A baby care advice game – fact or fiction?
Let’s play a game – look at the list of popular babycare advice below and guess which ones are fact – and which ones are fiction:
- Babies need to be taught how to self settle and sleep without bad habits and associations (such as rocking and feeding to sleep)
- All babies should be able to sleep through the night by 3 or 4 months of age
- Babies need to unwind and cry a little bit in order to fall asleep – and should be left to do so
- Dream feeds are a good way to get your baby sleeping through the night
- Set times for your babies feeds and don’t feed before them
- If a baby is overtired they will only nap rather than sleep deeply
- If a baby has enough nutrition during the day they do not need feeding at night
- Co-Sleeping is dangerous and a SIDs risk
- At 6 months of age a baby is only able to stay awake for 2 hours before needing a nap
- The three main reasons babies cry are hunger, tiredness and blocked noses
- The best way to feed a young baby is by routine
- Babies fed on demand only snack (which means they won’t sleep through the night) snack feeding is habit forming
- If you feed your baby when they cry you will miss the real reason why they are crying.
- Mothers who raise their babies with routines are always the most confident
- All babies should be swaddled to make them sleep for longer.
How’d you do?
Did you spot the ones that were fact? no? me neither………..fiction all the way! and here’s why:
Babies need to be taught how to self settle and sleep without bad habits and associations (such as rocking and feeding to sleep)
Oh so wrong on so many levels - mainly a gross misunderstanding of a young baby’s brain and neurophysiological development. This presumes tiny babies can form habits and think logically and rationally, the only thing is….they can’t! when a baby is born their brain is incomplete, not only is it smaller than an adults, the vast majority of its 100 billion neurons are not yet connected into networks. Babies simply don’t think like we do – the neocortex – the home of logical thinking – does not really spring into life until 3yrs plus, before that a baby’s brain is very primal – focussed on survival and basic emotions. That said early experiences can and do have a big impact on the wiring of an infant’s brain, a baby’s brain has twice as many synapses (connections) as the child will eventually need. If these synapses are used repeatedly they are reinforced. If they are not used repeatedly, they are eliminated – therefore we can cause permanent changes in the brain structure of our children, both good and bad. Depriving a baby of the love and contact they need in infancy alters the neuroplasticity of the brain, changing the wiring in the relationship part of the brain which affects the individual’s experience of relationships long into adulthood. Research on the impact of early attachments confirms that warm, responsive caregiving is essential to healthy brain development and ironically those babies who were allowed to be attached as a baby are the ones that can TRULY self settle as older children and adults!
All babies should be able to sleep through the night by 3 or 4 months
Oh how I am tired of hearing this, because it is factually INCORRECT!
When a baby is in utero he borrows the circadian rhythms (natural sleep/wake cycle) of his mother as melatonin is passed to him via the placenta, after birth however, he’s on his own and it takes his wee body a while to be able to do what his mother’s did. In fact it takes him until at least 4mths to get anywhere close and even longer – until he begins school at AGE 4 to really get the same effect. That’s not all though, not only do they lack the hormonal regulators of sleep of an adult – a baby’s sleep cycle is hugely different, in fact it’s very simplistic, composed of two basic states (quiet – deep -sleep and active – alert – sleep) and is about half the length of an adult sleep state. Now this makes perfect biological sense, it keeps our tender young offspring more alert should a predator threaten their life – but what predator will come and gobble them up in their nursery I hear you ask? Nature might be clever, but not quite clever enough to evolve us that quickly, so – for now – we still possess the same innate responses that kept our hunter gatherer predecessors safe. Imagine then that a baby goes through a sleep cycle twice as quickly as an adult, that means they wake AT LEAST twice as much as us during the night, in fact they move into a light sleep state around once every 25 minutes. That means that have the likelihood of waking fully every 25minutes if something alerts them.
Why then do we presume babies “should be able to sleep through by 12 weeks” (or even younger according to some experts!) – for a start that is WRONG, a baby will not “sleep through” – they WILL wake, LOTS they just may not alert us, as parents, to the fact (why cry out if nobody comes?).
