One of the hardest parts of being a parent is figuring out what we can expect from our children. What is “normal”? I often get asked “When can my baby sleep through the night? “
The first thing to define is the term “sleeping through the night”. Depending on your source, there are different definition of “sleeping through the night”.
Often parents refer to sleeping through the night as a 6-7 hour stretch. That definition puzzles me since all babies and toddlers need to 11 – 12 hrs of overnight sleep to be considered well rested. In my world, sleeping through the night means 11-12 hours of sleep. So whenever you are reading an article, or eavesdropping on another mom at Starbucks, make sure you understand what the source’s definition of sleeping through the night.
There are different opinions on when your baby is ready to sleep 11+ hours without a feed. Dr. Weissbluth of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child  says “when your baby is 6 months and solids are well established” then your baby is ready to sleep through the night.
In my experience, I don’t expect babies to sleep through the night until closer to 8 months, as solids are usually not well established until the child is eating 3 meals and 2 snacks, which often doesn’t occur until about 8 months. This is probably conservative and I’m okay with that.
Dr. Weissbluth is an American pediatrician. Perhaps the difference between my opinion and that of Dr. Weissbluth is related to formula and breast milk. In Canada we have more babies on breast milk than formula compared to the USA. While formula won’t make your child sleep through the night, it does have a slower transit time in the intestine than breast milk and can satiate a baby for longer periods overnight.
The breast fed baby will be the last one to sleep through the night compared to a formula fed baby, assuming the children have healthy sleeping patterns and self soothing techniques.
There are many sleep consultants who encourage parents to get their babies sleeping 11 hours without night feeds as early as 2-3 months. While not my philosophy or something I encourage with my clients, I see a place for this early training for parents who need to go back to work early and are supplementing with formula. I don’t want to judge when I haven’t walked in their shoes.
I recently had a conversation with a Mom from NYC who was fortunate enough to work at home. Her girlfriends all had jobs with large responsibilities and were not able to work from home. In fact, they were back to work after 2 months, and could not be tired at work. I can understand why that parent would need her young baby to sleep without feeds early on. There is no standard solution for everyone.
I am so grateful to have had a Canadian maternity leave which gave me a year to be at home with my baby and not have to worry so much about being tired the next day.
When I coach parents, I suggest that a 4 month old breastfed baby needs 2 night feeds over 12 hours. However, on the other side of things, I talk to many Canadian moms who are still getting up 3-4 times per night at 9 months and older to nurse their children back to sleep as they get caught in a “this is my job” guilt trap. We are given that year off so should we not be jumping up to answer every cough, grunt or cry?
Let me help you manage your expectations of night feeding. From my experience, here’s my general guideline for the number of night feeds for a breast fed baby who is gaining weight well and maintaining a healthy weight curve percentile.
|Age||Night feeds for an Exclusively Breast Fed Baby|
|0 -3 months||Babe will feed every 4 hrs or so at night. You might be so lucky as to get a 6 hrs stretch of sleep in the earlier part of the night.|
|4 -5 months
|1-2 night feeds. Bedtime moves earlier to about 7 pm. Look out for that 4 month sleep regression where your child will likely start to wake up more frequently at night and take shorter naps during the day.|
|6 -9 months||0 -2 night feeds|
|9-12 months||0 -1 night feeds|
If your child is waking up every 3 hours at night, she is coming out of a night time sleep cycle and looking for whatever helped her to fall asleep in the first place, to help her back to sleep. This may be being rocked, a pacifier or nursing to sleep. You can read more about sleep associations here: Is it time to sleep train my baby?
I once worked with the mother of a 9 month old who was sure her baby was legitimately hungry overnight. He was waking up 4 times per night and feeding each time. She told me that he ate at least 10-15 minutes at each waking.
My analogy for this was like going to a buffet dinner after having a few drinks. You’re not really that hungry but the food is there and you’re feeling pretty good, and so it is easy to overindulge. In addition, at this point, this little fella has probably shifted many of his daytime calories into the night and likely not eating much during the day. We worked on his sleep associations and moving those calories into the day and in a week he was sleeping 11-12 hours overnight without feeding.
My most recent client was a 6 month old baby who was co sleeping and nursing every hour through the night. After 7 days of working with this family, their baby boy was sleeping from 7:00 pm until 7:00 am and feeding once at 9 pm before Mom went to bed.
I hope this article helps you on this journey. Remember that this is a journey, no one has all the answers and that YOU are doing a great job on this parenting thing. If you want some comfort and feel good about yourself, you can read my blog about How I Failed at Attachment Parenting which is one of my most commonly read blog posts.
I have so much more I want to teach you about baby sleep and how you can help your baby!
Ever wonder how long you should keep her awake between naps?
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I’m also going to throw in an awake time chart to guide you between sleep periods.
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 Weissbluth, M. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.