Although many new mothers recognize ‘old wives’ tales’ as being false, there are too many misconceptions about Baby’s health and development that continue to fool parents and even some pediatricians. This is especially true with sleep. In his book BabyFacts: The Truth about Your Child’s Health from Newborn through Preschool (John Wiley & Sons, February 2009), pediatrician Dr Andrew Adesman debunks many of the sleeping myths that could be keeping your infant from getting a good night’s rest. Here is the reality on four common mistakes parents make when putting Baby to bed.
Parenting myths are pervasive
Dr Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New Hyde Park, New York, has consulted with parents of literally thousands of youngsters in his 24 years as a pediatrician. He’s heard it all. “I’ve always been troubled by the extent to which parents rely on hearsay or misinformation to care for their children…a problem that has been exacerbated by the Internet,” the founder of BabyFacts.com explains.
Even more concerning is that pediatricians nationwide are also misinformed and recommend parenting practices that have no scientific basis and may actually be unsafe for children. “I was even more disturbed by the results of a survey of 35 pediatricians that I conducted which showed that pediatricians also subscribe to commonplace myths,” says Dr Adesman, who is a parent himself. The study showed that 57 percent of the pediatricians failed to recognize 10 or more of the 40 health myths in the survey as being false.
Sleep is essential, yet elusive
You’ve heard it near countless times: Sleep is essential for physical and mental health. You’re probably thinking (exhausted and cranky), however, that your newborn or infant doesn’t subscribe to this philosophy. With all the nightly feedings, diaper changes and interrupted sleep, it’s natural to seek out all possible ways to get your baby to allow you to get a sound night’s rest. You may already be putting those newly acquired tips and tricks to use. Are they working? Dr Adesman unquestionably advocates sleep for parents and children alike but he says that some of those sleeping myths are simply unfounded.
Myth #1: You can control how much your baby sleeps
Remember those prenatal horror stories about Mom getting little to no sleep once the baby was born? Didn’t those stories also accompany inevitable advice about how to manage the sleeping patterns of your newborn, from managing your baby’s sleep schedule to the type of crib and pajamas your baby should be in? Now that you are in the throes of early motherhood, you may be realizing that the well-intended advice of regulating your infant’s sleep just isn’t working.
Reality: According to Dr Adesman, you can’t externally induce a baby to sleep; she is on her own internal schedule that is dictated by hunger, a wet diaper, or sensory stimulation from noise or motion. The New York pediatrician says, “Over the coming months, as your baby grows and as feedings become less frequent and more predictable, you’ll gain increasing control over her nap and bedtimes.” Be patient and, as Dr Adesman advises, “Sleep when your baby sleeps.”
Myth #2: Swaddling is an outdated way to comfort your baby
Have those neo-moms convinced you that swaddling isn’t worth a hill of beans in comforting your infant even though that is precisely the soothing technique the post-natal nurse recommended and demonstrated for you? And what about the danger of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)?
Reality: Swaddling is an age-old practice that has been successfully used for thousands of years. Additionally, many studies have found that properly swaddled newborns are calmer, and that colicky babies cry less. Dr Adesman says, “Swaddled babies in general sleep longer and better.” Additionally, the doctor warns that it isn’t swaddling that increases the risk of SIDS, it’s wrapping your baby up too tight or with too many blankets or placing your swaddled baby on her side. “Swaddling blankets should be made of light, breathable cotton fabric — never wool or fleece,” he adds. Babies usually only need to be swaddled for the first few months; never swaddle a baby that can roll over.
Myth #3: Adding rice cereal to the bottle induces sleep
A common tidbit of advice for moms is to put rice cereal in a baby’s bedtime bottle to help the baby sleep better.
Reality: Not only is this unproven, but adding rice cereal to your baby’s bottle can even be dangerous, says Dr Adesman. Research shows no significant difference in sleep patterns between babies given cereal as compared to babies with cereal-free bottles. Many parents believe the cereal will add bulk, slow digestion and prolong a baby’s hunger. The truth is you can’t regulate your baby’s internal clock. More concerning, adding cereal to the bottle of infants under four months can create digestive problems because they won’t be able to digest the cereal’s nutrients, potentially leading to discomfort as well as illness.
Myth #4: Co-sleeping is unsafe
Many parents swear by co-sleeping (having your baby in bed with you) while others are convinced it is a dangerous sleeping arrangement.
Reality: Co-sleeping is a personal choice that is actually a preferred method of sleeping in some cultures but it certainly isn’t suitable for every family. Sleep-sharing is advantageous because it makes nightly breast or bottle feedings and diaper changes easier, and it is a natural way to increase bonding time with a new baby. Dr Adesman points out that though there has been research suggesting co-sleeping can lead to accidental death, there is plenty of medical evidence supporting the practice. (Pick up BabyFacts for guidelines on safe co-sleeping.)
BabyFacts: Making sense of the parenting myths
Sleep is certainly not the only area of parenting riddled with contradicting information. There are many parenting myths regarding proper nutrition, optimal development, behavior, illness, injuries, and more. Dr Adesman’s book BabyFacts is an invaluable guide for parents trying to make sense of the often confusing advice. He offers the truth on over 150 parenting myths, providing animated and realistic explanations that appeal with sincerity, reassurance and conviction to parents and caretakers alike. To learn more and to take the “Myth or Fact” quiz, visit BabyFacts.com.