6 Baby sleep myths, busted

Posted on 5 February 2019

When it comes to your baby’s sleep habits, there are so many myths new parents tend to believe. Dr Anita Parbhoo, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt, sets the record straight.

1. Babies should sleep in a silent room.

Newborn babies actually love background noise. It can be comforting and familiar since they heard constant, loud noise when they were in utero. “You can recreate a sleep environment using white noise reminiscent of the sounds in the womb. White noise is constant and monotonous, for example, the sound of rain, waves or a heartbeat. It reduces stress, avoids overstimulation and masks noise coming from outside the room. Do not play music –  it can over-stimulate your baby,” advises Dr Parbhoo. White noise apps can be downloaded for free.

2. Babies start sleeping through the night from four months.

“Some babies start sleeping for longer stretches from four months onward,” Dr Parbhoo explains.  “But most will sleep for up to eight hours a stretch at night from six months when they have dropped the night feed. Breastfed babies, however, may wake more frequently because breast milk metabolises faster. If your baby is still not sleeping through by 12 months, seek medical attention to exclude anatomical or pathological reasons for not sleeping through.”

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3. Setting a later bedtime prevents babies from waking too early in the morning.

This almost always backfires. “Your baby will get overtired, fussy and will take longer to settle down,” Dr Parbhoo says. “Instead, encourage lots of naps and feedings during the day.”

4. You should teach your baby to self-settle.

Babies under 12 weeks usually aren’t capable of consciously self-settling. “From about four months onwards, allow your baby to self-settle by placing them in bed while they’re awake but drowsy. This will encourage them to do the final bit of falling asleep by themselves.”

5. If a baby wakes in the night it means they’re hungry.

Babies do wake in the night hungry, but not all the time. “Other reasons include having had too much or too little day sleep, being too hot or cold, having a soiled nappy or being sick.” Feeding your waking baby every time can cause them to take in the bulk of their milk feeds during the night, meaning they’ll take less in the day.

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6. You can control when and how long your newborn sleeps.

Newborn babies fall asleep when they’re ready and wake up when they’re hungry, wet or because of some other normal cue. To assist good sleeping habits, make sure the room is cool (around 21°C). “If it’s too hot or too cold, your baby’s body will waste energy trying to regulate, making it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep,” Dr Parbhoo explains. “Also, keep the room dark. Melatonin, often known as the ‘sleepy hormone’, influences sleep by sending a signal to the brain that it’s time for rest. Melatonin is only produced when it’s dark. Finally, try to stick to a [consistent] bedtime routine.”

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In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.