When should I expect my baby to sleep through the night?
This has got to be the most commonly asked, searched for, begged for and prayed for topic in the new mum community. The short answer is… Eventually. But the long answer is long and layered. So strap in.
We all know those mothers who smugly tell us their baby slept through the night from the day they were born. They are a dream baby etc etc. These mums are the worst. They are like supermodels who say they eat hamburgers… I don’t believe you and even if it is true, it’s against the rules of feminism to rub this in to sleep deprived (and cellulite rich) mums’ faces.
But what does it mean to ‘sleep through the night?’ (also known as STTN for those of you familiar with parenting forums. Don’t worry, we’ve all been there… scanning forums in the middle of the night, desperate for answers about our DD, or complaining about our DH..) Well the answer is that there are so many variations on the definition of sleeping through the night, that any mum wanting to brag can pick the one that fits them and roll with it.
For example, some classify sleeping through the night as achieving a five hour stretch, or an eight hour stretch, or for some it’s just managing to get baby back to sleep quickly after one or two or many overnight feeds. So next time someone tells you their eight-week-old baby is sleeping through the night, just know that they are not telling you everything. Mothers are the world’s angels, but they are also incredibly proud of their children and therefore tend to stretch the truth a little. I ran a few half marathons in my 20’s. My mum told everyone I was running marathons so I corrected her by saying “thanks for the encouragement mum, but it’s just a half!” Her response? “Nellie, it’s STILL a marathon!” I didn’t have the heart to explain the definition of marathon. God bless her.
So now that we have that out of the way, I know you still want to know the answer. To which I say, “it depends!” Ah, so annoying, right? What does it depend on? Here we go:
- Whether your baby was born prematurely or post term
- How much your baby weighs
- Genetics (can’t do much about that!)
- How often they feed…
- How they fall asleep – do they self-settle? Do they fall asleep on the boob?
- Where they sleep
- What they sleep in
- What they wear to bed
- What their environment is like: dark, light, noisy, distracting…
- What they are eating/drinking
- How you respond when they wake up overnight
As you can see, some of these factors are out of your control, while some you can totally work on.
Most babies will sleep through the night on their own (and I’m talking 11-12 hours here, none of this “five hour stretch BS) between 6-12 months. In general, a baby who is still waking at nine months, but well established on solids (lots of protein and grains as well as fruit and veg) can be encouraged to drop that feed by gradually reducing the feed and using the settling/sleep training technique you are most comfortable with. By nine months, a baby should be eating enough during the day to sustain them through the night. If they are still waking from hunger, it’s most likely because they have come to expect a feed at that time, much like how we are hungry for lunch at around the same time each day regardless of whether we had breakfast two or five hours earlier.
A good sign that your baby is ready to stop feeding overnight, is if they start displaying less interest in breakfast or their first milk feed of the day. If they are still ravenous first thing in the morning, chances are they still need that overnight feed. Sorry 🙁
The most important factor contributing to babies sleeping through the night, is self-settling. A baby who can put themselves to sleep quickly learns to put themselves back to sleep. We call this resettling and it’s absolutely key for long, restorative, independent sleep. The best way to teach self-settling is to start early, putting your baby down drowsy but awake within appropriate wake windows. In time, you can put them down less drowsy, but still calm, then eventually they should be happy to got to bed with a quick kiss and a cuddle. It takes time, and complete consistency. Some babies however, need a little more encouragement and there are many methods, most very gentle, none of which are harmful, to help guide your baby towards independent sleep.
Working with a sleep consultant is a great way to get the support you need to get your baby sleeping better. Think of them like a personal trainer. There is a lot of free information online about diets and training, but a personal trainer is there supporting you, making sure you turn up and keep on track. Sleep consultants are the same. A good sleep consultant will offer multiple methods and tailor a solution that suits your baby’s temperament, your parenting style and family dynamic. Make sure you work with someone you jive well with, who listens to you and understands what your goals and your limits are.