Even with all the information out there on the internet about baby sleep, it can be hard to narrow it down to what really works and is best for your baby. Parents are desperate for sleep, so we spend hours googling and guessing and trying new things. Everything seems to contradict and be based solely on someone’s personal experience, not evidence. That is why we see so many parents making common sleep mistakes, either based on misinformation (or misapplied good information). Read on to see what baby sleep mistakes you need to correct to get your baby the sleep he or she needs!
7 Common Baby Sleep Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
Lindsey McGonegal, founder of Little Lamb Childhood Sleep Consultants shares her top 7 Baby Sleep Mistakes. What to do if you find you're doing one of these with your little one? Not to worry - just follow her advice to get those mistakes fixed up fast!
Mistake #1 – Not implementing a bedtime routine.
Most of us follow a consistent routine each night before bed. You might watch some tv, get your pajamas on, brush your teeth, check your phone, then turn off the light. The consistency of this nightly ritual helps your body and mind anticipate sleep. Your baby needs the same predictability in order to fall asleep more easily.
Fix: Choose a calm, soothing series of events for bedtime – about 20-30 minutes, and 5-10 minutes for a nap routine – that will help your baby anticipate sleep and drift off more easily.
Mistake #2 - Assisting your baby to sleep over and over again.
We all love to hold a sleeping baby. However, when you can’t put that sleeping baby down all night or during the day for naps, this becomes unsustainable. If you always hold, rock, or feed your baby to sleep, you will likely end up having to repeat the same routine over and over again.
Fix: We recommend working to lay your baby down drowsy and then awake from an early age. With newborns, you can start with simply one nap a day where you commit to laying them down drowsy, then build on that. It might be hard at first, but stick with it and your baby will amaze you with how fast they can learn!
Mistake #3 - Expecting your baby to sleep anywhere.
When babies are tiny and sleepy, it is easy to take them places and let them fall asleep on-the-go. That is fine in the early months on occasion. However, most babies will reach a point where noises and lights make it harder for them to sleep.
Fix: Put your baby to sleep in a consistent safe, sleep-conducive environment at home. Most babies will sleep better in a dark, quiet, cool environment, just like us! They will get better, more restorative sleep this way and wake up from naps feeling refreshed.
Mistake #4 - Not using white noise.
Babies under 12 months benefit greatly from using white noise, but many parents do not offer it, worried that it will become a sleep crutch, or that it is harmful to their hearing. As long as the volume is at an appropriate level (around the noise level of a running shower), you don’t need to worry about it harming your little one’s hearing, and the benefits to using it are huge! It can trigger your baby’s calming reflex, helping them achieve deeper sleep. It is also great for blocking outside noises – like loud siblings or street noise.
If you want to wean it in the future, simply turn it down a little bit each night over the course of a week or two, and your little one will hardly notice. Make sure you’re using a continuous sound like white, pink, or brown noise, and not melodies or jungle noises.
For more on how music and white noise can help your baby sleep, read: The Best Soothing Lullabies for Baby Sleep.
Mistake #5 – Putting baby to sleep in an unsafe sleep environment.
This is one of the most common – and the most dangerous – sleep mistakes you can make. Often because of beautifully curated social media feeds that are promoting newborn loungers with sleeping babies in them, many moms think it is perfectly safe to have their baby sleep in a large cushion, pillow, co-sleeper, or positioner. Unfortunately, all of these break two of the most important safe-sleep rules:
1) place baby to sleep on a firm surface
2) put nothing in baby’s sleep space.
These items are basically large pillows that you are adding to their sleep space. Another safe sleep rule we often see broken is letting your baby sleep in an inclined sleep position. Bouncers, swings, Rock’n plays (which have been recalled) and sleeping in the car seat outside of the car are all things to be avoided.
Fix: Set up a safe sleep environment for your baby and commit to always using it. For a more complete list of safe sleep guidelines, go here. Babies love the feeling of being held, which is why the Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle is so beneficial – it helps your baby feel the comfort of being held while still sleeping in a safe sleep space.
Want to know more? Read: Weighted Sack Safety and How it Will Help Your Baby Sleep.
Mistake #6 - Not updating your baby’s schedule.
Just when you think you have finally figured out your baby’s sleep, it is time to change things up again! If your baby was a good sleeper but suddenly took a turn for the worse, the first thing to ask is “have I updated his schedule recently?” Although they might start off sleeping all day, pretty soon it becomes important to find the right balance of daytime and nighttime sleep so that your baby can fall asleep – and stay asleep – with ease.
Fix: Update your baby’s schedule frequently. In the newborn stage, their schedule should be updated every 1-2 weeks, and in months 4-12, it should be updated about every month. For help knowing how many naps are recommended at each age, check out Little Lamb’s free Nap Cheat Sheet resource here (https://sleeplittlelamb.com/free-nap-cheat-sheet)
For more on how to update your baby's schedule during their first 12 months, read: Newborn Sleep Patterns and Schedules for the First Year.
Mistake #7 – Not taking nutrition into account.
Although adding solids into your baby’s diet will not magically cure all of their sleep problems, it is a crucial component to helping your baby finally sleep through the night.
Fix: Don’t start solids too soon but do start them as soon as your baby is showing the signs of readiness! Start with simple, easy to digest foods like fruits and veggies, but don’t stop there. Your baby eventually needs protein, fats, and complex carbohydrates to help her last all night without eating. Just make sure you do not give new foods right before bedtime – you don’t want to mess with their nighttime sleep!
The CDC offers a great guide to infant and toddler nutrition to ensure your baby is getting what they need to grow and thrive.
If you have realized you’ve been making some of these simple mistakes – don’t be hard on yourself! Just start by making small, positive changes tonight so everyone can get the sleep they need!
Lindsey McGonegal, M.A., is founder of Little Lamb Childhood Sleep Consultants and a certified baby and toddler sleep consultant. She is the author of The 9-Step Newborn Sleep Guide. As a mom of 3 girls with decades of childcare experience and degrees in psychology and pastoral care to women, she brings a unique perspective that will help you make life-changing improvements to your little lamb’s sleep - and yours!