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If you are a new or expectant parent, you have probably wondered, “when do babies sleep though the night?” Or more importantly… when will YOU sleep through the night again once your new baby arrives!
Well, I’ve got good news and bad news.
First… the “bad” news…(actually… the reality check)
Newborns (babies under 2 months old) DON’T usually sleep through the night… nor should they!
Okay… sure… everyone has heard stories of 3-week-old babies sleeping though the night, but is that normal?
Absolutely. Not. Normal.
Now the good news…
Did you know that YOU can sleep through the night even if your newborn baby can’t?
In this post, I’m going to teach you how YOU can sleep better… even with a newborn!
But first, I’m going to answer common new parent baby sleep questions, PLUS give you some amazing tips to get your baby sleeping longer stretches at night.
The most common baby sleep questions parents ask:
- What is considered sleeping through the night? (for babies)
- When do babies sleep through the night without sleep training?
- When do babies sleep through the night without a feeding?
- How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?
- When do breastfeeding babies sleep through the night?
- How to sleep through the night with a newborn?
- Why do babies wake at night?
- Is my baby manipulating me?
- How long should I let my baby cry it out?
- How much sleep does a baby need?
Stay tuned because we are going to discuss these things. But first…
“Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?”
Have you ever been asked that question? You know… the one that almost everyone asks (who either can’t remember what it was like to have a newborn in the house, or those who are just too clueless to know better.)
“Is your baby sleeping through the night yet?”
If you are a new mama, you probably hate that question as much as I do… and for good reason!
How does this question make you feel?
If you are like many mothers of newborns, you are either annoyed, confused or concerned when that question comes up.
- Annoyed because people should know better.
- Confused because you are hearing lots of conflicting information.
- And concerned because you may start to think that something must be wrong.
The unfortunate thing is that too many new mothers do become concerned. And why not? After all, everyone seems to think their babies should be sleeping longer. (except the baby’s doctor)
So, it’s only natural for a young mother to start to worry why her new baby is not sleeping through the night yet.
“What am I doing wrong?”
“Is there something wrong with my baby?”
“Is there something wrong with me?”
What is considered sleeping through the night?
If you expect that your new baby should be able to sleep 8+ hours at night without a feeding… think again!
You simply must adjust your expectations.
According to newborn sleep experts, “sleeping through the night” usually refers to a 3-6 month old baby’s night sleep stretch lasting 5+ hours. (source)
Fact: Newborns (and very young babies) will need to eat often and that means that you can expect night feedings.
If your baby is under 3 months old, you simply cannot expect him to go longer than 5 hours without a feeding. That’s not to say that he won’t, but don’t worry that something must be wrong when you have a perfectly normal baby!
In fact, newborns under 2 weeks old NEED to eat every 2-3 hours around the clock until they are back to birth weight. Even after the 2 week mark, you will need to follow your doctor’s feeding recommendations until your baby is gaining weight at a steady pace.
In most cases, pediatricians recommend a baby under 4 weeks old to not go longer than a 4-hour night sleep stretch without a feeding.
And even in the case of “older” babies, you will probably be disappointed if you come to expect 8-hour sleep stretches.
But, don’t fret because there are ways to make those dreaded night feedings much easier! For starters, don’t miss these 11 Easy Tips for Surviving Middle-of-the-Night Feedings!
How much sleep does a baby need?
Birth to 3 months
On average, newborns usually sleep between 15-20 hours during a 24 hour period. You will gradually notice more wake time each week.
It’s best to understand that your baby’s sleep during this stage will be unpredictable as a newborn’s circadian rhythm (internal body clock) is not fully developed.
Try to accept the fact that you’ll need to sleep when baby is sleeping and that your baby may wake a few times at night to eat during this newborn season.
During this season, your baby’s circadian rhythm is beginning to mature and his body is starting to produce enough melatonin, adrenaline and cortisol to help him sleep longer at night.
A 4-month old baby will usually sleep between 12-15 hours a day, including naps. A baby of this age is usually capable of sleeping 5 hours at night without a feeding.
