The sleepless nights that accompany motherhood are no joke.
Breastfeeding in the middle of the night, rocking baby back to sleep at 3 A.M., changing diapers at 4 A.M. – it’s a lot of work.
Now, you are wondering ‘when do babies sleep through the night?’
You are not alone, mom. Every new mother goes through this phase. The good news is this – it will end soon. Just a little more patience.
In this article, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about getting your baby to sleep through the night.
- 1 What Does Sleeping Through The Night Mean?
- 2 When Do Babies Sleep Through The Night?
- 3 Why Can’t Your Baby Sleep Through The Night?
- 4 How To Help Your Baby Sleep At Night?
- 5 Night Weaning And Sleeping Through The Night
- 6 Reducing The Risk For Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- 7 Should You Be Concerned If Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping At Night?
- 8 Conclusion
What Does Sleeping Through The Night Mean?
For an adult, sleeping through the night means being in a state of rest for about 6 – 9 straight hours overnight.
However, for babies, sleeping through the night may mean that your newborn wakes up at intervals to breastfeed – but can get back to sleep. Note that babies have small tummies and will get hungry quite often.
So, sleeping through the night for a 2-month-old does not mean your sleep won’t get interrupted at all. Nonetheless, it means that your little one is getting enough rest to help with their growth.
According to Stanford children, 2 out of 3 babies start sleeping uninterruptedly for about 9 straight hours when they are 6 months of age.
When Do Babies Sleep Through The Night?
How old is your baby? Is he/she formula-fed or are you breastfeeding? What’s your baby’s weight? What’s your family’s feeding habit like?
All these and more affect how a baby sleeps at night.
Breastfed vs. formula-fed babies
Breastfed babies are likely to have sleeping schedules that are slightly different from formula-fed babies.
This is because breast milk is easier to digest than formula. As a result, when you are breastfeeding, your baby will get hungry more frequently.
Formula-fed babies may need at least one bottle of formula every 2–3 hours. the interval is shorter for an exclusively breastfed baby.
The next section shows you what to expect based on your baby’s age. However, please note that every baby is different.
As you would expect, newborns sleep a lot of the time.
However, most babies won’t sleep through the night (6 to 9 hours) without waking up at intervals till they are about 3 months of age. Or until they weigh 5 – 7kg.
Here is the reason why – newborns need to eat frequently. So, 2 -4 hours at a stretch is the length of nighttime sleep for a newborn. The length of time could be longer or shorter if you are breastfeeding or formula-feeding.
This phase is usually referred to as the fourth trimester or newborn period. It is called the fourth trimester because your baby is gradually getting used to life outside the womb.
During this period, newborns have no idea about night or day. Their stomachs are very small and they cry more often. Hunger pangs calling!
For a while, your pediatrician may advise you to wake your baby up at intervals for feeding. This is important if your child’s weight is below the average requirement.
It’s a stressful period, and you are most likely wishing that your little one will grow into a more independent person. Relax! enjoy each phase as it comes. Because when it goes, it never comes back.
Ages 3 to 6 months old:
Starting at 3 months, babies can sleep for longer periods. Great news! Here are a couple of other things you’ll notice.
Fewer feedings at night: This is good to know. At 3 months, your baby may stop feeding every 2 hours to feeding every 4 hours.
By the time your baby is 6 months, he’ll be able to feed once in 5 hours or even 6 hours. You can speak to your doctor about how often your baby is expected to eat.
Self-soothing: At this stage, you will notice some self-soothing behaviors in your child. What this means is that your child can go to sleep on their own without your help. Although, the time at which a child develops this behavior varies, it hardly goes beyond 6 months.
You can help your child develop this behavior quickly by putting them down to sleep by themselves. Also, you can help your child know the difference between the day and the night by letting them take a nap in a dark room.
Reduced Moro reflex: involuntary startle reflex in a baby is called Moro reflex. Moro reflex which typically disturbs a child’s sleep reduces when a child is 3 – 6 months old. During this period, children have better control over their reflexes. For this reason, they can sleep for extended hours at night.
