7 baby sleep mistakes most parents make (and how to fix them)

For our third child, I ordered an easy baby. But someone didn’t get the memo because little Ben is turning out to be the world’s worst sleeper. I know I’m doing him wrong by rocking him to sleep at night, but I’m desperate.

Eager to know what else could be contributing to his lack of shuteye, I reached out to Ingrid Y. Prueher, a certified sleep consultant known as The Baby Sleep Whisperer and a spokesperson for Bedgear’s crib bedding. If you’ve also got a baby over 3 months old who’s making your nights — and days — miserable, check out her advice for the well-meaning mistakes parents make when their tots won’t go the eff to sleep.

I won’t mention how many I’m guilty of (well, OK: ALL OF THEM), but let’s just say her advice has been totally eye-opening.

Baby sleep mistake #1: Being a social butterfly

What’s wrong: “A lot of families I work with are signing their babies up for music classes, gym classes, and Mommy and Me classes. If a baby isn’t sleeping well, though, he needs plenty of opportunity to get used to his sleep environment at home.”

What to do instead: “Limit classes and other activities outside the home until your child’s sleeping has improved. Also, avoid too many mommy playdates. A mother once asked if we could create a sleep schedule for her baby around her social schedule! Sleep comes first, until your child is sleeping well.”

Baby sleep mistake #2: Trying lots of different sleep strategies

What’s wrong: “This can confuse a child and create more crying than necessary at bedtime and in general, because she’ll be irritable about the lack of quality sleep. Plus, if you don’t have a sleep plan in place, you will constantly second-guess your tactics.”

What to do instead: “Create a plan that covers: 1) Where the baby should sleep during the day and at night; 2) The sleep and feeding schedule — over or underfeeding can lead to trouble sleeping for long stretches; and 3) How caretakers will help the child become a better sleeper. A plan empowers all people caring for a baby to help her learn to be a better sleeper.”

Baby sleep mistake #3: Not being on the same page as your partner

What’s wrong: “If a partner or babysitter has a different approach to sleep than you do, it can make a child feel insecure about his sleep situation, and he’ll be more likely to protest sleep day and night.”

What to do instead: “Once you have created your child’s sleep plan, sit down with all caregivers in your home, discuss it, and make sure everyone is in agreement. Then stick to it! Parents need to trust the process so babies will trust the process … and sleep well.”

Baby sleep mistake #4: Feeding to sleep day and night

What’s wrong: “If you teach your child that the only way they can sleep is by eating, then they won’t be able to sleep well without it.”

What to do instead: “Shoot for a balance in the course of one day — half the time feed to sleep, half the time let your child fall asleep without your assistance. And, once again, be consistent about it. If you like feeding your baby to sleep at bedtime — there is something very sweet about it — there’s no reason you can’t continue to do that! Just let him fall asleep on his own during the day.”

Baby sleep mistake #5: A meh sleep environment

What’s wrong: “Babies naturally sleep hot, and children often wake up because they are too warm. Noise or lighting may also be an issue.”

What to do instead: “Go for cotton PJs and light and breathable bedding. I also recommend that parents use a white noise machine to mask sounds in and out of the home that can trigger wakings — that way, the family won’t walk around feeling like every little noise can wake the baby. But I don’t recommend complete quietness in the home, since it’s unrealistic to maintain. You also want minimal brightness in the room, since we know that melatonin — the hormone that causes sleepiness — increases in the body when exposure to light decreases. That means no peeking at your phone during bedtime!”

Baby sleep mistake #6: Comparing a child’s sleep habits to other kids’

What’s wrong: “This can create unnecessary parental anxiety. Another mother might say her child is sleeping through the night, when in reality, that means her child is waking up a few times and going back to sleep quickly with a paci fix. That is not a child who’s an independent sleeper.”

What to do instead: “Focus on getting to know your child’s sleep patterns and what may be interfering with them, such as hunger. Children are not robots — each one is different. The needs of one child may not be the needs of another.”

Baby sleep mistake #7: Too high expectations

What’s wrong: “Parents sometimes literally expect that a child’s sleep habits will change overnight. They are quick to try something new if they don’t see fast progress and end up prolonging bad sleep patterns because they’re literally at square one again all the time.”

What to do instead: “Implement your plan for at least a week before changing it. Take into consideration how long your child has been used to the habits you are trying to wean him off of, like providing movement to sleep such as stroller rides, car rides, and rocking to sleep. The longer your child has been doing them, the longer it will take to break the habit — anywhere from a week to a month. The younger a child is, the faster she will learn to be a better sleeper if a parent is consistent. It may be hard to stick with it, but it will well be worth it, because you’ll have a happier baby, a happier marriage, and you’ll actually be able to shower daily!”

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