It is NORMAL for a baby to wake – LOTS – in the night!!!! To give you an idea of how normal here’s some stats:
- According to Scher’s study of “Night waking in the first year” (1991) at 3 months 46% of babies woke regularly at night, 39% of 6mths old woke regularly and then the classic sleep regression at 9mths with a huge 58% waking regularly tailing off to 55% still waking regularly at night at 12months.
- In the Avon Longitudinal Sleep Study – which looked at the sleep of 640 infants found only 16% “slept through” at six months of age and of those 6month olds 16% still had absolutely no regular sleep pattern.
- According to Armstrong, Quinn and Dadd (1994) “nearly a third of all parents have significant problems with their child’s sleep behaviour”.
- Lastly according to Henderson, 2010, only 50% of 4month old babies sleep for a period of 5hours.
Babies need to unwind and cry a little bit in order to fall asleep – and should be left to do so
Babies always cry for a reason, when they cry and we do not comfort them they release adrenaline and cortisol – stress hormones. When we secrete these stressors we are preparing our body for fight or flight. When an infant is left to cry the following will happen:
His heartrate will increase and his breathing will become rapid and shallow – his awareness heightened and more alert, his blood pressure will increase and his digestion will be slowed.
Doesn’t sound very relaxing or sleep inducing to me?
What can and does happen though is prolonged cortisol release will alter the structure of the brain permanently – more on this here in Sear’s excellent article.
Dream feeds are a good way to get your baby sleeping through the night
This again highlights a gross misunderstanding – that babies only wake for food. Simply not true! Harlow’s Monkeys told us this many years ago:
Set times for your babies feeds and don’t feed before them
Because we are only ever hungry/thirsty at set points in the day. We have our breakfast at 8am, lunch at 12, a snack at 3pm and dinner at 6pm EVERY SINGLE DAY, we never have days where we’re really hungry and want to eat all day, or days when we don’t fancy much – similarly we never need a drink in between meals, even on really hot days – no, we always need the same amount of fluid at the same times every day – how silly is this? Here we are also presuming that a feed is just food to a baby, not comfort (I refer you to the above).
If a baby is overtired they will only nap rather than sleep deeply
I agree if a baby is overstimulated/overtired it may well take them longer to fall asleep, but a baby’s sleep cycle is a baby’s sleep cycle. If they have been particularly upset when they come back to an alpha/beta (alert – active sleep) state they may well “awaken” if they are particularly unsettled and need help to settle again (oh but wait, shouldn’t they always self settle ;-), if we’ve taught them the skills, they shouldn’t cry out after their “nap”!) but they don’t sleep any more lightly or “nap”.
If a baby has enough nutrition during the day they do not need feeding at night
That’s right, because they only wake for food. Never for comfort, never for thirst, never for being too hot/cold, never because they are scared, never because they are uncomfortable.
Co-Sleeping is dangerous and a SIDs risk
I think I need to devote a whole blog post to this one. Yes falling asleep on the sofa with your baby is dangerous, yes falling asleep with a heavy duvet over your baby is dangerous, so is sleeping with a baby if you smoke or take medication. Yes sleeping with your baby is not deemed as “safe” if you formula feed (as opposed to breastfeed) but let’s get this one straight once and for all – Co-Sleeping following simply guidelines is NOT dangerous, nor does it pose any increased SIDs risks, in fact it can do quite the opposite. James McKenna’s article here does a fabulous job of discussing the real scientific evidence.
At 6 months of age a baby is only able to stay awake for 2 hours before needing a nap
What? because all babies are the same aren’t they? My second born dropped his daytime naps completely at 7 mnths, whereas my firstborn still napped twice a day until age three!
Between the ages of 6-12 months an average baby (note an “average baby” – not ALL babies!) needs around 14 hours sleep per day – this is based on a study by Glowstein et al (2003) who tracked 493 Swiss children from birth to 16 years. . Now if all 6mth olds supposedly should sleep for 12hrs straight at night, 7-7 (and pigs might fly and all that) that means they only need 2hrs more sleep in the day/ other 12hrs, yet if we presume they need say an hour’s sleep every 2hrs that means they will be having a minimum of 15hrs sleep per day. The maths doesn’t add up to me?
