The nine months leading up to your baby’s birth are full of anticipation. Perhaps you read every parenting book you could find while you were pregnant—you learned Dr. Harvey Karp’s ten-step method to a sleeping baby and researched every risk factor of SIDS. But let’s be honest, there’s no perfect guidebook for your child.
As much as we read, we often make mistakes (more than we like to admit). Making mistakes is part of becoming the best parents we can be, so don’t feel bad about yourself when the challenges of parenting hit.
Sleep, for your baby and yourself, is easily the biggest concern for parents. Sleep deprivation can lead to postpartum depression and marital tension. Unfortunately your child’s sleep schedule can improve one day and confuse you the next day.
Babies and toddlers experience sleep regressions, emerging teeth, and growth spurts, all of which usually interfere with your little one’s sleep. All of these unexpected and new experiences sometimes cause us to make sleep mistakes with our child—especially when it’s the middle of the night.
Baby Sleep Mistakes I Made
With my first child, I was not prepared for how little this perfect being would actually sleep at night. All the pictures of newborns had them sleeping so peacefully.
I made plenty of mistakes when it came to putting my first child to bed, which is why I want to share the most common baby sleep mistakes new parents make:
1. Being perfectly quiet while the baby is sleeping
When your child falls asleep, you’re extra quiet in hopes that she doesn’t wake up too soon. So parents find themselves whispering softly, delaying putting the dishes away, quietly shutting doors, and watching the TV with the closed captioning on.
To give you a little comfort, babies are in fact used to sleeping through noise. Dr. Karp says, "In the womb, [babies] have a sound that is louder than a vacuum cleaner 24/7. So to be in a silent room is bizarre beyond belief for them.” When you make the room completely quiet, you are in fact retraining your baby to sleep in the opposite environment they were just in.
I made all of the mistakes above with my first, and now, seven year later, she is a light sleeper. With a second child, it is naturally noisier when they sleep (toddler banging pots and pans or Sesame Street playing on repeat), helping you avoid this mistake.
2. Rocking Your Baby to Sleep
It’s natural to want to rock your baby and cuddle. And when it’s your first child, you have the time and attention to do so.
Unfortunately, when you put your child to bed and he is sleeping, it means that he relied on you to fall asleep. When your baby learns how to self soothe he can wake in the middle of the night and fall back asleep without you there. (Unless of course, it’s time to eat.)
To avoid this issue, try to put your baby in his crib at least partially awake so they associate the crib with falling asleep.
3. Planning Errands During Your Baby’s Naps
In the beginning, I purposely planned trips to the grocery store when it was my child’s naptime. Getting errands done with a sleeping baby in tow was much easier.
Unfortunately, this kind of sleep isn’t equal to the sleep your baby would get at home. Pediatrician Marc Weissbluth warns against a child sleeping in motion, “Your baby probably doesn’t get the deep, more restorative sleep due to the stimulation of motion.” He likens it to the sleep adults would get while sleeping on an airplane.
So instead of running errands, use your baby's naptime to get things done at home.
4. Picking Up Your Baby at the First Little Sound
This is one of the hardest lessons to learn as a new parent. Naturally, the sound on the baby monitor is turned way up, and when you don’t hear any noises, you find yourself leaning your ear up against the door. When the babies stirs - you automatically want to comfort them.
Babies lightly stir and move several times during their sleep. It’s best to wait a few minutes to see if they are having a moment of light sleep rather than risk getting them up before they have gotten all their beauty rest.
You may just be pleasantly surprised that your child frequently sleeps longer and wakes up happier
5. Keeping your Child in the Crib When it’s no Longer Safe
Around 18 months, my child learned to straddle the rail of the crib and not so gracefully fall to the ground. The first time I heard the thump, my heart dropped, and I ran to her room. Luckily, she wasn’t hurt, but her wide eyes showed a hint of ambition and she was feeling quite proud of herself.
Per the advice of a friend, I lowered the crib mattress to the floor so that she could no longer jump out, but this caused another safety issue since her little hand could get stuck between the mattress and the bottom of the crib.
If your child starts to show any signs of escape, it’s time to transition to safer, better sleep. Perhaps you have an attachment that came with your crib, otherwise you can use a crib rail like this.
Granted the newfound autonomy for your child will take time to adjust. I left the door open with a baby gate in the doorway so that my child couldn’t explore other areas of the home unassisted.
6. Keeping Your Child Up Late in Hopes for a Later Wake Up Time
Especially as they age, you start to think about maybe getting that one extra hour to sleep in—so you keep them up later the night before.
Unfortunately, young children have an internal clock that wakes them up around the same time regardless of what time they go to bed. The result is just an overtired child that has more tantrums the following day. Avoid this mistake. It’s a hard lesson.
7. Following a Strict Sleep Schedule
A sleep schedule sounds amazing, and needed. But too strict of a schedule can have the opposite effect on sleep.
If you decide to sleep train your child, it is easy to get into a set sleep schedule. Perhaps you’ve even updated your calendar to include every scheduled nap and bedtime.
Depending on the quality of sleep your child got the night before or the amount of physical activity they engaged in, your child’s sleep schedule may change. Once parents find a good sleep schedule for their child, they will most likely do anything to keep that system in place.
I made this mistake and ended up with an irritable, tantrum-fueled toddler. A better method is to have a flexible sleep schedule, which requires that you pay close attention and follow your child’s tired cues.Children need sleep. Parents need sleep. Sleep deprived parents (getting less than 6 hours of sleep at night) perform similar to parents under the influence of alcohol. It’s emotionally and physically draining for you, which is why we don’t judge other parents’ mistakes, but we can try to help! What sleeping mistakes did you make with your first child?