Ages 6 – 9 months old
At 6 months of age, your baby gets better at self-soothing himself to sleep.
Now you can stick to a sleep schedule and never wake up in the middle of the night. Your baby also may enjoy nighttime sleep for up to 10 hours at a stretch. They may also have fewer naps during the day.
At this age, you may also train your baby on new self-soothing techniques. For instance, when they cry for attention, check upon them. But if there’s nothing wrong with them, do not carry them. You may speak softly to them or stroke their palms, but do not be tempted to carry them.
Here is a piece of not too pleasant news – babies at this age may experience separation anxiety. See what it means:
Separation anxiety – Although this is a normal part of your child’s development, it may freak you out. Your child may cry profusely or refuse to go to bed except you are present with him. In most cases, you give in because you are worried your little one may develop a headache.
If this bothers you so much, speak to a pediatrician to help you improve your baby’s sleep habits.
Ages 9 to 12 months old
At this age, your baby can not just self-soothe, he should have a well-established sleeping routine as well.
Your baby may enjoy listening to a bedtime story at this age. If you can, it’ll be a good bedtime routine for your child.
Your baby may also fall asleep sleep for longer periods. However, he may sometimes desire your presence in the room before falling asleep.
To handle this, sing a lullaby, or pat his back but do not pick them up. You can also use wifi infant monitors which mostly features remote capabilities, dual audio and lullaby music.
Again, you can speak to your pediatrician if your child fails to sleep through the night.
Why Can’t Your Baby Sleep Through The Night?
Having talked about what to expect at various stages of a child’s life, here are a few reasons why a baby will find it hard to sleep through the night. They include:
A baby’s first tooth comes with some excitements and some teething symptoms. these symptoms include ear pulling, crying, and frequently waking up at night.
Although it’s nothing to worry about, it may crop up every two to three months.
Uncomfortable sleeping environment
If the weather is too hot or too cold, it can affect your little one’s sleep. As much as you can, keep your child’s room warm and dress him in the right bodysuit. The room should also be dimly lit and quiet.
Bad sleep habits
Do not hold your baby until he falls asleep. Instead, put him down when he is awake but drowsy. he will quickly learn to fall asleep on his own. Also, note that consistency is key. Do not be inconsistent. Do the same routines daily.
Child not being able to self-soothe
Even though we stated that a 6-month-old should have learned to self-soothe, every baby is different. Some of them find it hard to soothe themselves to sleep. If this is the case for you, you should consider sleep training your child.
This is an obvious reason why a child may find it hard to sleep throughout the night. Even adults may not be able to sleep as a result of fever, infections, etc.
The same with a baby. It may be a challenging time for you as a parent. But be rest assured that your baby’s sleep will improve the moment they get better.
Is your baby mastering a new skill like rolling over, sitting, crawling, walking, etc. He may find it hard to settle down and rest at night. This could be a result of the child’s excitement.
Growth spurts are short and intense bursts of growth usually within the first 12 months of a baby’s life.
They will likely experience it at intervals at around 3 months, 6 months, and 9 months of age.
Note that the timing for each child is different. When growth spurts occur, your child is likely to wake up more often in the middle of the night to eat.
Sleep regression is when a super sleeper suddenly starts having sleep issues. In this case, a baby may wake up more often and have trouble getting back to sleep.
The good thing is – this phase is temporary and your baby will go back to being an excellent sleeper once again.
As we discussed earlier, this is the primary reason why babies wake up at night. As they transition into sleeping for longer periods, they may cry out for your attention once in a while. At this stage, you can keep the feeding interaction as short as possible.
Some babies become fearful when they are away from their parents. If the baby cries after being put to sleep, cuddling the baby may worsen the case.
Instead, leave the baby in their mini cot bed, then touch their head or back gently, and talk calmly to reassure them. This will help your baby to grow less dependent on you during bedtime.
When a baby sleeps in the parents’ bed, it may prevent the baby from sleeping throughout the night. It also puts the baby at risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
How To Help Your Baby Sleep At Night?
The easiest way to get a baby to sleep is by establishing a bedtime routine. You can introduce this when the child clocks 3 months.