In fact in Glowstein’s study only 50% of 6mth olds slept between 13 and 15 hours per day – that means the remaining 50% slept significantly more or less (varying between 10hrs and 18hours). Why? because all babies are different and all have different sleep requirements!!
Here’s a good article on the science of baby sleep requirements.
The three main reasons babies cry are hunger, tiredness and blocked noses
No, these are some of the reasons babies cry and “blocked noses” in the top three?
need for human contact
need to suckle
need for movement
The best way to feed a young baby is by routine
The best way for who? the baby? the parent?
Categorically the best way to feed a baby is by demand – for reasons so numerous this necessitates a whole other post:
-because breastfeeding works on a supply and demand basis
-because babies are not hungry/thirsty to the clock
-because feeding is more than nutrition which is why the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (APP) recommend demand feeding.
because when babies are in control of their own feeding and appetite they develop healthier feeding patterns in childhood and adulthood as illustrated by a recent study carried out by researchers at the Queensland University Technology in Brisbane, Australia, led by Professor Lynne Daniels which tracked 300 babies for the first two years of their life. The study found that babies are born with a sense of how much food they need and naturally stop eating when they are full. The researchers stated that “Providing food at set times, even when the babies are not hungry,can over-ride the baby’s innate appetite leading to piling on unnecessary pounds as they grow older”. Professor Daniels commented that “Baby’s have an innate capacity to regulate their intake. We are advising mothers to trust their baby. The mothers provide the nutrition and the baby decides how much it wants to eat.” The study results found that the babies who were fed ‘on demand’ were lighter at 14 months as compared to others who were fed at regular intervals. On the results professor Daniels said, “If the mother is responsive, she is responding to the child’s cues of hunger and not over-riding them. Whereas, if a mother feeds in schedule, she decides whether or not he is hungry and is more likely to make the child finish the bottle.”
Babies fed on demand only snack (which means they won’t sleep through the night) snack feeding is habit forming
Where is the science to back this up? the science above shows this to not be true and the physiology of breastfeeding in particular says different – frequent “snacking” is normal and healthy – Kellymom sums this up nicely in this article.
If you feed your baby when they cry you will miss the real reason why they are crying.
This assumes that feeding is all about food again…………..feeding a baby is perhaps the greatest method we have of calming a baby, who cares *why* they were crying? if we have a wonderful ability to calm them in seconds! when does this become a problem? when it’s a problem for the mum, then and only then - if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Mothers who raise their babies with routines are always the most confident
Are they? because I’ve always found the opposite to be true. I can’t tell you the amount of houses I’ve been to with a stressed out mum surrounded by pads of paper with timings scrawled on them, who doesn’t know what to do with her crying baby “because she only just slept and isn’t due to feed for another hour”. Or the mum who can’t go out anywhere because “my baby needs to sleep at 1pm” or the mum who has to live her life around her baby’s feeding schedule – having to grab those precious two hours when the baby isn’t feeding or sleeping to visit friends and family. These are the mums who have never had the wonder of really getting to know their own baby because they have been so reliant on the printed words of someone who has never met them, how can the faceless expert know more than the mum herself? but the mum believes this – in her quest for doing the best for her baby, she doesn’t realise how disempowered she has become!
All babies should be swaddled to make them sleep for longer.
I can’t lie, we love demonstrate swaddling at BabyCalm classes – because we realise all parents are different and we work with so many different parents doing different things with their babies.
Some parents love to carry their baby in a sling all day and co-sleept at night, for those parents swaddling is redundant, it’s not needed and it can never replace skin to skin contact and holding. Some parents couldn’t think of anything worse than their baby in their bed or want to keep their baby in their moses basket and pram. Some parents don’t breastfeed. Some parents are desperate for something to help before they turned to controlled crying. For these parents swaddling can really help – but we have to realise it is an alternative, an alternative to what babies really need! and we make sure parents are aware of swaddling related risks and how to reduce these, much as we do with co-sleeping too.
Sarah (Mum of 4 and founder of BabyCalm).
Read more of Sarah’s posts HERE.