One of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to getting babies to sleep through the night is the old “cereal in the bottle” trick. It’s been used and recommended by parents for generations. As adults, we know that sleeping on an empty stomach isn’t easy, so I can understand why it’s so popular.
We also know that staying awake when you’ve just eaten a huge meal is nearly impossible.
The idea that a little cereal in baby’s bottle of breastmilk or formula, will keep them feeling full for longer, and therefore help them sleep through the night, seems like a reasonable suggestion.
Now, any parent who has experienced a baby who isn’t sleeping well is probably anxious to find the reason why, and is likely to try anything they see as safe and potentially effective. Unfortunately, the vast majority of parents who use this trick find that, even if it’s successful at first, the results are only temporary, and here’s the reason why...
Once your baby reaches a certain age and weight, (I’ll just use the 6 month mark here as a happy medium) waking in the night isn’t all about food and being hungry. Sure, baby might have nursed a little every time they were offered the breast or bottle, but that doesn’t mean that they were hungry.
The likely scenario is that baby’s become dependent on nursing as a method to get to sleep.
After all, if they’ve nursed to sleep every time they’ve woken up for the first six months of their lives, it only makes sense that they won’t be able to get to sleep without that familiar routine.
Putting cereal in the bottle works on the idea that babies fall asleep at bedtime and don’t wake up until morning, assuming there’s nothing bothering them, but that’s not how sleep works. Not for babies and not for adults. We all cycle in and out of deep sleep, and at the end of every cycle, we tend to wake up. Maybe not fully, but we do attain a certain level of consciousness.
In babies, that cycle is usually about 45 minutes, so even on a good night, they’re going to wake up a lot. And if the only way they know how to get to sleep is by nursing, they’re going to cry to get your attention, and wait for you to come in and help them out.
So if it’s got nothing to do with hunger, how can you help them sleep through the night? The solution to the issue, not the “hack” or quick fix, but the actual remedy, is teaching your baby to fall asleep independently.
That might seem like a tall order for a 6 month old, but I assure you, they’re fully capable of learning this invaluable skill. It’s natural, and they typically take to it faster than you would expect. Lots of babies will babble to themselves for a bit, or rub their feet together, or suck on their fingers, or some combination of all three. Let them discover these strategies on their own, and then let them practice them a little.
I’m definitely not saying that you should shut the door and leave a crying baby to figure things out without any comfort or attention. Repeat…I am not saying you have to ignore your baby in order to get them to fall asleep. You should feel free to attend to them, let them know you’re nearby and available, but don’t rock, nurse, or bounce them until they fall asleep. Let them find a way to do it on their own. That way, when they wake in the night, they’ll have the skills they need to settle back down on their own.
Would you like to know the truth about other sleep myths? Let me know what you are interested in learning about next in the comments down below!