untangling myths about babies’ sleep


as a parent of a newborn baby, sleep is a big topic.

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BY NATURALMAT BABY*

whether it’s thinking about the fact you haven’t had enough sleep or wondering when your little one will sleep through the night. there’s a lot of advice about things you can do to get your baby to sleep through the night. the problem is some of this advice is misleading as it is based on myths. below the myths are untangled from the facts.



Q: what is the best method of getting my baby to sleep through the night?

A: not all babies are the same when it comes to sleep so believing there is a magic method that can be used to get any baby to sleep is an unhelpful belief. while one baby may appear to respond well to a particular method, unless it is a controlled trial, it is never clear if the baby would have behaved that way with or without the intervention. the problem is babies are not born with a developed circadian rhythm, one of the systems that control sleep/wake patterns. this circadian rhythm or body clock, takes time to develop, and every baby is different. if your baby’s circadian rhythm has not developed enough to allow her/him to sleep through the night, you will end up becoming very frustrated by believing there are a specific set of rules that can do this. there are a few things you can do to help a baby’s circadian rhythm develop such as turning down lights at bedtime, reducing noise and social interaction. this will help the baby to begin to associate night with sleep.

Q: when should my baby be sleeping through the night?

A: first, remove the word “should” as there are no fixed dates, only guidelines and there are huge individual differences. in the first month after birth, a newborn’s sleeping patterns can be very erratic, with several periods of 1 to 3 hours’ sleep duration over the 24 hour period. newborn babies will be waking and feeding according to their own schedule, and as a parent it’s best to initially respond to this, rather than try to control it. this may mean resting when your baby is sleeping.

within the first few months, you start to see a resemblance of a day/ night cycle but this is just a beginning and the circadian rhythm will continue to develop over the first two years. however, by roughly 3-4 months, many babies go for longer stretches of sleep at night, with 4-6 hour periods. the notion that babies can “sleep through the night” by 3 months is based on this sustained, nocturnal sleep period, not a full 8-10 hours. however, some will not sleep for this long at this age as their circadian rhythm may just be a bit slower to develop. by 6 months, 50% of babies are sleeping through the night, with 90% reaching this by 12 months.

Q: can i encourage my baby to sleep longer by using formula or adding baby rice to their bottle?

A: there is absolutely no evidence that adding baby rice to a baby’s bottle will make them sleep longer. in fact, introducing solid food before a baby is ready can lead to digestive problems or food allergies as their digestive system is not mature enough to take this. in addition there is some evidence that feeding babies solid food before the recommended age of 4-6 months can increase the risk of obesity. research shows that babies fed on formula do not sleep better, although they may sleep longer initially. this is because formula feed takes longer to digest. however, breast milk contains melatonin, one of the hormones that regulate the circadian rhythm and breast-fed babies don’t take long to catch up with the formula-fed babies. in addition, there are many additional benefits to breast feeding, including a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), infections and cardiovascular disease in later life.

Q: will sleep training damage my bond with my baby?

A: many parents consider some form of sleep training if their babies are not showing more consolidated sleeping at night by 6 months. a common concern is this will damage the bond between baby and parent or lead to emotional or behavioural problems. however, according to a small trial, there is no evidence that this is true. babies aged between 6 months and 16 months were included in the study which investigated controlled crying (graduated extinction) and a technique called bedtime fading. there was also a control group with no intervention. with controlled crying, parents do not respond to their babies’ crying immediately, but allow a set time interval to pass before they comfort them, with these periods becoming longer and longer until the baby drops off to sleep. bedtime fading is a gentler approach whereby parents delayed their babies’ bedtime by 15 minutes for a few nights, delaying it a further 15 minutes if the baby is still having trouble sleeping. after 3 months it was shown that both interventions lead to babies falling asleep faster than before the intervention, compared to the control group which saw little change. there was also less waking in the night in the controlled crying group (an average of one or two times a night compared to three times before the intervention).there was no evidence that either method was detrimental to the parent-baby bond or that they caused emotional or behavioural problems at 12 months. however, no measures were taken beyond this point. stress levels were reduced for mothers in both intervention groups. since sleep is an integral part of both the baby’s and parents’ physical and mental health, a sleep intervention at an appropriate age may actually aid bonding and emotional wellbeing in the family.
*when we first decided to make mattresses back in 1999, we took a different approach to the rest of the trade. we could not understand why the majority of mattresses were made using man-made synthetic materials that were neither biodegradable nor from a sustainable source. what's more, they provided questionable sleep and supportive benefits to the mattress.we believed that natural fibres were best, and we set out to make a mattress that contained just that – without any chemical additives whatsoever. we also wanted to make sure that our packaging was environmentally friendly. since then we have continued to develop our range and improve our products, remaining true to our guiding principles.all the ingredients that go into a naturalmat product are 100% natural and from a sustainable resource that is harvested according to fair trade principles. where possible, we buy from local sources and we always make an effort to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible. at the end of their life all our materials are 100% biodegradable, so they will return to nature as nature intended.all our mattresses are made by hand in our purpose-built factory in topsham, on the banks of the river exe, devon. we believe that people, not machines, make a superior, longer lasting product. our team of craftspeople ensure every stitch, every fibre, every tufting button and every cover is painstakingly created, teased and checked. when a mattress leaves our factory, we are confident it will give years of long lasting comfort.


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