Baby Sleep Myths – busted!

Sarah is stressed  and anxious. She tells me, “ I can’t get my baby to wake up for her 7 am feed.”

I ask, “when did she last feed?”

It turns out that Sarah’s  two week old baby was fed at 5.30am and, being a newborn, she took about an hour to feed and go back to sleep. This meant that she had only been asleep for half an hour when Sarah tried to wake her for her next feed.  It turned out that the source of Sarah’s anxiety was a book on her coffee table: it advised that whatever time her baby last fed she should start her daily routine at 7am and now she was anxious that the routine would be mixed up and that she would then be setting her baby up for bad sleep habits.

There is so much conflicting advice and ‘rules’  about infant sleep that undermine mothers’ natural intuition and common sense  that  I’d like to bust a few common baby sleepmyths:

You must start your day at 7am, whatever time your baby last fed.

You have two choices here that make sense – you can start your own day at 7am: Get up and have a shower(you might even have time to wash your hair) and eat breakfast or even prepare tonight’s dinner or do a load of washing while your baby sleeps. Or you can snuggle down under the covers and catch some zzzs until your baby wakes. It can create unnecessary stress and be a waste of time to wake a sleeping baby who was just fed an hour ago and probably won’t feed well anyway, if he isn’t hungry.

Babies ‘should’ sleep in two hour stretches during the day.

Babies, just like all of us, are individuals with differing sleep requirements. These will change according to developmental stages, illness, and environment. As a parent, you know if your baby has woken as he comes up into a light sleep cycle but could do with some help to resettle, or whether he will be happy to get up and play after 45 minutes or an hour of sleep.  If you do try resettling, give yourself a time limit, say, 10 minutes, then if your baby isn’t going to sleep,  get him up and play, go for a walk, talk to him and have fun.  It makes no sense to stand in a darkened room all day trying to get your baby to sleep, especially if you spend half an hour resettling and your baby sleeps for an extra fifteen minutes. As one mother of three said, “ I spent so much time trying to get my first baby to sleep, I wished had spent it enjoying him.”

Sleeping in your arms, a sling, a pram or the car is not ‘proper’ sleep.

Some ‘experts’ claim that any sleep that isn’t in a cot is ‘junk sleep’ like ‘junk food’ and won’t refresh your baby, especially his tiny brain. Sleep is sleep. A child who is quite flexible about where he sleeps is a lot easier than one who will only ever sleep in a darkened room at home, in his cot. While you may be able to get home for every sleep with a first baby, it’s pretty unrealistic if you have more than one child: if you have a school pickup to manage, your baby will almost certainly get used to sleeping ‘on the move’.  Also, if your baby sleeps in a pram,
a sling or your arms, the rocking motion while he is sleeping is helping develop his vestibular apparatus, a series of canals inside the inner ear that, as fluid moves over them (with movement), send out messages to the nervous system that helps with the development of speech and language, balance and sensory integration(making sense of all the sensations of sound, movement, taste, smell and visual stimuli).

You should never rock your baby to sleep

This method of calming and settling babies has been around for generations, so there just might be something in it, don’t you think?  As mentioned above, movement is helpful to
your baby’s development and, according to US Psychologist Sharon Heller, author of ‘The Vital Touch’ many babies may crave rocking if mothers have sedentary pregnancies and their babies  have fewer opportunities for movement  that supports  vestibular development before birth. As your baby grows, you can ‘wean’ her from being rocked to sleep by offering more movement when she is awake and introduce gentle music as a relaxation cue, then gradually rock less. Later, you can simply reduce the volume of the music if you like.

You must never breastfeed your baby to sleep

This causes so much stress because it is completely normal for a relaxed baby to fall asleep on the breast. Can you imagine being all snuggled up to your partner, then being poked and told, “move over to your own side of the bed, we are creating ‘bad habits’ ?” In fact there are amazing relaxation chemicals in breastmilk, with different hormones and proteins in your ‘night
time’ milk ( melatonin and neucleotides) that have stronger sleep inducing effects. This explains why your baby will probably go straight back to sleep after a night feed.  Therefore, it makes
no sense to wake a drowsy baby who is naturally calm and relaxed. And, just in case you are worried about ‘bad habits’, take heart:  your baby may love to snuggle up to a warm breast when he’s eighteen – but it won’t be yours!

