5 Myths About Babies Sleeping Through The Night

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5 Myths About Sleeping Through the NightRemember when you were a brand-new mom or dad? You or your partner had just given birth, and you had this precious, beautiful new miracle at home. This precious, beautiful, sleepless little miracle. (Of course, some of you won’t have to think back very far — I may be describing the stage you’re in right now!)

Remember the kinds of advice and “helpful tips” you would get about sleep from well-meaning friends and family members? And how much of that advice centered around the concept of ‘sleeping through the night’? So many of our friends, relatives, co-workers (heck, even strangers in the grocery store!) want to chime in with their two cents about when our babies should be sleeping through the night, how to make them sleep through the night, and all the ways we’re failing as parents if our babies aren’t sleeping through the night.

However, those of you who have managed to resolve your baby’s nighttime waking or to solve your baby’s nap problems, and who have read up on baby sleep, now have a better context for understanding and evaluating that advice. And you probably realize that, while some of what you heard was true and helpful, other bits of advice you got about sleeping through the night were flat-out wrong.

That’s what we’re taking a look at today’s article, readers — we are examining the top 5 myths our well-meaning friends and family members tell us about babies sleeping through the night.

5 Myths About Babies Sleeping Through The Night

Before we get into our list, it’s important to define our terms. ‘Sleep through the night’ is actually a bit of a misnomer. Many of us (including pediatricians, authors of baby sleep books, and other baby sleep experts) use the term ‘sleep through the night’ to mean 8-10 (or maybe even 12!) straight hours of sleep, with no wakings. Technically, though, babies are sleeping through the night when they can sleep for a 5 hour stretch without waking. Big difference, right?

We’ve found, over the years, that most parents use the first definition. (Because let’s be honest – while a 5 hour stretch of sleep is great, most of us need a little more than that to be functional during the day!) When parents come to us for help with their babies’ sleep, what they want is a solid 8 (or possibly more) hours of uninterrupted sleep. So, for our purposes in this article, we’ll use ‘sleeping through the night’ to mean 8 or more hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Okay, now — on to the myths!

  1. “All babies can sleep through the night by 4 months.” The toughest thing about this particular myth is that it’s so prevalent — lots of pediatricians are still telling this to parents! And some popular baby sleep books (like On Becoming Babywise, for example) still promote the idea that sleeping through the night by 16 weeks is standard.

    Baby Pajamas SafetySorry, but in our experience, this just isn’t true. Sure, some babies are ready to sleep for 8/10/12 straight hours by the time they are 4 months old (some do it even earlier – at 8 or 10 weeks), but this certainly isn’t standard for all babies. The truth is, it’s normal for a baby to feed at night up to about 12 months (although we usually recommend at least an attempt at weaning from night feeds at 8 or 9 months, since many babies are ready to sleep through the night without feedings by then).

    What’s more, this kind of blanket statement fails to account for lots of important factors, like health history, developmental delays, feeding (formula-fed babies may sleep for longer stretches than breastfed babies, for example), family situations, and temperament. Factors like these are what make each baby unique — and make it impossible for a statement like ‘all babies can sleep through night by 4 months’ to be true!

    If we had to pick an average age for sleeping through the night, it would probably be around 7 months. So, by those standards, babies who are sleeping through the night by 4 months are actually doing it early – not ‘on time’.

  2. “You should keep your baby awake a lot during the day; then, he would sleep through the night.” No. No, no, no. New parents, if you hear this one from a friend or a family member, politely nod your head, say ‘thanks!’, and then go home and do just the opposite. Because even though it seems to make sense that keeping a baby awake for long stretches during the day would help her sleep better at night (“That way, she’ll be nice and tired at bedtime!”), it won’t work this way. Odds are,it will actually make her nighttime sleep even worse!

    See, babies become overtired very quickly. And while a small percentage of babies are able to fall asleep on their own quickly and easily, the majority of babies aren’t able to do so. Instead, if they are kept awake too long, they become progressively fussier and crankier, until they are a wailing, screaming, flailing mess, and they are downright impossible to soothe and put to sleep. The fact is, well-rested babies tend to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer than babies who are overtired.

    Note that it is okay to wake up your baby from long naps, if you suspect that she is napping too much during the day and not sleeping enough at night. It’s true that babies will shift sleep from naps to nights (and vice versa), so if your baby is sleeping a ton during the day, and hardly at all at night, then do wake her up from her long daytime naps, in an effort to shift some of that sleep back to nights. But don’t totally cut out naps, or keep your baby awake for hours on end — that’s when things will start to spiral out of control.

