It’s a good question.
It’s also a frustrating question.
And everyone seems to have an opinion about when your baby should be sleeping through the night. The answer is different for every baby and every family.
I’ve heard of babies sleeping through the night from 3 weeks of age. I heard about 2-and-a-half-year-old toddlers still waking a few times during the night. Although there are some general guidelines, every baby is different, and every family is different.
You might have ideas about when you would like your baby to sleep through the night, but your little one might have other plans. Also, some babies learn to self-settle really quickly, and sleeping through the night happens naturally. On the other hand, some babies need help to learn the skills to sleep longer, and some families are happy and comfortable to wake for feeds during the night for as long as they want. Every family and every baby is different, so the expectation of when your baby will sleep through the night may also be different.
What I don’t want to do with this article is to tell you when your baby ‘should’ be sleeping through the night. I don’t want to do that because I feel it’s a personal decision, and I should not thrust a specific age on parents. What I will do is provide you with some guidelines about readiness in different ages so that you can make up your mind and feel confident with your choice to help your baby sleep through the night.
0 to 3 Months
Occasionally you hear of those lucky mothers whose babies sleep through the night from the beginning. It happens, but it’s rare. Generally, babies in this age range still need to wake during the night to feed. They are still small, their tummies are tiny, and they need filling back up during the night. It is entirely normal and natural to be up a few times a night to feed on demand.
In this age range, babies might wake 1 to 4 times during the night for a feed. They may sleep for stretches lasting 3 to 8 hours at this time. This is a time for feeding on demand during the night and allowing your baby to get the calories they need to grow and develop. Even though some babies may naturally sleep through the night here, many don’t.
A 10 PM Awake Feed
If you would like to help encourage your baby to sleep longer stretches at night, you can introduce an awake feed. This is an excellent strategy for mum and dad to work on together. To keep up a good supply of milk, mums need to get lots of rest. A 10 PM awake feed is a great way to help mum get some good hours of sleep in, and for dad to lend a helping hand. With this strategy, mum, dad, and baby all get a good long stretch of sleep at the same time. Here’s how it works.
|After your wind-down routine and a feed, put your baby to bed.|
|Mum can express a bottle and then head to bed early for a good rest. This is bottle dad uses for the 10 PM awake feed. It’s a really good idea to use milk expressed at night for night feeds as it contains higher levels of lovely sleep hormones.|
|Dad unswaddles baby and gives them 10 minutes or so to wake up. Turn the lights on low, and give baby half a feed. Change your baby, and put them on the mat to have a little kick and play.|
|Then turn the lights down low and swaddle your baby again. Give them the rest of the feed, a nice cuddle, and a little shush pat if they need it to help them fall back to sleep.|
This awake feed helps to reset your babies’ sleep cycles and encourage them to take their longest sleep of the night when you and your partner are also wanting to sleep. With an awake feed at 10 PM that takes around 40 minutes or so, you would want to see your baby sleep until maybe 3 or 4 AM, before they wake naturally for another feed.
This means mum can enjoy a nice 6 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep, and dad has special time being the main carer which is not too disruptive if he has to get up for work in the morning.
- Swaddle Your Baby
Make sure your baby is swaddled; this helps calm them down and make them feel snug, safe, and secure. It also helps to inhibit the Moro reflex, which can wake your baby just as they are falling asleep.
- Use White Noise
White noise is a great way to calm your baby and provide a great environment that is conducive to sleep.
Make sure the room is pitch black, as this helps stimulate the sleep hormone melatonin, which your baby starts to produce around eight weeks of age.
What Doesn’t Help
Cry-it-out sleep training methods
This is a time when babies need gentleness and lots of hands-on settling methods. Their circadian and biological rhythms are not yet developed, so babies at this age are not capable of self-settling. They need lots of love, cuddles, and hands-on settling
Switching to formula to encourage longer night sleep
There is no evidence to support the idea that giving a bottle of formula at night will help your baby to sleep longer. Sometimes, introducing formula to an exclusively breastfed baby can upset their tummy and cause more night wake-ups.
However, if you have a dwindling milk supply in the evening and are struggling to give your baby a full feed, supplementing a bottle of formula may help to make sure your baby is adequately fed before bed. Also, it’s not a good idea to add baby cereal to bottles in an attempt to fill them up.
4 to 6 Months
This is a time of significant development for babies. While some babies will sail right through this age without a blip and continue to sleep wonderfully, other babies can start to wake every 2 to 4 hours overnight.
Again neither is wrong or bad, and you’re not failing as parents. This is just a time when your babies’ sleep cycles mature into four stages of sleep, plus REM sleep. This maturing can very often cause babies to wake frequently during the night.
This is also a time when many babies begin to sleep through the night. When I say that, I mean from 10 or 10:30 PM to 7 AM. However, many might still not be ready, especially exclusively breastfed babies. Mum might not be prepared to wean night feeds, but this is a time when some babies are physically ready.
Many babies in this age range will still have 1 to 2 feeds overnight. If your baby is feeding efficiently during the day and weighs 6.5 kgs or over at 12 to 16 weeks, you can encourage them to sleep through the night. This means sleeping from 10:30 PM to 7 AM. However, regardless of weight, your baby may still have a dream feed at 10:30 PM, a feed at 3 AM, and wake up at 7 AM.
