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5 Baby Sleep Myths Busted!

Everyone has advice for the sleep-deprived mom: Slip some cereal into baby's bottle, cut short his naps, never let him nod off in your arms. "I call these myth-conceptions," says Santa Monica, California, pediatrician Harvey Karp, MD, author of the book and DVD The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer (Bantam, 2003). "They're perpetuated by well-meaning people, but it doesn't make them true." Here, we shoot down the top five sleep myths and offer better bets for getting your baby to sleep, well, like a baby.

MYTH No. 1: Feeding your baby more milk at night or putting cereal in her bottle will help her sleep longer.

TRUTH: In studies, babies fed rice cereal in their bottle slept no better or longer than those who didn't, reports pediatrician William Sears, MD, author of The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night's Rest for the Whole Family (Little Brown, 2005). In fact, a common cause of night waking is indigestion. "If you put babies to bed with a too-full tummy, they're going to feel bloated and gassy and sleep poorly," Dr. Sears says.

BETTER BET: Try adding extra feedings during the late afternoon and early evening. Your goal is still to feed "on cue," but more nourishment during the day can gently encourage better sleep at night.

MYTH No. 2: If you keep baby up late, he'll nod off faster and sleep better.

TRUTH: When babies stay up late, their stress hormones kick in and they enter a hyperalert state. "They can't easily wind down, which makes it harder to fall asleep and can lead to frequent night waking," says Dr. Sears.

BETTER BET: Get your baby on a predictable nap and bedtime schedule and try to stick to it. To find baby's optimal bedtime, look for signs such as yawning, rubbing eyes, and getting cranky, which mean baby is overdue for sleep. Keep a chart for a week of when these "tired signs" appear, and then start his bedtime routine a half hour in advance.

MYTH No. 3: Some babies don't need to nap.

TRUTH: While nap length varies, all babies under 1 need a daytime snooze. "If they don't nap, they get overtired and cranky and sleep restlessly," says Dr. Karp.

BETTER BET: Give baby a nap at the same time each day, using a mini bedtime routine to set the tone. You might lower the blinds and turn on soft music or white noise. If baby refuses to sleep, have some quiet time -- seat her on your lap and read books or sing lullabies.

MYTH No. 4: Babies sleep through the night when they reach 2 or 3 months.

TRUTH: At 3 months, breastfeeders may wake every three to five hours, and bottlefeeders about every six hours. "Babies rouse easily to survive," Dr. Sears says. "If they're hungry, hot, cold, or can't breathe, they wake to get help."

BETTER BET: Babies may begin snoozing five to eight hours at 6 months, but not all do. It's best to keep your baby on a consistent sleep schedule and then just follow her natural rhythms.

MYTH No. 5: Never let baby fall asleep in your arms or he won't learn to sleep alone.

TRUTH: "Babies are built to relax and fall asleep after they eat, especially since being cuddled makes them feel confident and secure," Dr. Karp says.

BETTER BET: It's fine to let newborns drift off in your arms, but once they're 6 weeks old, jostle them before placing them in the crib. "Rousing them just enough so they open their eyes will give babies the experience of putting themselves back to sleep," he says.

Aviva Patz lives in Montclair, New Jersey.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2005.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.