  3. “Your baby isn’t sleeping through the night yet? It’s probably because you’re breastfeeding.” Ah, yes — the “helpful tip” that makes breastfeeding moms everywhere want to tear their hair out! While it’s true that we’ve made great strides over the past two decades in understanding the benefits of breastfeeding, and in dispelling lots of breastfeeding myths, for some reason, this one remains.

    baby sleep training methodsThat’s probably because it’s technically true that breastfed babies do need to eat slightly more often than formula-fed babies. Formula takes longer for babies’ tummies to digest, while breastmilk digests fairly quickly — thus, breastfed babies may need to eat more often, and may get hungry faster, than formula-fed babies.

    However, this does not mean that formula-fed babies automatically sleep better than breastfed babies. Our Helpdesk alone disproves that theory — we work with plenty of formula-feeding families whose babies won’t sleep through the night or take reasonable naps! What’s more, a breastfed baby CAN learn to fall asleep independently and sleep well at night, the same way a formula-fed baby can. Yes, it is possible to breastfeed while sleep coaching – and it can be done successfully!

  4. “If you start feeding your baby solids, she’ll start sleeping through the night.” I heard this one from many of the older women in my community, back when my eldest was a newborn. And I’ve learned over the years that, back in my grandmother’s era, this was actually seen as a medical fact. Back then, many women were encouraged to start their babies on solid foods as early as 6-8 weeks!

    Now, though, any healthy professional worth his or her credentials will tell you that this is absolutely untrue. For one thing, there’s no real connection between feeding a baby solid foods and having him sleep through the night. (If that were true, then we wouldn’t have toddlers with sleep problems.) For another, loads of recent medical research indicates that starting a baby on solid food too early is actually detrimental to the baby’s health. New AAP recommendations make it clear that parents shouldn’t offer solids to a baby who’s under 4 months; what’s more, it’s considered best to delay solids until baby is around 6 months.

  5. “Your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night?? MY baby started sleeping through the night when she was 4 minutes old!” Okay, yes. I’m exaggerating here. I doubt there’s any mom out there who would actually claim her baby was sleeping through the night just minutes after birth. ;) But some parents have pretty grand claims about when their babies started sleeping through the night. And while some of those claims are actually true (some 8 week old babies really do sleep 8 straight hours all by themselves), they aren’t always.

    For one thing, a parent who makes a claim like this may be using a different definition of ‘sleeping through the night’ than you are (see above). Of course, they might also be outright lying about it. It’s true, readers – parents lie about baby sleep. I’m not making this up — it’s a documented fact! There’s a study to prove it and everything!

    That study, performed in 2012, revealed that an estimated 1/3 of parents actually lie about their babies’ sleep, in an effort to seem like better, more perfect parents. And about 1/5 of those parents who lie claimed that their babies and toddlers were sleeping through the night, when, in fact, they weren’t at all.

    So – the next time someone smugly tells you that her baby was sleeping through the night FROM THE MOMENT OF BIRTH (or something like that ;) ), remember — there’s a chance it could be true. If so, good for her! There’s also a chance that her version of ‘sleeping through the night’ is different than yours. And finally, there’s a fair chance she might be stretching the truth a little.

But here’s the bottom line, moms and dads — who cares? You are the parent of your baby — not anyone else. You get to decide what is good and healthy and right for your baby — not others. You get to decide when your baby’s sleep habits actually become a problem, and when it’s time to take action.

Parents, which of these 5 myths have you heard? Any other myths you’d like to add to our list? Have advice for new parents who are being bombarded with this kind of “helpful” information? Share your thoughts with us!

Ready to help your baby start sleeping through the night? We have the (factual and myth-free!) resources you need to get started!

  • Nighttime Waking? Please be sure to pick up your FREE copy of 5 (tear-free) Ways to Help Your Child Sleep Through the Night, our e-Book with tear-free tips to help your baby sleep better. For those persistent nighttime struggles, check out The 3-Step System to Help Your Baby Sleep (babies) or The 5-Step System to Better Toddler Sleep (toddlers). Using a unique approach and practical tools for success, our e-books help you and your baby sleep through the night and nap better.
  • Want Unlimited Product Access? Join our Members Area packed with exclusive content and resources: e-Books, assessments, detailed case studies, expert advice, peer support, and teleseminars. It actually costs less to join than buying products separately!
  • Need Personalized Help? For those looking for a more customized solution for your unique situation with support along the way, please consider one-on-one baby and toddler sleep consultations, where you will receive a Personalized Sleep Plan™ you can feel good about! Sometimes it’s not that you can’t make a plan. Sometimes you’re just too tired to.
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18 Responses to 5 Myths About Babies Sleeping Through The Night

  1. Iansmom says:

    One of the most annoying things my mother-in-law had been haunting me about was putting cereal on my baby’s bottle so he would sleep through the night. I finally gave in and did it twice and no, it did not work. I practically did it just to get her off my back. But goes to prove that all this non-sense advice to make our babies sleep through the night is useless and we as moms shouldn’t give in into the pressure. He is 4.5 months and still eats 2-3 times at night.

