Six sleep mistakes parents make and how to avoid them

Dad holding newborn over his shoulder
Getting your baby to sleep, and stay asleep, is one of the biggest challenges of early parenthood. Fortunately, we can help you side-step the most common sleep mistakes parents make, and improve your chances of a good night's rest.

1: Setting your expectations too high

You’ve probably heard about babies that sleep through the night at eight weeks or take two hour naps, twice a day. It’s hard not to wonder why your baby isn’t following suit.

It’s important to understand that all babies are different and that waking up at night is perfectly normal, and very common. Most babies are not able to sleep through the night without a feed until at least three months or four months old. Many babies wake for night-time feeds until they are at least six months old. So you’re not alone.

It’s also worth remembering that your baby isn’t able to tell the difference between night and day until he’s around two months to three months old. This doesn’t mean you can’t start teaching him the difference though, so make daytime feeds chatty and fun, and night-time feeds quiet and soothing.

2: Putting your baby to bed too late

When you've been at work all day, it can be tempting to keep your baby up so you can spend more time with him. Or maybe you hope he'll become so tired, he'll eventually flake out.

Whatever the reason, it's not a good idea to keep your child up. When babies get overtired they find it more difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. They tend to wake up earlier than if they went to bed at a more reasonable hour, too.

It’s much better to have a bedtime routine in place and stick to it. Don’t wait until your baby is yawning and rubbing his eyes to put it into action. Even 15 minutes to 20 minutes of extra sleep can make all the difference.

3: Relying on motion to send him off to sleep

Have you ever breathed a sigh of relief as your baby snoozes in his car seat or baby swing? While this can provide you with a well-deserved break, don't fall into the trap of relying on motion to get your baby to fall asleep. It's impractical to have to take your baby for a drive every night.

It's fine to use motion to soothe your baby if he's upset or fussy. Just don't make it part of his regular bedtime routine.

4: Over-stimulating your baby before bedtime

While you may have put a mobile above your baby's cot for comfort, the rotating toys, sounds and lights can be a distraction. Watching them may keep him awake rather than teach him that it's night-time.

It's much better to put your baby to sleep in a darkened room. Don't worry about him being afraid. He's too young to have developed night-time fears. A fan or white noise recording may also help, as it will muffle any noise from the rest of the house or outside.

Before, or as part of your bedtime routine, try to wind your baby down with relaxing rather than energetic games. Lullabies and gentle nursery rhymes will calm him and help him to understand that it’s time to sleep.

5: Skipping your baby’s bedtime routine

With a baby, you might assume that a routine consisting of a bath, a book and a lullaby isn't yet necessary. Or maybe you feel too tired some days to continue with it.

But having a series of calming, pleasing activities before bedtime is important, as it prepares your little one for sleep.

You can create any routine you like for your baby. Just make sure it's a series of relaxing steps that happen in the same order at about the same time every night.

If your baby still has an evening feed, try to place this at the start of your bedtime routine, rather than at the end, so that your baby doesn’t associate feeding with sleeping. This may help him to settle himself if he wakes up during the night.

6: Not being consistent with your baby

If you’ve decided to start sleep training your baby, it’s important to be consistent in how you handle his night-time wakings, as well as how you put him down to sleep every night. It’s tempting to revert to feeding to sleep, or rocking to sleep, especially when it seems nothing else will work.

Be confident that your baby will soon learn to self-settle if he’s given the chance. When he wakes up during the night, tell him it’s time to sleep. Gently shush and pat him to reassure him, then leave the room. You can return in a few minutes if he’s still not settling and repeat the process. You may have to do this dozens of times when you first start sleep training.

To help your baby understand when it’s bedtime, try to keep the same routine in place every night. A warm bath, a last breastfeed or bottle, a quiet game and a few lullabies will help your baby drift off to sleep.

Find out more about sleep strategies to try throughout your baby’s first year:

Last reviewed: January 2016

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Finally we found something that worked for us: Very happy that we found this method here, we all are having a good night's rest now. Can really recommend it!!
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The only way I've ever been able to get my EBF 6 month old to sleep is with my boob! It says if a baby wakes up, try setteling them by cuddling/pat on their tummy/"shushing" them etc to comfort then in the hope that they fall back asleep...but none of that works, if I do anything but put her on my boob she will get more & more agitated & more & more awake before shes in a full blown crying then of course she is wide awake, tired, & takes ages to get back to sleep (with my boob of course as nothing else will do.) We are co sleeping so we can both get some sort of sleep but it's not ideal. How do i get her to fall asleep without my boob?!
Our doughter Anaïs started to sleep longer around 6 weeks, she was colic baby, so we had a lot of crying untill 3 months, but since her 3 months, I started to bring her to our room at 9 to sleep, it was her time, we had just lamp on, she was watching me to prepare bed and lay down with her, after few times, she knew, im going to feed her and she is going to sleep. They are saying not to feed her to sleep, well, im breastfeeding and it just worked for us. She felt asleep and slept untill 9 in the morning all night. Since she was born, she was use to sleep in Moses basket or her cot later, now she is 7 months and sleeps since 8 to 6 in the morning and 6.30 - about 9 again with me in my bed, as I m enjoying to have her next to me in the morning for a while :) We were always talking, while she slept next to us during the day, but the night time she knew, its time to sleep :)
Babies should wake to feed during the night, especially if breastfed. I'm surprised BabyCentre advocates sleep training - it is perfectly normal and healthy for babies to wake and need to feed during the night to get back to sleep. Perhaps an article educating about safe co-sleeping in order for parents and babies to all get more sleep would be useful. Cosleeping and night feeding are biological norms, not things to "beware of", and are certainly not bad habits.
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