Pinky McKay is the author of ‘Sleeping Like a Baby – simple sleep solutions for infants and toddlers’

She offers Baby Sleep Seminars across Australia 

For more information and to register check HERE

 

37 Comments

  1. Sam rogers Says Reply

    I was a mother that tried to read every book on sleep and settling. This only confused me, and my own mental health was suffering. It was not until I found your books, and articals that I was able to manage, and parent the way I had imagined having a baby would be.
    I was a mess trying for hours to get my baby to sleep, and self settle. He was a very difficult baby, reflux, and allergies did not help.
    I broke everyone of those sleep” rules” as I rocked my baby to sleep, still do sometimes and he is 20 months. feed him to sleep, feed him when he was hungry, slept when he slept, and thank god my parnter could cuddle him for hours to allow me more sleep.
    I now have a confident, sensitive, well attached little toddler who most nights will sleep an average of 10 hours, and naps for one and half to two hours during the day.
    I try to encourage new mothers to read your books and website, but to most of all do what feels natural.
    Thank you Pinky for keeping me sane!

    • Pinky McKay Says Reply

      Thankyou Sam for your positive feedback. Those ‘rules’ create so much stress for parents and babies. When the rules are ditched parents find their own groove. Babies feel secure when parents are calm and relaxed – and everyone gets healthy sleep- minus stress hormones! Thankyou for sharing your experience.

    • Sabrina Says Reply

      I was a “by the book” new mom. I craved routine and demanded consistency. I learned quickly how irrational I was and I am happy to have found groups like this to support me in my new found, joyful, loving, parenting methods. I enjoy these reads and thAnk you all for sharing!

  2. Jen Giles Says Reply

    Beautiful article. It’s not often I agree entirely with a parenting article but this is a winner. My second son was very unsettled as a bub and i did all of the above. I spent many nights feeding rocking cuddling and he is now a very settled 22 month old who loves his cot and his sleep. I have only found you Pinky recently but it is nice to know my instincts to hold my bubba tight are supported :-)

  3. Cait Lee Steere Says Reply

    I too found this article very reassuring. I read many books with my first, he was a terrible day sleeper. I felt it was my fault, I wan’t “training” him right. I found your books when he was nearly eight months which made me much more confident to follow my instincts. Now my second son, 4.5months, is very unsettled with reflux and its been very helpful to have supportive information and books, thanks Pinky.

  4. Rachel Says Reply

    With my first I was really stressed trying to make him fit a certain books routine demanding babies must start and finish their days at 7am and 7pm. Though I since realised the author says in plain black and white she got her breastfeeding routine advice from dairy farmers so I’m pretty happy to ignore anything from that nook.

    Second bab, imI’m still tired, she still wakes, she still cries, she still has challenging moments (or days or weeks), she’s not much different to her brother, but I’m not freaking out with guilt that I’ve failed my baby tresponding to them.

  5. Shannon Says Reply

    I love this. I wish I had read it when I had my newborn who is now 13 months. I wasted so much precious time,tears and energy trying to pat her to sleep (at 7 weeks old?? what was i thinking??!) and get her into a ‘routine’. It took me about 6 months to get to the point where i was comfortable to just go with my intuition, which was to give my baby every thing that she wanted which was cuddles,rocking and boobs,boobs,boobs. I cannot wait to have another baby so i can just cuddle him or her guilt free and save that precious energy. Thanks pinky!

  6. Kelly Robertson Says Reply

    To read this is a breath of fresh air. I’m now pregnant with my second child and feel so much wiser this time around after having read your books and put them into practise with my first. I spent months trying to get her into a routine when she was a newborn, was worried when she constantly needed to feed to sleep when she was breastfed and still worry sometimes that I’m creating bad habits when she co-sleeps continuously as a 20 month old. But then I remember to forget all the rules and just parent with my heart and not rigid rules! It makes such a difference and we have an extremely happy little girl who is confident and loving.

