8 Baby Sleep Habits to Avoid

8 baby sleep habits to avoidThe path to healthy, consistent sleep habits for your baby is spider-webbed with tempting side roads. They seem like good ideas at the time. Short-cuts, if you will, to make life as a new parent a little easier. But there are some baby sleep habits that you really need to avoid.

These practices will come back to bite you, and make training your baby to sleep through the night on his own that much more difficult.

1. Not setting a schedule. 2

Newborns eat on a 3-hour or 4-hour schedule so you can use the points of the clock: 3, 6, 9, and 12, (three-hour schedule) or 4, 8, 12 (four-hour schedule). These are the times your baby should eat. Try not to waver more than half an hour.

This means holding your baby off, if he wakes up at 11:15, or waking him up by 12:30 at the latest. Don’t get into the habit of letting your baby eat and sleep every hour. Set your schedule, and stick to it. This is just as important during the day as it is at night; for some tips, see our article on baby nap questions.


2. Letting baby sleep outside the crib. 2

Your baby needs to learn to go to sleep in the crib on his own. If you let him fall asleep in your arms every time, or to doze off in a favorite swing, he’ll grow to expect that. He won’t be able to sleep without it, and that’s going to be hard, especially as your baby grows.The solution to this is simple, but the earlier the better: put your baby in bed just before he falls asleep. If you need to pick him up and soothe your baby, that’s fine. But put him back down as soon as he’s calm.

3. Putting baby to bed too late. 2

There’s a strange law of opposites with babies and bedtimes: the later they go to bed, the earlier they tend to wake up. That’s why many of the forums, guides, and sleep experts advise the early bedtime (EBT) technique. For my boys, they’re ready an hour or two after dinner: 7 or 7:30. Babies just aren’t programmed to stay up late.

baby up too lateLots of parents want to keep their babies up a bit later than that, especially those who work and want to get in some quality time. It will be hard for you to do this, but you must.

Establishing a nighttime routine is crucial for you and your baby. Set an early bed time, stick to it, and make the most out of every waking minute you can.

loose items baby crib4. Letting loose items collect in the baby crib. 1

I admit that I’m guilt of this. As you’re changing the baby, swaddling, switching blankets, etc., you tend to collect a lot of cloth “debris”. Dirty clothes, extra blankets, burp cloths, that sort of thing. Even compact cribs, with their wide opening and flat surface, make excellent collection areas for these things.

We all know this is a danger, even if you put the baby on the other side of the crib. Put a big hamper or basket in your baby’s room and use that to collect the stuff instead. Remember, sleep safety guidelines now say that the only thing that should be in your baby’s crib is the baby himself.

baby first cry5. Over-responding to baby’s first cry. 2

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Some babies cry in their sleep, and most (if not all) babies occasionally wake up randomly even when they’re routine sleepers. That’s the bad news. The good news is that if you apply good techniques, your baby learns to fall back asleep on his own and to self-soothe. Perhaps one out of every four unexpected wake-ups, my boys will cry, but then konk right out again.

Two times out of four, I can apply soothing techniques to get him back to bed. Only one time out of four do I have to pick him up and offer a bottle.
Invest in a good baby monitor to help you distinguish between little cries and full-on tantrums, and also to reassure yourself that your baby is safe. Baby monitors have come a long way in recent years. See our wireless video monitor reviews for some good options, including one monitor that transmits to your iPhone or smartphone!

feed baby sleep6. Putting baby to bed hungry. 2

Or, if not hungry, then insufficiently fed. The nighttime feeding is crucial to getting your baby to sleep through the night. You get one shot at it, so make it count. At dinner time, feed your baby solid food (if permitted), ideally a vegetable mixed with baby cereal. If baby’s still hungry, mix up more baby cereal and offer it. Then you can play with him for a bit while that settles.

Just before bed, at the right part in your routine, offer a bottle of nice warm milk — offer as much as he’ll take. Don’t let him go to sleep if you know he needs more to drink! Often the more a baby eats, the longer he can sleep at night (notice I say can, not will).

baby bedtime routine7. Skipping parts in, or not even having, a bedtime routine. 2

You should establish a routine for putting baby to bed, including a bath (optional), a fresh overnight diaper, clean pajamas, and swaddling. All of these are key elements to getting your baby to sleep as quickly (and for as long) as possible. I admit that I’m tempted to skip things occasionally.

Does he really need pajamas when I have him in a onesie already? Should I put him into a nighttime diaper when I just changed him 20 minutes ago? He looks warm enough; do I need to swaddle him?

