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Baby Sleep

5 Baby Sleep Myths

June 15, 2022

I’m Catie.
A baby-led sleep and well-being specialist and a mama who's passionate about becoming the mother Jesus made me to be - and helping other mamas do the same.
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Hey, Mama! Today we’re going to bust five common sleep myths that are thrown around all the time in the sleep training industry – and give you some tips as to what you can do instead to support your baby’s sleep. So let’s dive in!

Baby Sleep Myth #1: You have to put your baby down “drowsy but awake” in order for them to learn how to sleep.

Drowsy but awake is a technique that many people recommend, but any mama will tell you that it’s often not that easy. A small number babies will do fine with this and fall asleep on their own, but that has much more to do with temperament than it does with what their parents did to get them there. Being separated from you is something that goes against every one of your baby’s natural instincts — they spent nine months inside of you, being lulled by your voice and your motion! Why would they want to fall asleep in a cold, lonely, empty crib? Most babies need more support to get to sleep, and that’s totally normal! 

What to do instead: support your baby to sleep however works for your family! If you want to nudge towards more independent sleep, the best place to start is through layering sleep associations. We have a free guide here that goes in depth with all you need to know about how to do this!

Baby Sleep Myth #2: You just need to sleep train once and you’re all set!

Most sleep trainers won’t tell you the dirty little secret of sleep training: it isn’t always (or even often) a one and done solution. Many families who have sleep trained and think things are going great experience that when a change happens — developmental milestone, illness, teething, new baby, travel — the process has to be done all over again. 

What to do instead: adopt a gentle approach to sleep – one where you respond to your baby’s needs throughout the night and support them to sleep in a way that works for you. There are tons of strategies you can adopt to make this easier and nudge them towards more independent sleep, but ultimately, sleep is a developmental process that is different for every baby.

Baby Sleep Myth #3: Your baby just needs to learn how to self soothe.

Ahhhh, self soothing. The holy grail in baby sleep. Or, at least, what sleep trainers say their method teaches your baby how to do. 

But here’s the deal, mama. Babies can’t self soothe naturally, and it’s not something that they “learn” by being forced to figure it out on their own. Like everything, learning how to work through their emotions is a skill that must be learned gradually over time. The way that children eventually come to a place where they can soothe themselves and regulate their own emotions is through  co-regulation. This is where you support them through their feelings and emotions, communicating to them that they are safe and loved and not alone. There isn’t really a timeline for when children will transition from needing co-regulation to be capable of self-regulation or self-soothing, but it’s definitely not in infanthood. 

What to do instead: support your baby through their emotions. If they wake in the middle of the night, respond to them. Use sleep associations to soothe them, speak to them gently, explain what they’re feeling and that it’s okay and you are with them. Do for them what you would want a good friend to say to you when you’re having a breakdown. 

Baby Sleep Myth #4: You need to avoid “bad” sleep associations like nursing to sleep.

Sleep associations don’t have a moral alignment — they don’t fall into either the “good” or “bad” category. There are sleep associations that work for your family (meaning that they are peaceful for your baby and you don’t mind supporting them to sleep in that way) or sleep associations that don’t. 
For example, some babies might love being bounced to sleep — that’s a sleep association that works for them, and as long as the parent is okay doing it, nothing needs to change. But if the baby hates being bounced or the parent can’t handle the strain it puts on their back, it’s a sleep association that doesn’t work for that family, and a different one can be implemented. 

Nursing to sleep is the most commonly touted “bad” sleep association, but that’s just not the full picture. This could be its’ own blog post (and probably will be someday), but nursing to sleep is completely biologically normal. It won’t create a sleep “crutch”, and there are hormones released in breastfeeding that actually help both mama and baby to fall asleep! If nursing to sleep works for you, don’t feel pressured to change it!

What to do instead: find what works for your family, and ignore anyone’s judgement on whether it’s “good” or “bad”. The only bad sleep association to avoid is throwing a raging party every night when you’re trying to put your baby to sleep. That one probably wouldn’t work too well for anyone. (And I’ll let you in on a little secret — when babies are left to cry it out on their own, they often start to associate sleep with something bad to be afraid of — I don’t know about you, but that sounds to me like a “bad sleep association”).

Baby Sleep Myth #5: Your baby needs __ hours of consolidated sleep or their development will suffer.

This is another one that could be an entire blog post, but we’ll keep it short and sweet for now. Baby sleep trainers often use this as the reason you have to sleep train your baby, but this statement is not rooted in the science of how normal infant development actually happens.

Yes, how much sleep your baby gets absolutely matters for their development, but it’s not how many consecutive, consolidated hours of sleep they get — it’s based on total hours of sleep. And on top of that, the total number of hours of sleep that a baby needs to grow and develop normally is a wide range, and totally dependent on your individual baby. My son has always been a low sleep needs baby — if the appropriate range was somewhere between 10 and 18 hours of total sleep per day, he’d fall on the lower end of the scale, needing 10 hours overnight and a 1.5 hour nap. 

This table from The National Sleep Foundation illustrates the wide range of average total sleep per 24 hours for babies and toddlers.

In fact, consolidated sleep doesn’t fit in with a baby’s normal protective mechanisms that control sleep. It’s normal (and safe) for babies to wake every couple of hours, both to fill their tummies (especially if they’re breastfeeding, because breastmilk is metabolized faster) and to protect them from the kind of deep sleep that puts them more at risk for SIDs. 

If you’re worried about whether your baby is getting enough sleep for optimal development, look at your baby, not at what a sleep trainer says. Are they happy? Eating? Meeting their milestones? If so, they’re doing great, no matter how much they wake up through the night!

What to do instead: Support your baby to sleep in whatever way works and trust them. They know how much sleep they need, and when they’re in an environment that supports them in this area, they’ll sleep for however long they need — whether that’s on the low or high end of the sleep ranges.

I hope this was helpful, Mama! What baby sleep myths should I bust next?

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