  7. Anshu Says Reply

    I loved reading this, thank you for such a wonderful article. From the day we brought her home, our little one was determined to fight sleep and was overall really unsettled. Those baby sleep rules only made her worse and made me feel like a failure. One day I thought ‘bugger this’ and decided to let my little one co-sleep with me and choose her own nap/ bed times and as a result, we now have a fairly relaxed tantrum free baby that happily transitions to her cot after some bedtime cuddles with mum:-) I just can’t believe I gave up so much of my precious sleep time adhering to that stupid rule of waking the baby at 7am (which btw made no difference to our bub’s bedtime anyway!).

  8. Alison Says Reply

    Thank you so much! Your commonsense advice is very comforting… I am just trying to go with the flow and read my baby… this post confirmed my decision to go with an intuitive approach. ;)

  9. Meg Says Reply

    every time I complain about being tired because my 5 month old won’t sleep I am immediately bombarded with “you need a sleep coach” or “you need this book”. Just because I am complaining because I am tired and my arms are aching from holding and rocking my 8kg baby(sometimes for hours), doesn’t mean I am going to go against my every instinct and force my baby to be what would be more convenient to me. It isn’t always easy but babies need what they need. I have just spent the day (12 hours all up) holding my teething 5 month old baby for every sleep because that is what he needed. Although he is not breastfed I let him feed himself to sleep. That is what he needed. And I was just rewarded with my most beautiful moment so far in his short life by having him fall asleep for the night in his cot with me stroking his cheek and gazing at me as he drifted off.

    • Pinky McKay Says Reply

      Meg, what a lucky lucky baby! You are one strong and intuitive mama to resist the pressure that is all around. And as you have disovered,your responsively nurtured baby feels secure enough to settle in his cot with gentle support because he is developmentally ready – without being made to cry. Enjoy these beautiful moments. And when the going is a bit tougher, remember the mummy mantra – “this too shall pass” . It will, all too quickly.

      • Meg Says Reply

        My son sustained serious injuries during his birth so for three weeks he could not be cuddled. He healed very well but I ended up back in hospital without him so another week of no cuddles. A couple more hospital visits then surgery (myself) meaning another week of not being able to hold him. I now cherish every moment I get for a cuddle. Everything else can wait.

  10. Amy Says Reply

    Just discovering your stuff with my second child. With my first I had a really rough time (diagnosed with auto immune disease and very very sick along with BF issues – abscesses, etc, lost supply at 20 weeks despite all efforts prob due to stress) and went through the whole sleep training thing so that I could cope, this time around just going with what works for the little one and instinct. And I must say, health issues aside, I am enjoying this time around a lot more and it is a lot less “work”. Adoring my toddler but wishing I had been/made myself able to enjoy the early baby days more. Ahh, the mummy guilt we live with. However I will not waste another moment with the unnecessary. Thank you for supporting parents to be what their baby needs!

  11. C-girls Says Reply

    I wish I had read about this stuff before I had my little one. I was determined to get her “on a schedule” from day 1, and thought I’d never co-sleep, rock her, or anything like that. But she had other plans: and with reflux and allergies and being a terrible breast-feeder, things only got harder and harder. Finally I decided to just go with it: and thank goodness I did, as we are all coping much better. She’s 5 months old now and I almost always ONLY look to your advice (after consulting my health professionals). That book that tells me to wake her at 7 created too much heartache and too many desperate hours cot side during the day as it doesn’t cater for babies that only sleep in 45 min blocks. Next baby I will be reading your materials on breastfeeding too: determined to make it work second time around. I look forward to your blogs and feel so much more confident in my parenting with someone to “back me up” in my choices!

