There’s a lot about parenting that’s instinctive, but getting a baby to form solid sleep habits isn’t Something you automatically know how to do.
And while you’re probably an expert now in safe sleep habits—like putting babies to sleep on their back and keeping their crib free of blankets, pillows and toys—it’s easy for parents to go wrong when it comes to setting habits and routines to get babies to sleep.
These are some of the biggest baby sleep mistakes many new parents make, and how to fix them.
As parents, we aren’t given an instruction manual with our baby, but wouldn’t that be nice?
Just imagine all of the second-guessing and baby sleep mistakes we could avoid! Then, finally, the doctor delivers your baby, the nurse hands you the instruction booklet, detailing exactly how to raise her.
Instead, we get the baby some flowers and are left to wade through advice and suggestions. Then, we are left to figure it out as we go along.
Sleep is one of many puzzles that new parents need to resolve, and it’s a daunting task. Before baby, you could sleep a total of 8 hours each night with limited interruptions, and sleeping in was a normal part of life.
With the arrival of a new baby, you are suddenly up in the middle of the night multiple times.
Baby needs to be fed, changed, and soothed back to sleep regardless of whether it’s 2 in the morning or the afternoon.
The first few months can be daunting, and many parents feel immobilised by shame, guilt and sometimes blame and don’t know where to start to change their child’s sleep habits.
This is compounded by parents’ natural tendency to compare their babies to others regarding sleep.
This comparison causes unrealistic expectations of your baby, as all babies are different.
Some babies begin to sleep through the night at four months old, while others don’t achieve this goal until nine months due to a need to feed at night.
It’s less important to focus on how you made these baby sleep mistakes than how you will change them.
It’s a common belief that your child’s sleep habits will suddenly change on their own or that you have to endure sleep deprivation in the meantime, but that is not true.
Believe it or not, sleep is not Something that you are born knowing how to do. Falling asleep and staying asleep (and even putting yourself back to sleep) are all things everyone has to learn.
Sleep is one of those unavoidable life skills, and the sooner you begin to teach your baby how to fall asleep, the sooner you can start sleeping longer.
Please remember, every baby is different. Your baby may not be ready until a little later, so don’t despair.
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Common Baby Sleep Mistakes Parents Make
Not Having a Bedtime Routine
Babies thrive on schedules and routines, and sleep is just like any other transition during your child’s day.
If you prepare them for it, they will less likely resist it. So, just like you prepare for dinner by washing your hands and setting the table, bedtime should have a lead-in routine.
Children are comforted by predictable, repeated routines. It helps them understand what is coming next.
For example, ‘Mom always reads me a book before my nap. Therefore, naptime must be soon.’ You can begin a routine with your baby during infancy and expand it to meet your baby’s needs as they grow.
Doing Something different at bedtime each night “can throw babies off. But a consistent bedtime routine sends cues that it’s time to get ready for bed.
When you do the same thing in the same order over and over again, the baby will begin to get sleepy in a very reliable way.
This is known as a ‘conditioned response. It’s similar to how you might feel a craving for popcorn when you go to the movie theatre. Remember that a baby who self-soothes at bedtime will self-soothe during the night too.
The bedtime routine can vary, but Schneeberg recommends taking a bath, putting babies into pyjamas, feeding them and then doing a story or song before putting them into the crib at the same time every night.
Establishing a bedtime routine is essential for your baby. It can help them feel calm and fall asleep more quickly. And it’s necessary to stick to a specific schedule so that the baby can learn when it’s time to go to bed. They’ll eventually get used to going to sleep simultaneously, and they’ll be expecting it, so falling asleep will become a lot easier and faster.
Parents are often inconsistent in how they put their child to sleep at bedtime and respond to the child’s awakenings.
Babies thrive on structure and consistency; if there are times when you feed her back to sleep, but other times she is rocked or brought back to bed with you out of desperation, you are making it more difficult for the baby to learn to fall asleep.
Find a consistent pattern that works for you and your baby, or perhaps take a look at beginning some gentle sleep coaching to help establish a healthy routine once your baby is past infancy (usually between four and six months).
Going to Baby as Soon as They Stir at Night
It’s essential to respond to a baby’s cries, but it’s “not necessary” to run to your little one the moment they fuss at night.
If the baby is making noises and fussing, it’s okay to wait and see what happens. Sometimes babies will learn to comfort themselves and fall back asleep.
Give your child “a few minutes” to try to settle back down to sleep after waking up. After that, they may do just fine without your help.
Parents inadvertently create more crying by giving up and resorting to their original sleep crutch after a certain amount of time.
When you begin sleep training, it is essential that you are consistent and do not fall into old habits.
Sure, it can be a tough transition, but you are teaching your baby a valuable life skill, falling asleep on his own.
And if you utilise my gentle sleep methods, the transition is gradual enough that your baby shouldn’t be crying for extended periods, as you are there to reassure them.
Not Entertaining Your Baby Enough During Waking Hours
Children are the same as us — the busier we are during the day, the more exhausted we are and the easier it is for us to fall asleep.
So try to engage your baby in as many activities as possible.
Talk and sing to them, stretch their muscles, or go outside and let them enjoy a beautiful day — all of that will make your baby more tired and ready to go to sleep.
Sometimes parents wait too long before they put their children down for a nap. For example, they wait until they start crying.
However, many other signs show that your baby is tired and needs a nap.
If they’re frowning, clenching their fists, looking away from you, and staring into space, or rubbing their eyes and ears, that can mean that it’s time for them to go to sleep.
Putting Their Child to Bed Too Late.
This is a widespread baby sleep mistake. Did you know that most babies display signs of sleep readiness between 6 and 8 pm?
