Parenting has its own fair share of mind-boggling questions and one of them is, “When will our baby sleep through the night?” It is a pretty common inquiry, especially if you are a breastfeeding mom. Waking up several times a night to nurse and put your baby back to sleep is a challenge. You are drained, you are exhausted, and you’re wondering if your little one is getting enough sleep too. Yes, I can feel you and we’re walking on the same shoes!
Since this can be an exhausting time, you might be wondering, when do breastfed babies sleep through the night? Specifically, regarding breastfeeding babies, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League state that some babies start sleeping through the night at some point in the first four months. This can happen, especially if they sleep alone. However, this can change in the months ahead due to various reasons such as teething or growth spurts and may need nighttime nursing for a substantial part of their food.
Your baby sleeping through the night as early as 4 months and younger, is it really possible? I bet many of you are left amazed that babies this young can already sleep for longer periods overnight. So the next big question here is that, is it alright?. How about their nighttime feedings?. Perhaps the best way to figure out is to know more about the typical sleeping patterns of babies according to their age.
Sleeping Patterns According to Baby’s Age
Basically, every baby has unique needs and behavior, but to offer you a quick insight into how most babies behave with regards to their sleeping routine, here is a general guide. It should be noted that breastfeeding babies tend not to conform to the usual sleep patterns of formula-fed babies. Breastfed babies usually have shorter bouts of sleep with more frequent waking.
From Birth to 3 months
This age group is more commonly referred to as “newborns”. Newborns sleep A LOT! You’ve probably figured that out by now. Their sleeping pattern typically starts erratically because initially, they can’t distinguish day from night. Since their sleeping pattern is irregular, you can also expect your day and night schedule to be pretty mixed up and exhausting!
As a new parent, getting up every few hours to feed, comfort and change our baby’s diapers is physically and mentally demanding. It can be extra demanding when you’re breastfeeding and there are older siblings. Breast milk is digested more easily and your baby’s little tummy can only hold a small amount of milk during this time. So expect to nurse frequently during the day and night.
Typical sleeping pattern (0 – 3 months): Experts say that newborns normally sleep for a total of 16 to 17 hours in a day. However, they may only stay asleep for around 2 to 4 hours or sometimes they may have a 5-hour long nap.
When will they sleep better? Around their 8th week (2 months old), some babies will start to sleep for shorter periods during the day and longer at night. If this is not the case I have mentioned below ways that can help to turn this sleep pattern around.
From 3 to 6 months
By this age, most babies have already started to get in sync with their family’s bedtime routine. If set routines have been established, they can learn to associate daytime activities with being awake and nighttime with sleep and rest.
Since your baby can now sleep for a longer period of time, you may now have the opportunity to get up feeling a little more rested and energized. This also is a good time for them to prepare to sleep on their own.
Typical sleeping pattern (3 – 6 months): Babies this age sleep for a total of 14 to 17 hours in the entire day, including 2 daytime naps and nighttime sleep.
From 6 to 9 months
According to experts, some babies this age can already sleep through the night for 8 hours straight. Others may still wake up for a couple of feedings at night.
Usually starting at around 6 months, supplementary feeding of solids is also being introduced.
Typical sleeping pattern (6- 9 months): Babies this age typically sleep for a total of 12 to 16 hours in a 24 hour period. Starting at around 6 months, most babies are already capable of sleeping longer stretches at night and their 2 naps during the day.
From 9 to 12 months
Babies in this age group can widely differ in their pattern of sleep. This may be due to the variation in the baby’s activities and food intake. Some babies at this stage will sleep for up to 9 to 10 hours throughout the night, while others may not be ready. Most babies this age wake up not necessarily because they are hungry, and are more ready for weaning off their nighttime feedings.
Typical sleeping pattern (9- 12 months): Babies 9 to 12 months old sleep for a total of 12 – 16 hours throughout the day. This includes 2 naps of 1 to 2-hour duration.
Factors affecting your Baby’s Sleep
As mentioned earlier, babies widely differ in their patterns of sleep and you might be wondering about how to improve your baby’s sleep. If that’s your goal, knowing the factors that can affect the quality and quantity of your baby’s sleep can help you figure out which area you can intervene. So what are these factors?
Family’s bedtime routine
Did you notice that your baby seems to follow your family’s wake-sleep schedule? This is because babies sleep cycle is normally influenced by his family’s waking and sleeping hours. So if you usually keep the lights on and there is a lot of activity late into the night, chances are your baby will not settle too well to prepare for bedtime. If you’ve established a routine that your baby will associate with sleep, it will become much easier for them to settle down to sleep. Babies will adapt easily to a routine!
Sometimes, a baby’s normal routine will change depending on what developmental milestone they are going through. This may also have an impact on their sleep. Some other factors such as teething may also cause some discomfort which will cause them to wake
This is why some babies who have been sleeping through the night may suddenly wake up again several times a night.
Wrong sleep associations
Some sleep experts believe that parents may inadvertently introduce sleep associations. What do we mean by that?
If your baby gets used to associating something (like nursing, rocking to sleep, a pacifier), or someone (like his mom) to sleep, he may look for that association when he briefly wakes up at night. This may happen regardless of being hungry or not.
We all wake up at brief periods at night, sometimes to change our sleeping position, and then we go back to sleep without being fully conscious. So if your baby associates something to help him get to sleep, he will find it hard to go back to sleeping until he finds what he associates with sleep. For example, you will need to nurse him even if he’s not hungry or rock him to sleep. Gradually removing these sleep associations may help your baby sleep better and longer at night.