  12. Charlotte N Says Reply

    I wish I had become a fan of your FB page sooner! All of your articles speak directly to me, I am a mother completely smitten with my baby, I was thrilled he would let me breastfeed him, hold him while he slept and wear him in a baby carrier. We started co sleeping (regularly) at 4 months and it didn’t take long before my partner and I craved out baby’s presence. But as he grew older I would have people telling me I can’t be doing this forever, I needed a break to be me, to be by myself. And although they were right, I should be the one deciding when I needed a break! Society shouldn’t dictate how and where a child sleeps. I started questioning my mothering. Was I creating bad habits? Is my baby never going to sleep through? Is it because I breastfeed? I gave in and went to sleep school. It was the hardest 3.5 days of my life, and consequently the weeks following. Suddenly everything was about routine and sleep. I felt like I couldn’t even go out in case my baby would fall asleep in the car or wouldn’t in the pram. Because I couldn’t let him sleep in the baby carrier, or could I? Fast forward 2 months and I have discovered your page. I am happy I can put baby down in the cot now, but I will sure as hell not let anyone tell me my intuitions are wrong! Thank
    You

    • Rachel Says Reply

      I am going through the exact same problem! Doubting my every decision as I’m breast feeding my 9 mo every 3 hrs overnight. Just can’t help thinking did I make this happen? Why is she waking when she wasn’t before? Am I making a mess of her sleep?! Constant pressure to get it right. Being tired doesn’t help your confidence but reading these posts and having a positive mantra of ‘this too shall pass’ is a massive help and relief.

  13. Annemarie Says Reply

    Thank you Pinky! You have reaffirmed and reassured me that contrary to popular belief I am ‘spoiling’ our beautiful 11 week old baby and that my instincts are correct and that I should not only trust them but ignore the advice that doesn’t feel right for us. I have felt since being pregnant and giving birth that a nurturing approach was right for us and your book and advice on your blog has reinforced this. I was raised to trust my ‘gut’ and have strong intuitive senses and I wish that this approach to parenting was the ‘norm’

  14. Claire Says Reply

    Hi Pinky,
    I am sitting here feeding and cuddling my bub, 3rd child, 4.5 months old (sibs are 6 and 3). I love your advice and have followed my instincts with the kids since ‘discovering you’ after my second was born. We are struggling big time with bub, who as a 3rd is fab at towing the line during the day as we do school runs, activities and uni classes for me. Our problem is that he will just not settle in the evening/ night. Poor boy is in a terrible cycle of napping for 1 cycle of 40 mins then screaming for hours often beyond midnight and waking 1-2 times o/n. I cannot let him cry so I end up holding him/ feeding him and or sleeping with him every night and yes my body aches! He has always had unbelievably foul smelling wind and farts a lot. I tried no dairy -but no difference. I have just begun gluten free… Any other ideas? We cannot sustain this- washing piling up.. Very helpful husband already working after hours on second job and I’m getting no uni work done- both exhausted- need help!

  15. Kimberley C.P. Says Reply

    Pinky – you nailed it in the head. I tried to read do many books after the culture shock of becoming a parent for the first time that you begin to believe you are a failure if you can’t train your children to sleep well. Natural mothering makes sense. Three kids in and I still don’t have the magic wand as each day is different. I want to send you a copy of the book I co-wrote with my mothers’ group called Wednesday Sisters as we wrote it to show how different all our journeys were. How do I get it to you? Or check out http://www.wednesdaysisters.info thanks, Kim

    • Pinky McKay Says Reply

      Hi Kim, what a brilliant idea to do a book with yor mum’s group! Id love to see it, Pinkymckay, PO box 5265 Studfield, Vic, Austraia 3152. Thankyo.

  16. Myrna Says Reply

    On that rocking to sleep thing… in an off topic conversation with an OT, she mentioned that swings are brilliant from children with special needs. there’s something about that motion that triggers the brain and helps kids settle and concentrate in class. So isn’t rocking to sleep an early form of swinging… seems to me I’m helping my baby develop his concentration ability early= future genius and current gorgeousness

  17. Kristen Says Reply

    I am guilty of every single one of those things! My baby is perfect in every way, she is bubbly, outgoing, loving and independent. This is my first baby and I have just done what felt natural to me which meant that she needed to be worn in a sling for every day nap until she was about six months old, breastfed to sleep for most naps now (she is nine months), breastfed to sleep at night, breastfed in the middle of the night for comfort, wake up and start the day whenever we are ready and give her all the love, warmth and affection she deserves. What a precious gift I have been blessed with, I will treasure her with all my heart and smother her with love!

