I’m going to answer the golden question today. “When will my baby sleep through the night?”
I know just how important the answer to this question is, especially when you have your first baby and you think, “Okay, waking in the night, waking the night, I know this is going to happen, but how long is going to happen for?” And when you start hearing friends or other new mums going, “Well, my baby’s sleeping through,” and you think, “Oh, why isn’t mine? What’s going on?” So right here, right now we are going to set the record and your expectations straight so that you know what to expect and when and how you can help things along a little bit as well.
First of all, let’s just acknowledge the fact that they are all different. All babies are different and some will be ready before others. That is true, but also sometimes a baby is ready and quite capable of sleeping for longer stretches if we just tweaked a little bit of the parenting strategy that we are doing. So it’s a partnership. It’s them being ready and us accommodating it as well, we want to work in harmony with our babies to help them to sleep the very best they can, as soon as they can.
So, yes they are all different, but I’ve known babies to be able to sleep through as early as three months. And I know that typically six months is the target that lots of people set their minds to, and there are reasons for that, that are to do with their body clock, their circadian rhythm development, all kinds of reasons, but tal babies are different.
You also have to ask what does sleeping through the night mean to you? Because that can be different too. You might be thinking, “Well, for as long as I sleep. I want my baby to sleep for eight hours through read the night and I don’t want to hear a peep.” Or you might be thinking, “Oh gosh, no, just five hours would be fine.” In actual fact five or six hours of continuous sleep is the technical term for sleeping through the night.
I personally would define sleeping through as when you put your little one to bed and you don’t hear from them, they don’t need your assistance until they wake up in the morning, which would be after 6:00 AM. That’s my definition, my personal goal and target. When I say I want to help a baby to be sleeping through the night, that’s what I’m setting my sights on.
We should also acknowledge the fact that we actually do all wake in the night so that won’t just be solid sleep. Not for you, not for baby, not for any living human being. We all have little wake-ups in the night. Sometimes they are micro wakings, we barely even know they’ve happened to us. We just settle back off into the next sleep cycle. Other times they’re more vivid or you fully wake up or you go to the bathroom or you shift your pillow. But for babies and young children, before they’ve developed the ability to put themselves to sleep and to put themselves back to sleep, which is a learned skill, it comes with practice. But before they have that, when they wake, they will cry and their cry is just a simple means of them saying, “I’m awake, come and help me. I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do here.” And they’re looking for your assistance.
Completely understandable, but it takes our time and practice and strategies to help them to get better and better at that. Just like we help them with learning to ride a bike or learning to use the bathroom or learning anything, we will help and show them until they’ve mastered it. And it’s the same with settling and resettling to sleep. So you can make a difference to this. It definitely lies with you. Will your baby eventually learn to just sleep on their own? Yes. But it might take seven or eight years in some cases and I’m not exaggerating. It might. They might get it within two years. Maybe you’ll be lucky. But if you take a conscious approach to helping them, to paving the way, accommodating their sleep as best you can, it’s going to stand them in a much better stead to get to the best of their abilities sooner.
You can make a difference. It’s not about preventing your baby from waking in the night. It’s about how you respond when they wake in the night. And how you respond to a newborn is going to be very different to how you respond to a two year old, it’s of course going to be different. And right now we are talking mainly about new babies and newborns, because we are talking about when can I expect them to be doing better and sleeping better? If you’re looking for strategies for older babies and toddlers and beyond, there are other blog posts and I also have YouTube videos that cover that.
For those of you with newborns and new babies, you are in the early weeks, you’re in those first couple of months and you’re thinking, “When are they going to sleep longer?”
It will depend upon their capacity to sustain their food. So they’ve had enough milk and they are not hungry for more than sort of four hours, because early on, they will be hungry between every two and four hours. But once they can sustain themselves for a bit longer and they don’t need milk, that will be one factor. And that’s going to depend on birth weight and efficiency of feeding. There’s going to be loads of factors that affect that part. And then when they have wake-ups anyway, because not every wake-up is hunger. So your baby might wake up not because they’re hungry. Maybe you just fed them and you’re like, “Oh no, they’re awake again and they’re crying. What is it?”It could be discomfort, could be digestion, could just be a waking. They’re just awake going, “Okay, I’ve finished that sleep cycle. How do I get into the next one?”
This is where they need you to come and reassure them and help them along a little bit. Learning what those wake-ups mean and the response that you need to bring is key. If you just, every single time, go and give them milk and rock them back off to sleep, they’re going to keep waking up really, really frequently and become reliant on that to put them back to sleep.
If you can start to distinguish, “Okay, this is hunger. I’m going to feed my baby.” “Okay. This can’t be hunger. Let’s try a little winding. Oh yes, it was wind. Now we are good. Okay. We can settle back off.” If it’s just, “Oh, I can’t get to sleep.” It’s really hard. It is really hard. And the longer you go through the night, the closer you get to morning time, the more difficult it is for a baby to fall back to sleep, because they’ve banked up quite a bit. It’s not easy.
They’re not just going to zonk out now because they’re shattered. They’re actually going to have to really work at it and that’s hard. So they need more help from you and soothing and reassurance is all fine. It’s all helpful. But just try and take a level of awareness, just be self-aware of, “How much am I helping them to do it and how much am I actually doing it for my baby?”
Don’t get me wrong, you’re going to do it for your baby. For a newborn baby, you’re going to rock them to sleep, you’re going to feed them to sleep, you’re going to probably do all the things, but just being aware of how much you are doing and how much they’re doing. And when you spot the opportunity of, “Okay, baby’s not fully asleep, but we are nice and calm, I’m just going to try and put them down and just finish off the soothing, maybe some little pats or little gentle strokes in the sleep space rather than on me.” That tiny little exposure to having that little bit of time laying in their sleep space will benefit them no end. That little bit of practice will go a long way. It will soon pay off if you keep that going.
In those early few months, it really is a lot about just awareness from you, awareness of how much you are doing and awareness of little opportunities you can give them just to have that practice and sensation and maybe they’ll get so far and then they’ll need another cuddle or they’ll need another little reset and a bit of soothing. And then they can try again. We are not expecting them to be self-settling or sleeping through, but we can just give them these little micro exposures to practice that in a few months time, you are going to see the fruits of your labor.
So enjoy practicing with your new baby and I wish you all the best sleep-filled nights.
Take care, sleep well and if you want help with getting a good night’s sleep why not book a FREE Sleep Discovery Call today.