By 6 months, many infants no longer require night feedings. (Yay!) But, since every baby is different, check with your baby’s doctor before assuming that your baby is ready for this milestone.
The majority of your baby’s sleep will now happen at night, along with 2-3 daytime naps. At some point during the first year, you can expect your baby to sleep 8- 10 hours at night! (Hopefully, without waking!)
When do babies sleep through the night without a feeding?
Generally speaking, a baby can begin to sleep longer stretches (6-8 hours) without a feeding around 6-9 months old. But, that doesn’t always mean they will. 😉
Your baby’s doctor can help you decide when this “magic” date should be. But, keep in mind, it’s really not so magical!
Growth spurts, teething and sickness can disrupt any “progress” you feel you may have already made in the sleep department.
Sometimes baby sleep progress can feel like…”two steps forward, one step back,” or even, “one step forward, two steps back!”
But, keep in mind… you ARE moving forward even when it doesn’t always seem that way. 😉
When do breastfed babies sleep through the night?
A breastfed baby may even wake more often to eat than formula-fed infants because breastmilk digests faster than most formulas.
In addition, a breastfeeding baby may also take in smaller volumes at each feeding, making more frequent nursing sessions necessary.
But, remember…this is the way that God designed things to work!
Although this may sound discouraging, please don’t let that stop you from choosing to breastfeed your baby. There are still so many amazing benefits to breastfeeding you won’t want to miss out on!
How do I get my baby to sleep through the night?
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I simply want to give you a reality check.
Many babies will continue night wakings even if they are not really hungry. That’s because there are other reasons that babies wake at night.
Why do babies wake at night?
There are several reasons that babies wake at night.
Obviously, they wake because they are hungry or thirsty, but that may not always be the reason your baby is waking.
In addition to nutritional needs, babies have a HUGE emotional need to feel safe and secure. This is a big reason that babies wake at night. They may simply want to be comforted or snuggled because they are lonely, scared or sad. They may even seem hungry, but who among us doesn’t like to eat for comfort at times?
Another reason for night waking is room temperature, pain or soiled diaper. Babies don’t sleep well if they are uncomfortable.
Is my baby manipulating me?
Thankfully, we now know that a baby under 9 months old is not capable of manipulating his parents. (source)
But that won’t stop well-meaning friends and relatives from repeating this harmful myth. Sadly, there are many tidbits of bad baby advice that every parent should ignore. Don’t believe these dangerous baby myths that too many new parents are still believing.
Learn the truth about why babies are not capable of manipulating their care-givers and don’t be afraid to nurse and comfort your baby when she wakes!
When do babies sleep through the night without sleep training?
How long to let baby cry it out?
Generally speaking, a baby under 6 months old should not be left alone to “cry it out.”
However, this does not mean that your baby should never cry.
In fact, if your baby cries out in her sleep, it’s not a bad idea to wait a bit to see if she is really waking up.
Many babies will briefly cry out during sleep even when they are not actually waking up. Instead, they may be merely cycling through a light sleep state.
An over-responsive parent may actually interfere with a baby’s ability to stay asleep and interrupt his or her baby’s natural sleep rhythm.
You can learn more about this and other parenting mistakes in 10 New Parent Baby Sleep Mistakes and How to Fix Them!
9 myth-busting strategies for how to get baby to sleep longer stretches at night!
Even if you have a baby that is under 6 months old, it’s still possible to help her sleep longer stretches at night!
By paying attention to these important baby sleep strategies:
- Learning how to recognize your baby’s sleep cues
- Focus on improving your baby’s daytime napping
- Try to get in extra daytime feedings
- Embrace cluster feeding
- Begin a simple bedtime/sleep routine
- Help your baby form sleep associations
- Encourage an earlier bedtime for your baby
- Avoid these common baby sleep mistakes
- Consider bedsharing (see my story below)
Contrary to popular baby sleep myths, keeping your baby awake during the day or later bedtimes do NOT improve baby’s night sleep. In fact, it only makes things worse!
Since I have already written at length about these baby sleep tips, I am going to refer you to some of my most popular newborn sleep posts that already cover these 9 tips.
