Having your baby sleep through the night is an anticipated parental milestone. New parents often wonder “when will my baby sleep through the night?”. You may feel behind if you have friends whose little ones started sleeping through the night at 3 or 4 months of age, while you are no where close to getting a full night’s sleep.
Fun fact: Most of us consider sleeping through the night as a baby going 12 hours without a feeding. Many scientific studies consider it to be a baby going only 5-8 hours without a feeding.
When will my baby sleep through the night?
Babies are born with no concept of day or night as we understand them. They have indiscriminate periods of wakefulness and sleep…and it often feels like they prefer their awake periods to be in the middle of the night! Fortunately this stage is short lived and infants begin to consolidate their night sleep around 6-8 weeks of age, meaning their longest period of sleep will move to the nighttime.
Newborns often wake to feed every 2-3 hours, and if still sleeping are woken by their parents. Once you get the all clear from your pediatrician, you can stop waking baby to eat and let baby wake on his own. Some infants are ready to sleep 6-8 hour stretches at 2-3 months of age, with some even sleeping the coveted 12 hours at 3-4 months or age. However, many babies are not ready for this long 8-12 hour stretch until 5-9 months of age and sometimes even a bit older.
So, don’t be discouraged if your friend’s 3 month old is snoozing from 10 pm to 6 am while your little love is still eating twice during the night. Remember for there to be an average, there has to be someone on the quicker side of the curve and someone on the longer side of the curve.
How can I help my baby sleep through the night?
There are several things you can do to encourage your little one to sleep longer stretches at night. Perhaps the most important is to keep baby well rested and make sure he is not generally overtired. Overtiredness tends to result in increased night wakings and also an earlier morning wake-up. Also, regardless of if baby shares a bedroom with you or has his own room, make sure the space is conducive to a good night’s sleep.
From the beginning, let baby start to hone his self-soothing skills as these are the skills needed for him to fall asleep and return to sleep on his own. I recommend putting him down drowsy but awake at least once a day by 4 weeks of age – you may be surprised to find he falls asleep on his own in just a couple of minutes! A key to this working is to make sure baby’s wake times are not too long. If he doesn’t soothe to sleep it is okay to help him at this young age, but it is important to let him practice and improve his skills.
Start practicing self-soothing from the beginning
Another important thing to do from the beginning is to be careful about what sleep associations you allow to develop. If your baby falls asleep to a lullaby CD every nap and bedtime, your baby will soon need that CD to be play each time he wakes during the night. We all have brief, slight wake-ups during the night and if conditions are markedly different than when we fell asleep, we wake fully to assess the situation.
This means that while it is certainly okay for your newborn to fall asleep while nursing or rocking, you don’t want to make a habit of soothing him to sleep the same exact way every time, especially past 8 weeks of age.
By 3 to 4 months of age, you want to move baby’s bedtime earlier until it hits your ultimate goal (hint: this should be no later than 8 pm, ideally around 7 pm). It is likely that he will still wake to feed at this age, but his body’s circadian rhythm is maturing and biologically he is ready for this earlier bedtime instead of the 10 to 11 pm bedtime he likely had as a newborn.
Will I need to sleep train my baby?
There is no one answer to the question “when will my baby sleep through the night?”. Outside of the developmentally normal 1-2 feedings per night, the most common reason for babies to wake up multiple additional times is due to sleep associations that require parental assistance. By working to form healthy sleep habits from the beginning you can minimize and sometimes even prevent the need for sleep training in the future. This can be a slow process and don’t be discouraged if your newborn requires a good deal of soothing to fall asleep. While some babies are naturally great independent sleepers, many take time to develop this skill.
That said, even if your baby has major parent-related sleep associations it is possible to wean him from those associations and get him self-soothing to sleep. I am happy to help if you need step by step guidance.
Starting at 4 months past your baby’s due date you may sleep train if you wish. There are a variety of methods ranging from cry-it-out to so-called “no cry” methods (hint: there is no true guaranteed tear free method of sleep training). Sleep training methods are not one size fits all and the method used should be chosen based on the infant’s temperament, parental preference, and family dynamics. Before trying to drop all night feeds, it is a good idea to clear this with your child’s pediatrician. Also, remember that just like it is important to let baby sleep when baby is tired, it is important to feed baby when baby is hungry. There is no shame in having a baby who takes longer than some to drop his last night feeding.
Will my baby always sleep through the night?
There will be ups and downs with your child’s sleep. Developmental milestones, illness, travel, and social changes are frequent disruptors of sleep. Typically these things will just be temporary glitches and children with strong independent sleep skills will quickly return to their former sleep self.
As your child starts to sleep longer stretches at night, remember to get yourself to bed at a decent time as well. As parents, we need their sleep just like our little ones!