  18. Jane Says Reply

    Pinky, I have busted them all…
    Just a few days ago i left a comment on your facebook page in desperation at my beautiful 4 month old’s lack of daytime sleep (but perfect 11hr nightime sleep). She was miserable and so was i at the end of each day. Since then i have decided to stop trying to get her to sleep following “rules”, but instead to keep her happy. The result has been:
    1. I have busted all the myths.
    2. Bub and i have been happier (and therefore so has Dad).
    3. She is sleeping more during the day naturally.
    I have read plenty of books, and will continue to because I am a reader, a researcher and enjoy soaking up the opinions (at mother’s group they all say “i haven’t read that one… ask Jane!”). But I have come to the conclusion that as the primary carer of my baby it is my chosen job to be here tending to her needs, not anyone else’s. So i will do it in the way that works for her and for me.
    • Everyone tells me that she won’t continue to sleep through the night, but they all said she wouldn’t start at 7 weeks of age – and she did.
    • All the resources say that babies won’t self settle until 6months of age – but she does every night when we put her down.
    Her Daddy and I believe that she is herself, and that if we communicate with her she will understand us in her own new way. I just have to remember listen to her communicating to me as well :)

    • Pinky McKay Says Reply

      What a lucky baby that you value her communication and trust her ability to communicate. You are doing a great job!

  19. Jacky Says Reply

    Pinky, I have terrible anxiety over what my baby and i are supposed to be doing and often get overwhelmed with fear that I am creating ‘bad habits’. From everything I read, my 11 week old boy will apparently never sleep through the night and will wake every hour or so since he will form a sleep association by me rocking or feeding him to sleep every time. I keep getting told I need to start some form of sleep training and he should start to learn to self settle at around 12 weeks since that’s when sleep associations apparently start. All of this is doing my head in and making me panic! He is no where near close to being able to self settle and he loves being rocked to sleep. I don’t have him on any sort of routine since he is just not that kind of baby. Everything thing I read keeps telling me I am doing everything wrong and its a horrible feeling.

    I have ordered your book ‘Sleeping like a baby’. It arrives next week and after reading this article I am very much looking forward to reading your book since I think it will help relieve a lot of my anxiety.

  20. Martina Says Reply

    Wow I have complete renewed confidence in parenting my newborn in the few minutes it took me to read that. Thank you! I’ve never been able to do the 7am start to the day, more so because first never slept until 7am ever! I have had he same dilemma with my newborn, do I wake her if she’s only been asleep for 15 mins? I often breastfeed to sleep because it works (in the back if my mind thinking maybe I shouldn’t). But it works and it must work for a reason.

    • simone Says Reply

      awww hunny relax he will get there hes sooo tiny. my first fed to sleep til 14mths and now at 4 goes down at bedtime with nary a worry dont listen to anyone that tells you what you do now will be a bad habit for life…… do whatever works for you and your family (co sleep or dont breast bottle rocking patting cuddling whatever works) and change it only when it no longer works for YOUR family relax and go with him it will be worth it when your 4 yr old is confident and self assured and can go to bed happy and may even self settle/sleep through the night. he will develop that skill when he is ready just as he will walk talk and develop all other skills as he needs to when he is ready to

  21. Jessica Says Reply

    I knew from the start that I didn’t want to follow any strict parenting books. I just didn’t see it working for me or my bubs! He’s a growing young baby and I’ve always thought that at that age they needed to do things when they’re ready, not at our convenience. It was hard at the start, many parents/doctors/CAFHS nurses told me I was doing it wrong, that I should let him cry, that I should never rock him, that I should only feed him at a scheduled time but I ignored them all and followed my instincts.

