8 myths I believed about baby sleep before I became a parent


If there’s a universal truth about parenthood, it’s that people seem to love dispensing parenting advice — even if that advice is, shall we say, less than useful.

For me, the well-meaning but flat-out-misleading advice I got about baby sleep was the most insidious. While these often-repeated nuggets of so-called wisdom are benign enough to be cross-stitched onto a decorative pillow, in practice they’re harmful enough to literally keep you and your little one up at night (and, let’s be honest, at morning and afternoon and mid-evening…). 

I get it — people are trying to be helpful! But there’s a lot of misinformation out there about baby sleep, and as a parent, I had to learn for myself how to tune out the “noise” and follow my instincts. Read on for the most common myths I’ve been told about baby sleep — and what you should really expect. 

1. Never wake a sleeping baby

This is the gold standard of baby sleep myths, extolled by aunties worldwide. To be fair, it’s easy to see why it’s so pervasive: When so many parents beg for their babies to just sleep already, why would you ever dare wake one up?! But it’s actually recommended that you wake a sleeping baby in certain scenarios, like if their naps are getting too long, interfering with bedtime, or limiting opportunities for feeding

2. Sleep when the baby sleeps

While a great idea in theory, this is tricky in practice. Considering your baby may be just as likely to sleep for three minutes as they are to snooze for three hours, your chances of getting anything close to restorative sleep on a baby’s sleep schedule is exhaustingly low.

This advice also assumes you have nothing else to do, like folding laundry, scrubbing the 37 parts to each baby bottle, prepping a dinner you’ll inevitably eat over the sink, binging the latest true crime doc on Netflix … The point is, if you can’t sleep when the baby sleeps, don’t beat yourself up over it — you’re juggling a lot.

3. Room-sharing will ruin your marriage

Before I gave birth, the plan was to have a bassinet next to our bed for the first few months. “But you need to take care of your marriage, too,” some would warn, often with a wink.

I’m endlessly curious if those couples who mandated having their bedroom to themselves enjoyed night after night of blissful sleep and euphoric sex, but I have a sneaking suspicion they too were having relatively little of either — with the added insult of having to walk farther to do the same nighttime care and feeding we could tackle at arm’s reach. 

4. If they’re tired enough, they’ll fall asleep faster

In fact, the opposite is true. Keeping a tired baby awake, often in the hopes they’ll sleep through the night, usually backfires. My overtired babies, bleary-eyed and belligerent, would fight sleep tooth and (poorly-trimmed) nail. But whenever they were well-rested, they’d actually go down better — and stay down for longer. Sleep begets sleep.

5. Sleeping babies need silence

So many nights, I’d place my baby into her crib like she was a lit stick of dynamite. I’d hold my breath as I’d tip-toe out of her nursery, careful to avoid the creaky spots on the floor. I’d forgotten that this was the same baby who never stirs no matter how many squirrels our yappy dog barks at from the living room window. In fact, some babies sleep better with white noise or a sound machine in their room — and absolute silence is not actually a requirement.

6. Don’t nurse a baby to sleep

See also: don’t give a baby a pacifier. The message we parents are meant to receive here is: “Don’t do anything that might make your baby dependent on an external factor in order to sleep!”

I was so committed to this myth that when my baby found her thumb during naptime, I’d brag about it on playdates. “She can self-soothe!” I’d announce. Fast-forward several years, and all those other babies have kicked their binky habit while mine is a devout thumb-sucker (we’re working on it…). 

7. There’s only one correct way to get your baby to sleep through the night

“Cry It Out is the only method that consistently works.” “Responding to your baby’s needs is the best thing you can do for healthy sleep habits.” There are a lot of opinions about sleep training. The truth is, every baby is different, and the book your sister-in-law swears by may not work for you.

The YouTube sleep consultant your coworker keeps forwarding links to may not work for you, either. You may have a clear vision for how you want it to go, or you might embark on months of trial and error, like I did. There’s a reason babies don’t come with instruction manuals. 

8. You’ll never have a good night’s sleep again

Throughout those first months with a baby, I was seriously sleep deprived — and the veteran moms I knew weren’t exactly encouraging. “Oh, yeah,” they’d nod. “You’ll never sleep again.” I was told to get used to the bags under my eyes.

I was told that my next full night of sleep would be when our baby went away to college. But here’s the good news: It gets better. We’ve been sold the lie that parenthood is synonymous with sleepless nights for so long that we still believe it, even after everyone in the house has started sleeping through the night. You will sleep again. That’s no myth — that’s a promise.

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