assist in structuring baby's day for optimal sleep.
There you have it! The truth about infant sleep, and how you can debunk these misconceptions next time they come up in your Facebook Mom's Group :)