    Having found this site and some of this wonderful information I finally feel more relaxed about my style of parenting! Thank you! I’m not alone! My son is six months old today, over the past few weeks he’s stopped wanting ot be rocked himself unless he’s really upset about something, He has four-six naps a day depending on how long they are, 20mins – 1hr 1/2 and only stays awake for two hours at a time, which apparently isn’t long enough for his age, or he doesn’t sleep well enough for his age but he is tired so I will let him sleep! At night he’s still waking four hourly for a feed, he doesn’t sleep through the night, but I don’t mind. I love my son and I’m happy to follow his needs. :)

  22. Amanda Says Reply

    I have read a book that goes against every single thing you have mentioned. It was given to me. It was an interesting read to say the least and even seemed heartless in parts. Not only that, but I got the impression that if I followed the advice from this book, that my husband and I wouldn’t be able to do the things we enjoyed of an evening because our baby is in his routine. Needless to say, we do what we need to in order to enjoy our time with our little one. He has made his own routine that is flexible but suits us to a tee. I couldn’t imagine not letting him fall asleep in my arms while feeding or just cuddling. We have both woken up next to each other without realising I had nodded off. You have to do what you have to do. I love being a parent and having the freedom to do what we believe is best for our situation. Great article!

    P.S There is no way a set routine would work for most new parents.

  23. Claire Robbie Says Reply

    I have three words for you. I love you. Thank you for this amazing, stress-free, reassuring article.

  24. Fay Says Reply

    I have enjoyed reading all the above comments. I am a mum of 3 beautiful daughters and a midwife. I never really followed any rules when I first became a Mum. I just trusted my own instincts and have told new Mums that you just do whatever it takes to be happy. Ignore well meaning advice ( not talking about medical advice here) and listen to what your gut instincts are telling you. If you don’t feel happy about doing something then don’t do it. My first born daughter hardly slept at all. She would fall asleep at the breast ( apparently a big no no !) and in the baby pouch and if I rocked her to sleep. I never let her cru and she grew up to be a confident beautiful woman who is now25 and expecting her first child in August. We have spoken about parenting and she wants to just be allowed to find her way , to listen to her natural instincts and to be a happy Mum just like I was. Our babies spend 9 months ( some arrive earlier! ) in the womb being comforted by our voice and the sound of our heart beating and the constant rocking inside our womb. Why then do we expect them to be totally separate from us after birth? Rock them, cuddle them and feed them to sleep if that is what it takes to get them to sleep. These precious babies are not babies for long. Cherish their preciousness whileyou can and believe in your own ability to be a loving Mother.

  25. Baby Sleep Myths – busted! Home · Baby · Baby Sleep Myths – busted! By Pinky McKay - Birth Balance Says Reply

    […] Sarah is stressed and anxious. She tells me, “ I can’t get my baby to wake up for her 7 am feed.” I ask, “when did she last feed?” http://www.pinkymckay.com/baby-sleep-myths-busted/ […]

  26. Rebecca Says Reply

    Hi Pinky, just wondering what your opinion is on dream feeds? I’ve been giving my LG a 10pm dream feed and have been thinking about how to wean her off this. Do I just stop and see what happens? My worry is that she’ll start waking during the night for a feed when she is currently sleeping through.

  27. hermes エルメス その他 Says Reply

    I enjoy what you guys are up too. Such clever work and
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  28. Caroline Says Reply

    People told me to never rock your baby to sleep otherwise you’ll always have to rock them to sleep and they wont sleep through the night. I always rock him to sleep now. He goes to sleep quickly and there is a lot less stress. Also, he has learned in his own time to sleep through the night and does know how to resettle. I’m thankful for my local early childhood nurses and to Pinky who encouraged me to comfort my baby instead of leaving him to cry. I want my baby to feel secure and he’s showing me that he feels that.

  29. hollie sproule Says Reply

    I am a first time mum, my little one is a year and a half and I still have family telling me that my little one sleeps too much as he has two naps a day of about an hour and a half each and sleeps through the night. He’s always happy and healthy and so I don’t have a problem with his sleeping pattern. The way I see it is all babies are different, as long as they’re happy and healthy you’re doing a wonderful job as a mother.

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