Yes, Yes, Yes! Any skipped step could be the one that has him waking up at 2 a.m.

cosleeping with baby8. Bringing baby to your bed to sleep. 1,2

Oh, no! Thought you were going to get away with that, did you? There are a few types of co-sleeping with baby that parents might make a habit of. Sharing a room, but not a bed, with your infant is actually recommended by pediatricians, as it lets you monitor your baby while he sleeps overnight.


The worrisome kind is bed-sharing, when your baby sleeps in the same bed as the parents. It’s not safe to have a tiny infant sleeping with lots of pillows, loose blankets, and 1-2 exhausted parents. Further, this practice disrupts your own sleep as well, because you’ll:

  1. hear every little noise or movement the baby makes, and
  2. probably be paranoid about rolling over on him or her.

If you find yourself in this circumstance, begin by bringing a bassinet or small crib into your room. See our  mini crib reviews for some compact but stylish cribs. Start transitioning your baby to sleep in that whenever he’ll take it, but at least one night per week. Then go to two nights, then three. For more help, see our article on getting baby to sleep in the crib.

Maybe you just want to be able to watch your baby at all times, even when he or she is asleep. Wireless video baby monitors make that possible, and we’ve reviewed some of the latest models.

Conclusion: Improving Baby Sleep Habits

Don’t feel badly if you’ve picked up a bad habit or two. Nobody’s perfect, and certainly not the author: I’ve been guilty of every single bad habit listed above at some point or another. But you’ve read this far, which means you’re willing to work at improving your baby’s sleep habits. Don’t be afraid to tackle some of these problems.

The latest research on baby sleep training intervention shows that it has both short-term (baby and parents getting some sleep) and long-term (reduced maternal depression) benefits, but no long-term harms. You have nothing to lose by trying it!

Start tonight. The sooner you ditch those bad habits, the sooner your baby will have a longer, safer, more consistent night of sleep. For more help, get our e-book, Baby Sleep Training 101.

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Baby sleep problems takes you through the most common sleep issues and how to address them. Our video monitor reviews compare the latest cutting-edge wireless color video baby monitors. Visit our sleep training section for strategies and tips for teaching your baby to sleep through the night. Learn about Aden+Anais swaddle blankets and why your baby will love falling asleep with one.
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Best Crib Mobiles reviews musical, black/white, and organic crib mobiles. 6 tips for starting solid food has some good advice for when your baby starts eating solids. Best Baby Pacifiers has our recommendations for newborns, older babies, and teething infants. Early Bedtime strategies that work surprisingly well for helping babies sleep through the night.
References
 [1] Task Force on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Moon RY. SIDS and
other sleep-related infant deaths: expansion of recommendations for
a safe infant sleeping environment. Pediatrics. 2011 Nov;128(5):1030-9.
http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2011/10/12/peds.2011-2284
 [2] Weissblut, Marc. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. Ballantine Books; 1 edition
(October 4, 2005). Read our review.
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0345486455/ref=as_li_ss_il?ie=UTF8&tag=erudisysteinc-20
  • disqus_Cn3h1wGAdB

    Worst advice ever!!!!

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  • I have 5 kids who were breastfed for varying amounts of time. I cant remember the first two very well, but i do remember the 3rd child fed every 2 hours day and night for 8 months straight. i never bothered to remember how often the last two fed for, i just went with it and fed on cue. some times that was every 2 hours and other times that was every 3-5 hours, some times every 20 mins-an hour. and that was ok.

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  • Regina Purcell Wayne

    I think you need a disclaimer for breastfeeding moms. It is very unlikely that a mom will maintain an adequate milk supply if baby is going 3-4 hours between feeds during the early weeks. During growth spurts it is also likely baby will feed as often as 1 1/2 hours. Mom also shouldn’t be to pushy about getting baby to sleep through the night if she plans to maintain an adequate milk supply. My last baby of 6 has fallen into a great schedule by 10 weeks. Her schedule is now getting closer to every 3 hours. She has 2 long stretches during the night. She is in my room and I hear her as soon as she starts to stir. We are awake and nursing before her fussing turns to all out screaming. She eats well and drifts off to sleep quickly. We are both back to sleep rather quickly because we room share.

  • Stephanie Huffman Fulton

    This is an old thread. But in this situation. I would recommend a soothing bath or story following feeding. That way it’s still relaxing. Maybe turn off most light install a dimmer in the bathroom. Feeding doesn’t need to be the last activity before bed

  • Kayleigh Herbertson

    “them” would be more appropriate rather than “it”