This Habit Could Keep Your Baby Up All Night

You might be doing this common thing, which seems completely harmless but could have a negative effect on the sleeping patterns of your new baby.

This Habit Could Keep Your Baby Up All Night shipfactory/Shutterstock

As it turns out, comforting your crying child in the middle of the night could do more harm than good on her sleep patterns.

The urge to hold a crying baby is something any parent can relate to, but a recent study finds that doing this might mess with her sleep cycle. The University of London study was conducted by researchers who videotaped infants overnight and found that 45 percent of the babies slept over five hours at three months old, which is great news. It's also huge when you consider that only 10 percent of the five-week-old infants studied slept for this amount of time.

But here's where things get surprising: About 25 percent of the infants studied were able to put themselves back to sleep when they woke in the middle of the night—and that ability to "resettle" independently made for longer periods of sleep overall, as 67 percent of the babies who put themselves back to sleep at five weeks old were sleeping five hours or more later in life. Only 38 percent of the babies who couldn't resettle were able to do this.

No one answer

But one expert says there's no simple answer to the question of whether or not you should help your baby fall back to sleep. "I think it really varies. There are times when a baby wakes up and if they're just really fussy you can give them a few minutes to settle down, but if they're really crying, there's no harm in picking them up and trying to comfort them," Juana Cuevas, M.D., an OBGYN at St. John's Riverside in Yonkers, N.Y., tells Fit Pregnancy. "If you know the baby is well fed, you know that the diaper is clean and they just woke up, you can give them a few minutes to try to settle down. If there's a baby who is sort of just moaning a little bit or moving around, they can be given the chance to resettle."

Dr. Cuevas also believes age should be a factor in your decision of whether or not to help your baby resettle, saying babies who are six to 12 months can likely resettle themselves. "If parents want to pick them up and comfort them, there's really no problem. I was once told by a pediatrician that you can't comfort your children enough because you're not going to spoil them—but I think what parents should take away is that we can give our children a chance to settle down. There's not always something wrong and we don't have to pick them up right away."

The moral of all this? It might be smart to train your baby to resettle without any help. Obviously this is easier said than done; any parent understands how difficult it is to not intervene when dealing with a child who seems to need comfort. But consider this: If your child can figure out how to lull herself back to sleep without your help, this could mean more healthy sleep throughout his or her infancy. That's definitely nothing to sleep on, right?