Sleeping through the night is usually a parent’s #1 sleep goal. Unfortunately, it can often seem like a totally unattainable goal! Parents love to be able to say ‘good night’, not have their baby cry, and wake up happy in the morning. If your baby or toddler is waking multiple times per night, you may wonder how on earth you will ever get your baby to sleep through the night, without waking.
Fortunately for you, this is a question we answer often for our clients – and it’s one we are answering for you in today’s article!
What Is Sleeping Through The Night?
It’s important to start by defining our terms. You see, ‘sleeping through the night’ is actually a bit misleading. Why? Because it means different things to different people. For instance, many people consider ‘sleeping through the night’ to mean 8 consecutive hours of sleep, without any waking. That’s probably because we adults consider 8 hours of sleep a full night’s sleep. Other parents consider it to be 11 or 12 straight hours of sleep without interruption (the number of hours most babies need to sleep at night).
Here’s the thing to remember, though: there is actually a medical definition of sleeping through the night. And it looks very, very different than most parents’ definitions! Medically speaking, a baby is sleeping through the night when she can sleep for 5 straight hours without waking. Unfortunately, those 5 hours are usually done before 1 or 2 a.m., if your baby is going to sleep at an appropriate bedtime.
So this is the first thing to remember, when you are thinking about when and how to help your baby sleep through the night – if your baby is already sleeping 5-hour stretches each night, then technically, he already is. However, most of us can’t function on 5 hours of sleep a night for very long, so if you’d like to see your baby sleep for longer stretches each night, that’s understandable!
When Do Babies Start Sleeping 5+ Hours at Night?
First, a word of warning: the information below represents averages, not rules. If your baby isn’t “following” these averages, try not to stress about it. Every baby is different! This information is designed merely to give you an overview.
- Newborns need to wake every 2-3 hours to eat, so you should expect newborn babies to wake every few hours at night. This is normal – newborns need to eat frequently in order to grow and develop properly.
- 4 month old babies who are breastfed will need to eat 2-3 times during the 12-hour night stretch, but most 4 month olds can make it for one 5-hour stretch without eating at night. Formula-fed 4 month olds may have fewer nighttime feeds.
- 5 month – 6 month old babies who are breastfed will need 1-2 feedings during the 12-hour night stretch; most babies this age can make it for at least one 5-hour stretch without eating. Formula-fed 5-6 month olds may wake less often for night feedings, and some formula-fed babies will be ready to night-wean by 6 months.
- 7 month old babies who breastfeed may need 1 (possibly 2) feedings during the 12-hour night stretch. Babies at this age can generally do one 6-7 hour stretch without feeding at night. Formula-fed 7 month olds will likely wake once per night, if at all.
- 8 month – 9 month old babies who are breastfed may need 1 feeding during the 12-hour night stretch. Babies at this age can generally go for at least 8 hours without feeding at night; some may be able to sleep 9 or 10 hour stretches without waking to feed. If your baby is still waking to feed by 9 months, we usually recommend an attempt at night weaning. Formula-fed babies are generally night-weaned by this point.
- 10 month, 11 month, and 12 month old babies who are breastfed can generally sleep at least 10 hours at night without feedings; many are able to make it 12 hours without waking to eat. However, remember that it is still very normal for a 10-12 month old baby to wake once at night to feed, so if your baby still needs one night feeding at this age, don’t worry about it.
When Will Your Baby Sleep Through The Night?All of the averages listed above can be helpful in providing a snapshot of a baby’s sleep patterns, but it still doesn’t answer your most pressing question: “When will my baby sleep through the night as in 11-12 hours?” Obviously, I can’t answer that in a blog article – your baby is unique, and when he or she sleeps through the night is dependent on many different factors! However, I can provide some general pointers and ideas:
- Premature babies may sleep through the night later than full-term babies, since babies born prematurely generally need a bit more time to catch up with developmental milestones.
- Babies with health issues (particularly health issues that involve weight gain problems) may take longer to sleep through the night.
- Babies with strong sleep associations may take longer to sleep through the night, simply because those sleep associations will take longer to overcome. You will likely want to teach your baby healthy sleep habits, so she can get through her sleep cycles without sleep associations that involve you.
- Temperament has a big impact on night sleep, too. Stubborn, intense babies may be more likely to cling to their nighttime feedings, and be reluctant to change their sleeping patterns.
- Families who bed-share intentionally can usually expect their babies to sleep through the night later than babies who sleep in their own sleep spaces.
How To Help Your Baby Sleep Through The Night
If you know your baby is ready to sleep through the night – if she’s old enough, if she’s healthy, if you are confident that she is waking out of habit and not out of a need for nourishment – but she is still waking several times per night, then it might be time to consider sleep training. While it’s true that some babies will learn to sleep through the night on their own, without any help from mom and dad, many babies need a helping hand to get there. You can help your baby or toddler sleep through the night by weaning him away from his sleep associations and helping him learn to fall asleep without help from you. Then, you will be on your way to sleep-filled nights!
The thing is, this process (of un-learning sleep associations, and learning to fall asleep without help) is tough for some babies – and so, by extension, it’s tough for their moms and dads, too!
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