Introducing a simple, calming bedtime routine is beneficial for both parent and baby.
It also helps to prevent sleep problems later. You’ll also enjoy alone time with your baby just to bond.
A basic routine guideline could consist of:
• having a warm bath and brushing his teeth if any
• wearing a fresh nappy and night clothes
• dimming the lights
• laying on the bed
• reading a story
• singing a lullaby and giving a goodnight peck on the head
Make sure your bedtime routine consists of calm activities, like reading, instead of activities that can excite the child.
In addition to having a bedtime routine, you can include these 2 other strategies – bedtime fading and graduated extinction.
This is simply putting the baby to bed at least 15 mins later each night. This is to help limit idle time in bed. Check on the child 15 minutes after putting them to bed, if they fall asleep, you no longer need to practice bedtime fading.
This is a process of creating longer gaps between when a child cries for attention and when you respond. You can wait for 2 minutes after your baby starts crying before you respond. Later on, extend the time to 3 minutes and 6 minutes. Gradually extend the period until your baby learns to self-soothe.
It is important to also speak with your pediatrician for more suggestions on how to get your baby to start sleeping well.
Night Weaning And Sleeping Through The Night
When you and your pediatrician decide that the time is right for you to wean your child, follow these tips:
Stretch out feedings
Newborns need to feed every 2 -4 hours. As the baby grows, you can start extending the times in between feeding.
For instance, add an extra 15 to 30 minutes between feedings each night.
This will help a baby sleep longer.
Shorten the length of nighttime feeding
Another method of night-weaning your baby is to start putting lesser content in his bottle. Or, let him spend a little less time on each breast while feeding at night.
Keep decreasing the quantity of milk gradually until the baby gives up night-time feeding
Don’t be in a hurry to feed your baby at night
When your baby wakes up crying, wait a while before feeding him. He may either doze off or entertain himself.
You may also try calming him down with a gentle pat before offering him food. When you do this, you are letting the baby know that night wakings may not result in feeding.
Reducing The Risk For Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
While you want your baby to have longer stretches of sleep, you also want to rescue the risk of SIDS and any sleep-related deaths.
Here are some recommendations to follow from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP):
• Ensure your baby is fully immunized. An infant who is properly immunized has a lower risk of experiencing SID.
• Give your baby breastmilk for at least 6 months.
• Keep your baby on their back when they sleep until they clock 12-month. This prevents choking as a result of breathing in food or any foreign object. Do not place your baby on their side or stomach when they are asleep. However, to prevent your child from having a flat head, enjoy some tummy time in your presence.
• Give your child a pacifier when he is sleeping except when breastfeeding.
• Let your child sleep on a firm mattress that is well covered with a well-fitted sheet. This locks up spaces between the mattress and the sides of the baby cot. This way, there will be a lesser risk of your baby getting stuck between the mattress and the sides of the bed.
• Do not sleep on the same bed with your baby. Sleeping on the same bed with your baby increases the risk of suffocation and SIDS. Bed-sharing isn’t even recommended for twins or siblings. It is better for an infant to sleep in the same room but in a separate bed with parents.
• Do not use car seats or infant carriers for routine sleep to prevent blockage of your baby’s airway.
• Do not put your baby on a couch to sleep. Doing this results in a higher risk of Sleep-related death. You can use a convertible baby bed instead, which can be transformed into daybed, toddler bed, and even a twin bed with a headboard.
Should You Be Concerned If Your Baby Isn’t Sleeping At Night?
Some changes in a child’s sleeping patterns are normal. Some parents might be concerned on how many hours their baby sleep. Simply continue with a consistent bedtime routine for your baby.
Also, see your baby’s healthcare provider when you have any other concerns.
The first year of a child’s life is quite challenging. But, you’ll make it through. Bear in mind that even if your child isn’t sleeping through the night, they are growing and developing as they should. And as your baby develops further, you’ll have more time to rest.
Don’t forget to discuss any concerns you have concerning your baby’s sleep pattern with your pediatrician or a sleep specialist. In most cases, you’ll find out that your baby is doing just fine.