Four Myths About Babies and Sleep
What every parent needs to know about how they can help -- and hinder -- their baby's sleep skills.
Sara DuMond, MD
It's a rite of passage that every parent anticipates: Your new baby is finally sleeping through the night. You're not the only one harboring this dream. Sympathetic friends, family, neighbors, and even your pediatrician are lining up to share time-honored guidance on how to get your infant snoozing peacefully by that magical three-month mark.
Just one problem: Much of that advice is misleading, says Andrew Adesman, MD, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park and author of the book BabyFacts: The Truth About Your Child's Health From Newborn Through Preschool. "Parents take pride in hopefully trying to get their children to sleep early," he says. But even well-intentioned moms and dads can create sleep problems inadvertently. Take a look at these myths about baby slumber.
1. It's never too early to put your baby on a sleep schedule.
Not so. If parents are smart, they'll give up illusions of control and take their baby's erratic sleep schedule in stride during the newborn period, the first month after birth.
"When we're talking about influencing the sleep of a newborn, that's pretty much impossible," Adesman says. "For the first few weeks of life, newborns are going to be on their own schedule, and we have to respond to it."
Babies don't enter the world with a circadian rhythm. It develops over time. That means parents should try to catch some rest during the same odd hours around the clock that their newborns are sleeping. "Once babies get beyond the newborn period, they start to develop a sense of day and night cycles," Adesman says.
2. Babies should be sleeping through the night by 3 months.
If your baby isn't sleeping for a full night by age 3 months, is something wrong? No, nothing's amiss. By 3 months, many babies are sleeping five or six hours at a stretch -- much better than the one- to three-hour snippets that leave parents bleary-eyed.
But most babies aren't logging seven or eight hours at this point. "Sleeping through the night is not the adult version," Adesman says. And if baby doesn't reach the five- to six-hour range by 3 months, that's fine, too. Some babies don't sleep through the night until 4 months, he says.
Adding rice cereal to a bedtime bottle helps your baby sleep longer.
At some point, you might hear advice to slip a bit of rice cereal into the last bottle before bedtime. That way, your baby supposedly will sleep better because he won't be hungry.
Even some pediatricians subscribe to this "rice cereal myth," Adesman says. But while this practice may sound logical, there's no evidence it works. Research shows that babies who eat rice cereal before bedtime don't sleep longer than other babies, according to Adesman.