  2. Laura says:

    ooo..it’s a myth that once your child sleeps through the night they will continue to do so consistently forever. haha….I wish.

  3. Sue says:

    I absolutely love this article. My favorite advice was to “fill up baby’s tank” in the hours before bedtime with hopes of getting her to sleep all night. In our case, it typically resulted in her throwing up all of the precious breast milk just before bed time (our baby was not a puker and rarely even spit up). Oh goodness, if I knew then what I know now….

  4. Katherine Morgan says:

    I have heard all of these myths and have tried explaining how they are wrong to friends/family, but it’s just a waste of time . My daughter started life breastfeeding every two hours and ever since had continued waking very frequently every night. I can see now where I went wrong in a couple ways and even though we made progress after my shear exhaustion at 10 months, we still have issues. She is now 13 months old, sleeps roughly 11-12 hrs a night but still with 2 wakings to breastfeed. I cannot do CIO. I also believe she is truly hungry sometimes. She always nurses to sleep which I like but I would like her to not “have” to. She nurses to sleep for naps after which I hold her or she wakes up. Why does it have to be so hard for them to sleep when us adults would kill for sleep !? All of our family makes remarks bc I bf her to sleep and bc she wakes 2 times…is it that bad ?

  5. Kendra says:

    How about, “Take him to the park and wear him out and he’ll take a long nap.” Never worked for me, although it seems to help some people. In fact, usually on days when we go to the park, if I don’t allow at least an hour of two of buffer time before naptime, he’ll skip his nap altogether from being so wound up!

  6. Vera says:

    @Laura – Oooh yes. My greatest disappointment was in the generally accepted concept that you need to teach your child to sleep, and then she will sleep. Yeah. Until something happens. Or not, but she changed anyway.
    My daughter was less than 3 months when she first slept over 10 hours.. now she is 13 months and the last sleep training session was three days ago. We typically get a few days, if very lucky, weeks of sleeping between long sleepless periods. Grrr.

  7. Veronica says:

    Oh my…I have heard each and every one!! Multiple times. And they are all beyond frustrating.
    My first 2 were not sleepers. :) And, everyone made it sound like it was because I was a bad parent, or doing something wrong. :(
    But, they both had terrible reflux, so there was a medical reason for why they were eating so frequently, and not sleeping well. But, they also disprove the breastfed vs. formula fed myth, as my oldest was formula-fed, and my second was exclusively breastfed. (I found this site sometime in the middle of the night…while I was up with my son! :) )
    My 3rd (who is 6 weeks old) is a great sleeper. But, it is encouraging to know that all three of them are perfectly normal…just different!

  8. Kaz says:

    My daughter is 8mths and has been sleeping through the night from 7pm to 6am with occasional brief wake at 10 and 5 for a couple of mins. Its great but our problem now is she’s just started pulling to standing and insists on doing this repeatedly before sleeps both naps and at night. It used to take 5-20 mins to get her to sleep on her own but now it takes an hour with us repeatedly lying her down or holding her down. I don’t know what to do or whether this just a phase because its such a novelty to stand up and will just last a few weeks?

  9. Wren says:

    I have heard the myth that your baby will start sleeping through the night once he reaches 16 pounds… yeah, not true. :-)

  10. TraceyC says:

    I was told, “Maybe she doesn’t need to sleep” or “She doesn’t want to sleep”….both were not true. I also cringed when people said, “Well maybe she will make it up at the next nap” when she slept for 45 mins during the day….um, no!

    And yes, I was also told to try formula “to get her through the night”. Thankfully I did not cave in to that.

    I was advised to night wean at six months and I believe this was too early to do it but it did result in my baby sleeping through the night. I would probably wait till 8 months if I had my time again – although when it’s up to the Mum to do the sleep training, you can so strongly sense your baby is very frustrated that the milk supply is off limits during the night when they normally use it to go back to sleep. We got there in the end!

  11. Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site says:

    @ Lansmom – Thank you for writing and sharing your experience! Yes 2-3 feeds at 4 months is typical, but will not last forever! Good for you for deciding what is right for your baby.
    Thanks for commenting!

    @ Laura – This one is SOO true! The road to sleep is rarely a straight one!
    Thanks for adding to our list of myths!

    @ Sue – Sometimes “cluster feeding” can help a baby to sleep better, especially in the early weeks, but you’re right… It is not the end all to night wakings, and overfeeding/stuffing a baby can lead to overflow, as you’ve experienced! I am sorry that you had a rough go of it, and thank you for sharing!