If your baby is having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, there may be a simple solution to your baby’s sleep problems!
Please check out these baby sleep posts to learn more…
How you can get better sleep with a newborn
Even with frequent feedings during the newborn season, it’s still possible for new parents to get good sleep.
How? The answer is STRATEGY!
With proper planning, support and strategy, parents can ensure that they get sufficient sleep during the 4th trimester.
Learn how to avoid sleep deprivation with these 14 Tips for How to Prioritize Sleep during the 4th Trimester!
How I slept through the night with a newborn
Disclaimer: As a postpartum doula and childbirth professional, it is my duty to inform new parents about The American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) Safe Sleep Practices. Although the AAP recommends co-sleeping, they do not endorse bed-sharing. However, the AAP recognizes that 60% of new parents admit to bedsharing at some time. Because of this, they have recently adjusted their guidelines to include these safe sleep guidelines for bedsharing. As a doula, I want to be clear that I am not recommending bed-sharing to my clients or readers. In the following section, I am merely stating my own personal experience as a young mother with bed-sharing. If you choose to bed-share with your newborn, please make sure to do so safely and follow the AAP guidelines!
My bedsharing story
Before my first baby was born, I wanted to follow all the rules about safe sleep. For this reason, I planned to only sleep my daughter in her crib or bassinet.
My husband and I agreed that having our newborn in our queen-sized bed didn’t feel safe to us.
However, I soon began rethinking this plan when I found myself repeatedly dozing in my rocking chair while nursing my baby at night.
A very frightening experience!
When I awoke one night after a feeding with my baby girl stuck between the cushion of the chair and the arm rest, I knew that something needed to change!
After I had fallen asleep breastfeeding, she had somehow managed to slide down into a dangerous position. Thankfully, she was okay, but I was more than a little bit freaked out by the whole experience!
The following night, I decided to take her to the queen-sized bed in our spare bedroom instead of risking another mishap in the rocking chair. I knew I was too tired to stay awake in the chair while she nursed, so I laid her in the center of the bed and lay down beside her. She easily latched on and the rest is history!
Although I wasn’t expecting to sleep there all night, that’s exactly what happened.
We both slept great!
Each time she needed to nurse, it was easy to roll onto my side and feed her in a side-lying breastfeeding position.
As she nursed, I dozed and it felt so nice to just relax in the bed together, not worried if I had fallen asleep or not.
I decided to skip diaper changes since we both fell immediately back to sleep during each feeding.
When I woke the next morning, I felt rested, refreshed and full of energy. I was hooked!
Even my husband saw the change in me and got quickly on board with the idea.
Bedsharing with my newborns saved my sanity!
Contrary to everything I had previously believed, I thoroughly enjoyed our night-time snuggles and felt safe and confident with the new sleeping arrangement.
Since I was keenly aware of her presence near me, I wasn’t afraid of rolling over onto her. I also found the sound of her breathing very reassuring!
When our daughter was a few weeks old, my husband and I decided to buy a king sized bed so we had enough room to sleep together again. That bed ended up being the best investment in our family’s sleep for years to come!
Although we had originally decided that we would never sleep with our babies, we soon discovered that it was the BEST way that I could get the sleep that I so desperately needed during those early weeks of postpartum recovery.
In fact, I liked it so much that I slept with all five of my babies when they were newborns. I literally don’t know how I would have survived those early years as a mother without bed sharing at night.
I was able to sleep through the night even while feeding and responding to my babies. Each baby had his or her own time table, but it became clear to us when it was time for them to move to the crib.
How we transitioned our babies to the crib.
Our newborns napped in their cribs during the day. They also went to bed in their cribs at night. They were used to sleeping in their cribs.
This is how we combined night-time bedsharing with crib sleeping and it worked very well for us.
When it was baby’s bedtime, we put them inside the crib for the first sleep stretch. Then at the first night waking, I would bring them into our bed for the remainder of the night. This worked so well that the transition to crib was barely noticeable to us!
What about you?
Do you have an experience to share about your baby’s sleep that will help or encourage new mamas? Please share in the comments!