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As parents we often feel like the constant wake ups and sleep deprivation are outside of our control or just a normal part of parenting for the first few years. Then we talk to other parents and find out that their babies sleep through the night from an early age and wonder why our babies can’t. The problem is, though, there is a vast range of normal when it comes to a baby being developmentally able to sleep through the night without feeding. On top of this, learning to fall asleep and stay asleep is actually a learned skill. Newborn babies make sleeping look so easy, and it is for the first few months, but after this, when their sleep gets more adult like, they need to relearn that skill.
When to expect sleeping through the night.
Many babies are able to go through the night without any feedings, whether it be from breast or bottle feeding, at around 6 months. However, we can’t expect that every baby can manage this until 9 months of age. You may wonder if your baby is waking up to feed too often overnight. The average 4 month old generally only needs one or two feeds overnight and should be able to do a five or six hour stretch overnight before that first feed. At 6 months old a baby should only need one night feeding and should be able to do an eight hour stretch overnight before that feeding.
It is normal for babies to have brief awakenings overnight. In fact, even adults wake up briefly many times overnight. As adults we might pull up our blanket, adjust our pillow or do something else to increase our comfort and then promptly fall back to sleep. Babies on the other hand may whimper, cry, groan or wriggle around. If we attend to our baby every time they elicit a small cry at these brief awakenings we may inadvertently set up a night waking or feeding habit. If babies wake up overnight and mom or dad rushes straight to comfort in some way, a baby may start waking expecting that comfort through out the night.
How you can help your baby learn to sleep through the night.
As mentioned earlier, learning to sleep well is a learned skill. As parents there are things we can do to help encourage our babies to learn how to sleep through the night when they are developmentally ready, and to put themselves back to sleep at brief awakenings while still feeding.
Provide opportunities to fall asleep independently at the beginning of the night. Learning how to fall asleep independently at the beginning of the night is incredibly important. This helps teach them the self-soothing skills they need to return to sleep at brief awakenings during the night as well.
When your baby is under 4 months of age it is okay to put your baby down drowsy but awake. When we talk about drowsy but awake we mean about 8 out of 10 on the sleep scale. By doing this they tip themselves into the final stage of sleep and are starting to learn independent sleep skills. Past 4 months of age you should be putting them in the crib awake and aware and having them do the full falling asleep process.
Delay attending to your baby. If you hear a low level cry, whimper or groan delay going to your baby and doing something to help them fall back asleep. You could first wait 5 minutes and see what happens and if needed extend that delay longer if 5 minutes isn’t successful. This gives them time to learn to fall back to sleep at any brief awakenings overnight that aren’t times they developmentally need to feed.
Have a consistent bedtime routine. Consistent bedtime routines that happen the same way every night act as a cue to your baby that sleep time is coming. It essentially prepares their brain for sleep. Consistent daily bedtime routines have even been shown to reduce night wakings. Your baby’s sleep routine can include many different components like a bath, massage, book, lullaby etc. Choose components which work for your family and that you and your baby enjoy and find relaxing. The bedtime routine should be soothing and a chance to enjoy a special time with your baby. A bedtime routine should last no more than 30 minutes and end at the time your baby is due to go to sleep.
Check your sleep schedule.Sometimes babies can have night waking issues for other reasons than just the inability to soothe themselves to sleep. Night wakings can be a sign of a sleep schedule being off. Check to make sure that your baby is getting enough day and night sleep for their age and that the sleep is happening at the right times of the day and night. If you feel this is contributing to your baby’s night wakings, try to tighten up the schedule and offer some early bedtimes. This may help improve their nighttime sleep.
Along with feeding, sleeping is one of the top worries that new parents have. Knowing what to expect and what you can do to help your baby get the sleep they need really helps. Sleep is such an important part of your baby’s development as it helps them grow, learn, and thrive.