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 Wireless VIdeo Baby Monitors Get baby to sleep through the night Aden & Anais Blankets
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
  • Jehefinner

    3-4 hours?? more like 1.5-2 hours. Breastfed babies need to eat more often, and Babywise is more like Baby-Neglect.

  • Alex

    Seriously? My kids are now 3 and 5. They were both rocked and fed to sleep. Never on a strict schedule. Slept in my bed for the first year or two…
    The older one is one of the best sleepers I know. Neither of them fight bed time. They actually ask for it when they get tired. I still lie down with the 3 year old until he’s asleep (in his own bed now, but he still comes into mine in the early morning hours). And you know what? If I didn’t have those lovely snuggles, him falling asleep in my arms while telling me he loves me, I’m sure I would have lost whatever marbles I have left. This is such a nice way to reconnect after a busy day. Looking into his sleepy eyes makes me remember how much I love him, even though he has been quarreling with his sister all day, or made a giant mess or whatever else drove me mad that day. I wouldn’t want to miss this time.
    Oh, and by co-sleeping I got way more sleep than any mum I know who slept seperated from their babies. Some mornings I wasn’t even aware whether he’d woken at all (but the fact that my breasts weren’t engorged told me that he must have).

  • Alex

    Feeding to a clock is strongly linked to early weaning and low milk supply. It is ridiculous to say that all babies need to eat at the same frequency. Some babies have a faster metabolism than others. Some women have a larger milk “storage” capacity than others. In summer, more frequent (but shorter) feedings might be preferable to make sure baby stays well hydrated as breastmilk is not only food but also drink to them.

  • Alex

    I don’t teach my babies to sleep. Just like I don’t teach them how to walk and talk and eat and do all of those other amazing things. They will learn it in their own time when they are developmentally ready.
    Just like forcing a child to try and walk too early can be bad for their bone and joint development, forcing them to “self-settle” before they are developmentally ready can have a negative impact as well.

    For what it’s worth, most adults don’t self-settle. I know I like to talk to an understanding friend or relative when I am upset about something. I know, I know, I should lie by myself in a dark room and just learn to self-soothe.

  • Guest

    I commented on here earlier and it appears to have been deleted – why?

  • Well said Louise 🙂

  • Wonderful, well done 🙂

  • Guest

    Babies are only babies for a little while. Rock them while you can. It’s a special bonding moment between baby and parent. Parenting advice today is just dumb.

  • LG

    I was that child. The one who was held and rocked and never left to cry. I was aparently incredibly outgoing and independent as a child… Up until about 8 years old when I remember starting to go through hell. I couldnt go to sleepovers because my mummy wasnt there to cuddle me back to sleep. I was severely bullied in school because I was so soft, gentle and loving. I only had the confidence to do anything if my mother was by my side holding my hand. I became incredibly shy and introverted, i didnt want to go to classes or groups unless my mum was sat on the sidelines and i actually ended up being home schooled because i cried to my mum so much about being away from her… I also learnt that crying was the way to get what i want…. I actually resent my mother a little bit for how much she wrapped me up in cotton Wool as a child now that i am in my 20’s and still an incredibly shy child care professional. Think about the future of your children… Not just the easy way out. Life is hard and kids need to learn to deal with it alone as well as with others help early on or it hits them like a ton of bricks later in life.

  • Dawn

    I am a mother to four well adjusted kids and I disagree with just about everything in this article, just sayin’.