Stress and adaptation
If you have recently been on a long journey or had a major life event like moving to a new home or the loss of a loved one, expect some changes in your baby’s sleeping pattern. Remember, your baby prefers to have a routine so if there is a sudden alteration in his immediate surroundings, then it will most probably take some time before he can adapt.
Even babies who have been sleeping through the night can go back to waking during the night if they are not well. An illness such as a respiratory condition will make it more difficult for your baby to breathe and can cause frequent awakenings. If you think your baby’s in pain or you can’t do anything to pacify him at night, have him checked by a pediatrician just to make sure everything is okay.
How can I help my breastfed baby sleep through the night?
Now that we know some of the most fundamental facts regarding our baby’s sleep, the next thing we ask ourselves is how to help our baby (and ourselves) sleep through the night. But before we get into that let us first reflect. What does “sleeping through the night” mean to you?
When we talk about sleeping through the night, parents’ views about it differ widely from one to another. Some babies will manage perfectly fine with 6 hours of sleep while others may be looking for a 10-hour straight sleep at night. Experts often define “sleeping through the night” not by the number of hours, but the ability of the baby to get back to sleep on their own when they partially wake up at night. Sleeping through the night is a skill that your baby can learn and it will take a little time for them to adjust.
Here are some tips to help your baby sleep through the night:
Establish a bedtime routine
Sleep experts suggest that a simple routine which your baby can associate with bedtime will help him establish good sleep habits. This may include reading a bedtime story, a bath or a bedtime lullaby. If this routine is established every night, your baby can learn to adapt to his bedtime. He will then associate the said activities to sleeping.
Stimulate your baby during the day
As early as 2 weeks, you can help your baby differentiate day time from night time by offering enough stimulation during the day. Your baby will associate activities like playtime and music with daytime as well as creating a fun and learning environment. Keeping him more active during the day will help him learn that this is the appropriate time to be awake and alert and night time is the opportunity to get some rest.
Be consistent with your daily schedules
Consistency is the key for your baby to establish his own bedtime routine. This includes consistency in his daytime activities, meals, nap times and bedtime. If his routine during the day is predictable, your baby will begin to learn what is coming next and developing a better sleep at night will become a lot easier.
Try to establish the difference from feeding to sleeping
Most breastfed infants find it hard to separate the idea of feeding on sleeping because most often, moms let their babies fall asleep while nursing. Some experts suggest that it is okay to nurse before bedtime, but when the baby is already sleepy but still awake, you could try to put him to bed and let him fall asleep on his own. This way, he’ll be more able to sleep again at night during his brief, partial wakings.
Consider sleep training for your baby
Sleep training refers to a variety of ways to help babies sleep through the night. This doesn’t mean that you need to suddenly impose a rigid schedule for your baby right now. Learning will take time. Some of the most popular sleep training techniques include the fading sleep training method and the pick-up-put-down method (PUPD). It is recommended that these sleep training methods should not begin until the baby is at least 6 – 8 weeks old. Other sleep training methods such as the controlled crying method and the chair method are less gentle and your baby should be at least 4 months old before you begin. Each method should be studied carefully to determine which is best for your child.
Should I pump if my baby sleeps through the night?
It is possible to pump during the night when your baby is sleeping but ideally this would not be the best option. During the first few months of your baby’s life, they need to feed 3 – 4 hourly and this includes night time feeds. However, as your baby gets older they will be able to stretch out the times between feeds. Breastfed babies do tend to wake more frequently even after the first few months of life.
If you need to pump some breast milk for your baby it may be more beneficial to wait until morning when both you and your baby are fully awake. During the night if you feed your baby instead of pumping this will most probably result in a better nights sleep for yourself and your baby.
Milk is constantly being produced in the breasts at all times. The less frequent baby feeds the less milk will be produced as there will be less capacity for the storage of milk. The body also interprets this as a signal that baby requires less milk.
Will my milk supply be affected if baby sleeps through the night?
This will depend on your baby’s age. As a newborn up until 3 or 4 months most baby’s will wake for a feed at some stage during the night but occasionally a some babies can be more difficult to rouse and will sleep for a longer period of time. This could affect your milk supply as your milk is constantly being produced in the breasts at all times. The less frequent baby feeds the less milk will be produced as there will be less capacity for the storage of milk. The body also interprets this as a signal that baby requires less milk. As a result your body will begin to produce less milk which will make breastfeeding more difficult for you and your baby if your intention is to continue for some time ahead.
How long should you let your newborn sleep without eating?
It is typical for newborns to be woken up every 3 to 4 hours to feed all throughout the day. This is recommended by doctors to help newborn babies reach the recommended weight gain. Most often, they will wake up on their own as their stomach’s capacity is still small and empties more frequently during this time. Breast milk is also much easier to digest than formula milk and will therefore pass through the digestive system much faster.
However there usually is one period in the day where a newborn will have a long 4 to 5 hour sleep which at first can most commonly occur during the day. This can gradually be brought over to a nighttime sleep by minimizing noise and activity around baby at night where they will begin to distinguish between night and day.
Sleeping through the night is a gradual process that your baby will eventually learn as he grows. Though it may feel like a century of waiting if you are sleep-deprived, don’t despair mom! You and your baby will eventually get that much-sought sleep pretty soon.
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The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by La Leche League International (2015)