    @ Katherine Morgan – Thank you for writing and sharing your experience! We do find that in most cases, 13 month olds should not need to feed during the night, but do not let anyone get you down. You are doing best for your child by helping her sleep while she needs it! If you are fine with the 2 feeds, then there is no reason to change it. If you are ready to make some changes, you may want to consider very gently weaning the night feeds, so that your daughter can slowly adjust to feeding less at night and more in the day. Here is a link with more info: http://www.babysleepsite.com/sleep-training/night-feedings-by-age-when-do-you-night-wean/
    Good luck and thank you for commenting!

  12. Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site says:

    @ Kendra – Yes!! This one fits in nicely with our #2 myth! It does happen to work for a few families, bit most babes will just get overtired and sleep worse! Regular naps are better!
    Thank you for commenting!

    @ Vera – I am sorry that you are struggling with sleep! it is tough when you get teased with good sleep for a few days or weeks before the next hurdle!
    Hang in there and thank you for writing!!

    @ Veronica – Thank you for writing, and we are happy to hear that number 3 is sleeping well for you! it is sometimes amazing how different siblings can be!
    Thank you for commenting!

  13. Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site says:

    @ Kaz – Thank you for writing! Yes, this sounds like a common phase, which should subside within a few weeks. here is a link with more info: http://www.babysleepsite.com/baby-sleep-patterns/8-9-10-month-old-baby-sleep-regression/
    Hang in there, and I hope that things improve very soon!

    @ Wren – Yes! I have heard this too! Thanks for commenting!

    @ TraceyC – Thank you for sharing your myths! You are so right that every parent needs to do what is right for them and their family!
    Thank you for commenting!

  14. Alison says:

    To me the biggest myth is that anything is true or will work for all babies!! For example, EVERYTHING I read says ‘don’t let baby get overtired’. HA! I can’t get mine to sleep unless they’re good and tired. (Mine is the one who needs to run at the park to take a nap!) I’m sure there’s a limit to this, but I get myself into trouble when I try for sleep too early, not too late!

  15. Jennifer says:

    I’m not completely convinced that solids have nothing to do with sleeping through the night. Especially when you read books from trusted sleep experts (like Weissbluth) that will say in one chapter that feeding solids will not help baby sleep through the night, and then the next chapter he says that baby will not be able to sleep through the night until they are on solids. More calories during the day certainly helps hold them over longer.

  16. Rachel says:

    Yep, heard all of those multiple times. I could write a book on all the frustrating/misinformed/parent-blaming pieces of sleep “advice” I’ve been told just by my mother, let alone from the rest of my extended family and random strangers in the grocery store. But here’s my two best:
    -”that’s the price you pay for a baby who sleeps through the night” when asking my pediatrician about my 4 month old who wouldn’t nap AT ALL and screamed the WHOLE day (but did sleep at the time about 4-6 hours at night.) Thanks. Maybe it’s time to try a new pediatrician…
    -”well you should have thought of that before having kids” when asking the next pediatrician at my daughter’s 12-month appointment how to improve her ongoing terrible sleeping. Thanks. I guess we’re on the hunt for a new doctor again. Oh the joys of living in Canada!

  17. Emily says:

    I appreciate this article! All of these are so true. With my first, I was awake multiple times a night almost every single night until he was about 15 months old, moved up to the “toddler room” at his childcare and all kids napped at a set time. I’m convinced seeing the other kids do it and having the teachers gently help the kids fall asleep worked. My second is almost 12 mo now and has been a better sleeper, but still wakes. I’ve taken 2 work trips and when I’m gone, she cries a bit at night in papa’s arms but by the 2nd night, she’s sleeping all the way through, or almost (her crib is in our room, I guess time to move it out!).

    Anyway the point is, with my first child I was obsessed with sleep. This time around, I know that 1) it can be a lot worse, 2) we can handle it and 3) she will figure it out eventually. Very freeing. Thanks for supporting a more normal perspective on sleeping through the night!

  18. Debbye @ The Baby Sleep Site says:

    @ Alison – Yes, it is SO true that all children are different! Good for you for finding what works for your little one!
    Thanks for commenting!

    @ Jennifer – Thanks for writing! It is very hard when books contradict each other, and even more confusing if one book contradicts itself! As if new parenthood is not complicated enough! Yikes! It is true that once a baby is older, and therefor his/her stomach is larger and ready for solids that he can likely sleep longer without a feed. Starting solids “too early” however does not generally help, as their stomachs are still too little to stay full for too long.

    @ Rachel – So sorry about your less than pleasant experiences with (the first two) pediatricians! I do hope that the third time is the charm, and that you can utilize our resources to find some answers/help for your daughter’s sleep. Thanks for writing, hang in there, and good luck!

    @ Emily – What a great attitude/perspective to have Emily! Hopefully the move to her own room will help and she will still “remember” how to sleep, whether you are home or not!
    Thank you for commenting!