Yet, many parents wait until they are ready for bed at 10 or 11.
This results in an overtired, fussy, unreasonable baby or child who will most assuredly have trouble drifting off to sleep, which can also increase night wakings.
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Rocking or Nursing Baby to Sleep Every Night
This can be an effective way to get the baby to conk out, but it’s not doing your child any favours in the long run. So babies must learn how to soothe themselves to sleep.
If Mom always rocks the baby to sleep in her arms, the baby will always rely on Mom. Then, when your little one wakes up in the night, they’ll cry until you or your partner holds them again.
That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends putting babies in the crib when they’re drowsy but not completely asleep.
While we are not against any of these items as part of your baby’s bedtime routine, you must put your baby to bed ‘drowsy but awake. This is the first step of your baby’s learning to fall asleep on her own.
Not Letting Your Baby Learn to Self-Soothe
Certain routines, like rocking or massaging, can help your baby relax and understand that it’s time to go to sleep.
But sometimes, it’s better to skip them and let your child try to self-soothe so that they can learn to fall asleep without your help.
That is also why you shouldn’t respond to every little sound your toddler makes when they sleep.
First, those sounds don’t necessarily mean that your child is awake and needs you. They could just be going through the different stages of sleep, and you come to check on them might wake them up.
Second, a study has found that children whose parents waited longer to respond to their awakenings were more likely to be self-soothing.
Putting Your Baby to Sleep in a Well-Lit Room
Some parents think that when their baby takes a nap during the daytime, they should be put in the lightroom to learn to distinguish between day and night.
However, this is a myth. On the other hand, darkness has a calming effect on babies, and it promotes the production of melatonin — a hormone that helps regulate sleep.
Using a nightlight isn’t bad per se, and it can help guide you through the dark nursery in the middle of the night. But switching it on and off at night to help you see is a problem.
Baby’s nursery should look and sound the same at bedtime as it does at 2 am should they wake.
Having Unrealistic Expectations for Baby’s Sleep
We see so many parents who say, ‘Something’s wrong with my baby; they’re not sleeping through the night at 12 weeks old.
While some parents “completely luck out” and have good sleepers, it is also worth noting that it’s “not a reasonable expectation” that your child will be sleeping through the night at 12 weeks.
By six months, you can reasonably expect that the majority of babies will be sleeping a good, long chunk at night. But other kids will not be great sleepers. So we encourage parents to be realistic about their expectations and talk to their child’s pediatrician if they have questions.
Putting Baby to Bed Too Late
The “right” bedtime for a baby largely depends on your schedule and your child’s sleep needs, but if you wait too long to put your little one to bed, it can backfire, actually making it harder for them to fall asleep.
Baby will be too exhausted to soothe themselves to sleep. So instead, we recommend looking out for sleep cues, like babies rubbing their eyes and yawning. That’s when we need to put them down.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, babies aged newborn to three months need 14 to 17 hours of sleep each day, while babies between the ages of 4 and 11 months need 12 to 15 hours of sleep a day.
Posner says that figuring out a baby’s sleep needs and setting their bedtime around that and your family’s schedule is essential.
Switching from a Crib to a Bed Too Early
Whether your baby has outgrown their crib or you have a newborn on the way — don’t rush to move your child to a bed.
Most children move from a crib to a bed between 18 months and three and a half years. And if you transfer them too early, it can be confusing and uncomfortable for them.
Or you might find them wandering around the house in the middle of the night since they are used to the boundaries of a crib, and they can’t control themselves without them.
If your toddler starts climbing out of the crib, you should consider moving them to a bed. Also, if you are potty training your child, moving them would make sense to learn to go to the toilet by themselves.
Blocking Out the Noise
It is not ideal to try to remove all the noisy distractions.
If your baby learns to sleep in complete silence, they might have difficulty falling asleep later, when there’s no way to block out every possible source of the noise.
Sometimes it is even recommended that you use white noise machines to help your baby fall asleep more accessible, but they should be used with caution.
Keeping Your Baby Awake Too Long
You might think that keeping your child awake longer will make them more tired, and they will fall asleep faster and stay in bed longer.
However, it can mess up their sleeping schedule and make their naps shorter. And while short naps are regular for newborns, older children should take longer naps.
So if they are short, it might be because your child is constantly overtired.
Sharing a Bed
Some parents choose to co-sleep with their children in bed. However, you will be sending mixed messages to your child about where they sleep.
And that can result in them having difficulty falling asleep in a crib and without you lying close to them.
In addition, bed-sharing can increase the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and other sleep-related deaths.
Letting Your Baby Take Naps That Are Too Long
It is usual for newborns to sleep for 13 to 15 hours a day.
However, when your toddler gets older, they shouldn’t take naps longer than 3 hours in total per day.
Too much sleep during the day creates an unhealthy bedtime schedule. And your baby might have trouble falling asleep quickly and sleeping through the entire night.
Letting Baby Fall Asleep Anywhere
This one can be tricky, especially if you like to be on the go a lot, but it’s essential.
Babies will sleep best if they fall asleep in their crib at bedtime or naptime.
If your child only falls asleep in the car or stroller, you may find yourself doing a lot of driving or strolling at bedtime or naptime.
Being consistent with a naptime routine is important too. Keeping the place and time of the naps the same is strongly encouraged.
If naps are not consistent, it’s hard to develop an excellent nighttime sleep schedule.
Letting Baby Sleep All Day
A baby’s sleep needs vary by age, but babies only need so much sleep in 24 hours.
While you don’t need to wake your child when they’re sleeping, talking and playing with them during the day when they’re awake will help stretch out their wake times.
And, as the AAP points out, that can help babies sleep for longer stretches at night. And what parent doesn’t want that?
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