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Joanne Van Zuidam

Baby Sleep Myths—Busted

We're putting these popular baby sleep myths to bed.

The first myth we should be busting about baby sleep? That there's a magic sleep solution that applies to all babies. Still, there's a few rumors about baby sleep and sleep safety that need to be put to bed, so to speak. And we got to the bottom of them.

Myth #1: You should never wake a sleeping baby

The truth: You’ve probably heard this one a thousand times already (and maybe even used it when your in-laws dropped by unexpectedly for a visit with baby), but don’t believe it. In the first few weeks, your baby needs to eat every two to three hours. So there may be times when you will have to gently nudge her awake for a feeding, says Tanya Remer Altmann, MD, author of Mommy Calls. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) lists several methods to wake a newborn if you need to:

  • Talking, singing, and gentle stimulation
  • Dressing down
  • Going through the motions of diapering
  • Bathing

Once a breastfeeding baby is eating 8 to 12 times a day and a bottle-feeding baby is eating 5 to 8 times a day, you probably won't need to wake her up to feed.

Myth #2: Crib bumpers protect baby

The truth: Crib bumpers may seem like they’ll protect baby from bumps and bruises, but they can actually be dangerous since they (just like any other puffy bedding like comforters, pillows and sleep positioners) pose a suffocation risk. The AAP has actually advised against bumpers since 2011. “I’ve never seen a baby who’s seriously injured his head banging it on the side of the crib,” say Altmann. “But babies have rolled and gotten tangled in bumpers.” So keep the bumper—and anything else besides a fitted crib sheet and baby—out of the crib.

Myth #3: Keep the nursery completely quiet

The truth: Sure, you may need complete silence to fall (and stay) asleep, but most newborns actually love background noise with a shushing sound, like that of a fan. “It can be comforting and familiar, since they heard constant, loud noise 24/7 when they were in utero,” says Altmann. (Yep, it was pretty noisy inside your belly.) If you’re having trouble calming baby down or getting her to stay asleep, consider trying a white noise machine or soothing device to help her sleep.

Myth #4: Baby should sleep through the night at 12 weeks

The truth: “There’s a huge range for when babies sleep through the night,” says Kira Ryan, cofounder of Dream Team Baby, a baby sleep consultancy, and coauthor of the book The Dream Sleeper: A Three-Part Plan for Getting Your Baby to Love Sleep. “It could be anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months, but usually around 4 months, sleep starts to consolidate.” While every baby is different, it's not usually until 9 months that babies can log 9 to 12 hours of sleep without eating.

Myth #5: Setting a late bedtime will prevent baby from waking too early in the morning

The truth: This almost always backfires. Here’s why: Keeping babies up late at night will make them overtired, making them more resistant to going down for the night. To get baby to sleep later the next morning, you’ll actually have better luck making bedtime earlier. “Trust me and try it,” says Altmann. “Put your kid to sleep 30 minutes earlier than usual. They will begin sleeping a bit later in the morning.”

Myth #6: It’s okay to let the dog sleep in the nursery

The truth: The AAP recommends never leaving baby alone with a pet—and that includes allowing the pet to sleep in a child’s room. The reason: About 600,000 children are bitten by dogs every year, badly enough to need medical attention. Even a playful cat can jump into a newborn's bassinet or crib and scratch.

Myth #7: Adding cereal to baby's bottle will help her sleep through the night

The truth: There’s actually no evidence that adding cereal to baby’s bedtime bottle will help him or her sleep longer, so there’s no point in doing it. In fact, cereal in a bottle increases the number of calories baby consumes, and some studies show that feeding baby solid foods before 4 months can contribute to obesity. The AAP recommends waiting to introduce solid foods until baby is 4 to 6 months old, and to always spoon-feed solids, since baby could choke on them if they’re dispensed through a bottle.

Photo: Lindsey Balbierz

Updated October 2017

PHOTO: Darin Crofton Photography