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Should You Bathe Your Baby at Night? 6 Old Wives' Tales Decoded

Our baby sleep coach separates fact from fiction when it comes to baby sleep, colic, and more!

As a baby sleep coach here in the Philippines, I hear lots of old wives' tales (kasabihan or pamahiin in Filipino ) when it comes to baby care, breastfeeding, and of course, baby sleep! These ones below can affect how today's Filipino moms shape their baby's sleep care.

Pamahiin on baby care

Certain beliefs that have been passed on through generations still persist today, and while we may think there is no harm in simply following them, it's important not to follow blindly. What is the truth, what is a myth and what are the ones that put your baby at risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)? Let's go through them one by one.  

Old Wives' Tale #1: To ward off bad spirits, place a clove of garlic under the baby's pillow or a piece of walis tingting (broomstick) near the baby.   

The premise is a baby becomes fussy when an aswang visits. So these rituals can help ensure a good night’s sleep (I also read how empty bullet casings wrapped in red cloth will also do the ttrick). These are lovely folkloric beliefs for those who have feelings of fear associated with the spirit; I am not here to say any differently.

What I will say, however, is if you plan on placing a metal or a broomstick in your baby’s room, please place it far from the sleeping baby and not in the bed with them or near enough for the baby to be able to reach it.

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As for the garlic, your newborn (and any child under the age of 2) should not have a pillow in their bed in the first place. Aside from increasing the risk of suffocation, SIDS, or life-threatening hyperthermia (overheating for the rest of us), these baby pillows can cause your baby to get a neck sprain while sleeping. 

Old Wives' Tale #2: Allowing a newborn to sleep a lot during the day will result in a baby who will not sleep at night. 

I would consider this as the most seriously damaging advice that I came across in my research. Newborn babies sleep, feed, pee and poop more or less in that order. Notice which one is first? It is quite reasonable for a baby who is days old to sleep more than feed. They are likely to do so until they are 2 months old. A baby's sleep schedule looks nothing like a grown-up.  

Many newborns have their days and nights reversed. They sleep for a lengthy period during the day and are active baby night. Many parents want to "correct" this by stopping them from sleeping during the day. It will most probably not make your nights any easier. It will, however, push your baby to become overtired — when you witness fussy and cranky behaviors, this means that your little one is already overtired. When they become overtired, their sleep can become deeper for longer amount of time than what is natural at their age.

Yes, their body is not meant to sleep that deep for long periods at that young age. Nature has its own "protection mechanism" in place. Newborns are predominantly light sleepers — they can wake themselves up when they are hungry or feel the discomfort of any sort. 

One of the many factors associated with SIDS is an overtired baby. When you interfere with nature, you are putting your baby at significant risk. It is entirely normal for a baby up to around 2 months old to sleep up to seven hours during the day (By sleep here, we don't mean they don't sleep straight for this length of time; instead, they do frequent naps that amount to the said number of hours). In their third month, their sleep time drops to around five hours in total (again, the amount of sleep time sleep is spread out).

Old Wives' Tale #3: When you need to leave the house for errands, don't think about your little one while you are out. These thoughts will stop her from sleeping. 

I particularly love this one because I am a firm believer in positive energies, how we all resonate at different frequencies and how some of us can "sense" another. But, in the case of the above, there is no truth in it whatsoever. 

I think it was made up to act as a sanity saver for the mom who incessantly worries when she leaves her baby. This advice is probably a reminder for mom to give herself a bit of "me" time. Mentally detaching even for a while can be very healthy.

Old Wives' Tale #4: Don’t play with your baby when it’s dark out or from 5:00 p.m. onwards because the baby will become "ligalig." 

"Ligalig" here translates as a fussy baby who has trouble sleeping. And this one is true (thank your wise elders!).

Because we live near the equator, our sunset hovers around 6:00 p.m., throughout the year. So you can expect it to be dark outdoors by 6:30 p.m. That kind of consistency is good for your baby. 

One of the critical factors for good quality sleep is the consistency of a schedule. A 2013 study published in The Journal of Pediatrics concluded that inconsistent schedules surrounding a young child’s bedtime are directly correlated with long-term, behavioral problems. According to the research, when comparing to already known outcomes of how a child suffers from late bedtime (past 9 p.m.), they found that consistent sleep times matter just as much or perhaps even more than the total amount of sleep. Their findings confirmed that irregular bedtimes caused worse behavior in children than the effects of not enough of sleep and that this effect was accumulative.

Old Wives' Tale #5: Do not bathe your baby at night (or past sunset) because "mahahanginan" (will get colic).

This link between the end of the day and a gassy baby is rooted in strong truth. True, colic has been found only to be present in 20 percent of babies. A gassy baby does, however, occur near dusk for a simple reason.  

One of the things that many new parents are never taught is the importance of burps and when to try and make them happen. All that air that is not from the warm, relaxing bathwater, but it comes from the entire day of burping insufficiently and ineffectively. Burping after a feed is not enough, and laying a baby down after a feed will only cause them more severe pain (feeding to sleep is the foremost example when this occurs). 

Newborns who are effectively burped don’t get to the painful, uncontrollable crying state at the end of the day or during the night.

Old Wives' Tale #6:  If you are tired and hungry, avoid breastfeeding your baby because you will pass on negative energies and cause them to get tired and restless.

For this one, I sought the advice of Abbie V. Yabot, a certified lactation counselor who has been helping mothers here in the Philippines for 11 years and counting. Abbie clarified that negative emotions or fatigue are not passed onto a child during a feed nor does your tired or hungry state affect the nutrients in your milk. 

However, Abbie goes on to share that if you are feeling down or exhausted, this can affect your letdown. It means your breast milk may not flow as freely to the baby and will lead to visible frustration from a hungry child. For a mom to have an effective letdown, Abbie advises moms to try to relax and keep the stress to a minimum.  

Sleep coach Gabrielle trained with two UK based sleep trainers using various methods prior to gaining her certification in London. She specialises in the most up-to-date, respectful parenting strategies, 360-degree understanding of the factors affecting pediatric sleep, and how to help families with more complex cases. Coach Gabrielle is also a certified Baby Listening™ Instructor for newborns with the Baby Language Institute Sydney Australia You may reach her at and Instagram @babysleepbliss

Abbie V. Yabot is a certified lactation counselor. You may reach her at +63 9985-301448. 

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