By 16 weeks of age, we can employ the use of dream feeding to help encourage your baby to sleep through the night. The awake feed we were giving during the newborn stage becomes a dream feed now. You can still follow the same process, but this time don’t unswaddle your baby to wake them. Just give them a nice top-up feed while they are sleeping, helping them continue to sleep until 7 AM.
However, if you don’t want to give a dream feed, you might find that your baby will wake naturally around 12 or 1 AM for a feed. Then they head back to sleep until 7 AM. Either is perfectly fine; it is down to your family preferences and what works better for your baby.
If your baby has started rolling, it’s time to move from the swaddle into a sleeping sac. A swaddle is no longer safe to use if your baby is rolling, and by this age, their Moro reflex has disappeared. Developmentally, they no longer need their swaddle.
A sleep sac is a positive and independent sleep association to introduce to your baby. It helps them stay at a pleasant temperature the whole night through, thus stopping early morning wake-ups from getting cold, and becomes a cue for your baby that it is time to sleep.
A Good Bedtime Routine
If you haven’t already, now is a great time to start a solid bedtime routine that your child will carry into their toddler years and beyond. Make bedtime a calming and positive time.
Gentle Sleep Training Methods
If your baby is having trouble with excessive night wakings, and no one is getting enough sleep, then sleep training might be what you need to help your baby. Gentle, hands-on, in-room methods work really well at this age.
At some point during this time, your baby will be showing signs they are ready to begin eating solids. This method is interesting as it can both help and hinder your baby’s sleep. Be sure to introduce new foods at lunchtime, so potential upset tummies don’t impact night sleep.
What Doesn’t Help
Excessive Night Feeding
Excessive night feeding can happen so easily and so naturally. Your baby is going through the 4-month regressing and waking every 2 hours overnight. Naturally, to help them fall back to sleep, you nurse them. This worked well while they were newborns. In the short term, it can work well here too. Feeding is calming and comforting and helps your baby fall back to sleep.
However, what can happen is that your baby can start to develop a feed-to-sleep association. Every time they wake during the night, they will look to be fed back to sleep. There is nothing wrong at all with this approach—until it’s not working for mum or baby.
Excessive night feedings can also cause tummy aches and inadvertently influence your baby to take the majority of their calories at night and not during the day. Gentle sleep training is a great way to help your baby change their feed-to-sleep association to a more independent one.
Not Enough Day Sleep
Another thing that can happen at this age is the emergence of catnapping or not enough naps. Not getting enough day time sleep can make your baby overtired, and overtired babies wake up more during the night.
6 to 12 Months
At this stage, techniques to help your baby sleep become even more personal and individualised. I have had clients ready to help their baby sleep through the night at 6 months, and others who were happy to be down to one-feed nights at 9 months.
The best idea at this stage is to tell other people to mind their own business and go with what works for your family. If you have a happy, healthy 10-month waking for one feed a night, they’re happy, and you’re happy—well, there is no problem.
If your baby weighs over 7 kgs, feeds adequately during the day with both milk feeds and solids, then they may be ready to sleep from 7 PM to 7 AM. However, many are still not yet prepared for a while. Between 6 to 9 months, your baby may genuinely need a feed at night. After 9 months, you may of course still give your baby a night feed, but the night wakings are probably for a reason other than hunger.
- An age-appropriate daytime routine with adequate sleep
- Starting solids
- A good bedtime routine
- Using a sleep training method that fits your family
- A pleasant sleep environment that is dark, cool and with white noise
- Introducing a lovely—a small toy or blanket that is a comfort to your child while sleeping
What Doesn’t Help
- Not getting enough day sleep
- Excessive night feeding
- Too much solids and eating at the wrong time
Do babies still wake up at this age? Of course. Is it normal, is it okay? What is normal, anyway? My normal is different from yours, and yours is different from someone else as well. It just comes down to what is working or not working for you and your family. If your child wakes twice a night and your happy, and they are happy, then there’s really no problem. If your child is waking twice a night and you are all miserable, well, let’s do something about that.
At this age, your child is generally both developmentally and physically able to sleep through 12 hours a night. They can meet all their caloric needs during the day.
- A good day time routine with adequate sleep
- A diet with decreased in milk and increased solids and a variety of food. It should be more food than milk from 12 months.
- A good bedtime routine
- An environment conducive to sleep
- Roleplay for bedtime
- Sticker charts for good sleep behaviour
What Doesn’t Help
- Children who get overtired
- Late bedtime
- Not enough naps
- Too much day sleep
This is a question and a topic that can cause parents discomfort. The question “Is your baby sleeping through the night?” can feel loaded with judgment. It can sound like you’re failing because your baby doesn’t sleep through the night yet. The intention of this article is not to make you feel this way. This article intended to help you have realistic expectations of when your child is developmentally ready to sleep through the night.
Their readiness might develop naturally at 6 weeks. It might never develop naturally, and you as the parent might seek to help them learn to sleep, or you may not. What works for your family and what is normal for you are not the same with everyone else. So instead of asking a mum “Is your baby sleeping through?” ask “How is your beautiful baby?” or “How are you going, momma?”
Although everyone’s experience is different, getting enough sleep is essential for both children and parents. There is nothing pleasant about feeling exhausted and sleep-deprived. If your child isn’t getting enough sleep at night and during the day, get some help. It’s amazing how you will both feel waking up in the morning and realising you’ve slept the whole night soundly.