Putting Newborn Sleep Myths to Bed

By Carolynne J. Harvey, founder of Dream Baby Sleep

People have a lot of opinions and advice when it comes to newborn sleep.  There is a plethora of information right at your fingertips - some good and some not-so-good.  As a baby sleep expert and founder of  Dream Baby Sleep, I’ve spent years pulling together science-backed data to provide new parents with information they need to understand their newborn’s biological sleep needs.  So, let’s get real, and debunk some of those newborn sleep myths together. 

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MYTH #1: Newborns should sleep 8 hours or more during the night.

Unfortunately, sleeping this long just isn’t possible for a brand new baby primarily because they have a tiny tummy and need to eat frequently! More typically, a baby will be closer to 3 months old before they’re sleeping stretches of 5-8 hours at night. At the beginning, you’ll experience short chunks of sleep between 2-4 hours. They need to eat often, so they’re going to wake often!

MYTH #2: You should never wake a sleeping baby.

There are definitely times you’ll want to wake your newborn: if they have been asleep for two hours during the day, it’s time to wake them. Capping naps at two hours will ensure they’ve got time to eat enough during the day which will help them wake less often at night. 

Limiting naps to around two hours a piece prevents your baby from getting too much daytime sleep.

MYTH #3: Keeping a baby awake during the day means they will sleep more at night.

Sleep leads to more sleep! You want your baby napping often. Overtired babies do not sleep well at night. Instead, they’ll be overtired going into bedtime, which will make it difficult for them to calm down, and more likely they will wake frequently as they can’t settle into a deeper sleep. Offering frequent, consistent naps (and only waking baby after a nap exceeds two hours) is much more likely to result in good nighttime sleep than short or nonexistent naps.

MYTH #4: Breastfed babies wake more often at night than formula-fed babies.

While it is true that breast milk digests faster than formula, that doesn’t mean breastfed babies will wake any more often than formula-fed newborns. All newborns wake frequently to eat— their stomachs are tiny!  A three-day-old baby’s stomach is about the size of a walnut—that tiny. Their nervous and digestive systems are still developing, and small, frequent meals (every 2-3 hours as newborns) are the best support for these growing systems, whether that’s breastmilk or formula. Fed is best! 

MYTH #5: Babies don’t need much day sleep if they sleep well at night.

Remember, sleep leads to more sleep! Newborns sleep a ton—between 14 to 17 hours in a 24 hour period. Just because you’re getting awesome nighttime stretches doesn’t mean you should skip naps or cut naps short. Babies don’t want to be overtired and naps help prevent that. 

MYTH #6: Motion is a sleep crutch that will be hard for my baby to give up.

A sleep “crutch” is a soothing behavior that naturally encourages baby sleep, like sucking, nursing, being held, or moving around. But motion is different than other sleep crutches. If your baby sleeps more easily in the car, stroller or in the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet, this is actually something they will outgrow naturally. When babies are more developed, around four or five months old, they begin to produce their own melatonin, the “sleep hormone,” which helps them want to sleep.

With the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet, you can also control the motion and help wean them from it slowly and easily. For more tips on weaning from the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet and moving into the crib, see our post on tips to transition. 

MYTH #7: Keeping baby’s room light for naps will help them learn day from night. 

A good sleep environment is a good sleep environment, regardless of whether it is naptime or bedtime. Of course, it is important for infants to get plenty of light exposure during their awake time to help distinguish day from night, but during naps it’s totally okay to keep that room dark and cool— it will help eliminate distractions and foster good naps, even if baby doesn’t “need” a dark room to sleep well yet.

MYTH #8: Babies don’t like being swaddled.

If your newborn cries when you first swaddle them, your instinct may be to think “she hates this!” But swaddling is safe and calming for newborns. They will feel secure once properly swaddled. And proper swaddling can definitely promote longer stretches of sleep since they won’t startle themselves awake. The Moro reflex, or startle reflex, refers to an involuntary motor response that infants develop shortly after birth. 

Stop swaddling when baby shows signs of rolling (usually around 3-4 months), though you can keep using the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet until they weigh 25 pounds or can push up on their hands and knees, even when baby is out of the swaddle. 

MYTH #9: Babies should sleep in a silent room.

Newborns have been living in a noisy environment 24/7—the womb is loud!—and they’re used to sleeping with a constant whooshing noise. Using that sound to get them to sleep in their crib or bassinet is comforting! (In fact, the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet has it built right in.) The best bet is a continuous, constant white noise: not only does it drown out background noise like the dog barking or the TV, it tells newborns “you are safe, and it’s time to sleep.” 

MYTH #10: Bassinet/crib/playard mattresses are uncomfortable for my baby. 

Newborns have pliable skeletons, and sleeping on a firm surface helps their bodies and bones develop. To an adult, the mattress of a bassinet might not feel like the plush, cozy bed of your dreams, but this is the safest way for babies to sleep. The firm mattresses in cribs and bassinets (like the mattress in the MamaRoo Sleep Bassinet or Breeze Plus Playard) are actually good for them!