From the day you bring your little one home, every aspect of life as you know it will change. This can be said especially for your sleep routine for the first few months. However, the sooner you get your baby into a sleep schedule, the sooner you can have a full night’s sleep for yourself. How do we define sleeping through the night? Where a baby is sleeping six to eight hours straight with no waking’s overnight.
The amount of sleep a baby needs will depend on their age and other elements such as how long they nap through the day. Newborn babies, for example, won’t sleep through the night as they will feed throughout the night. You will find that a newborn baby sleeps for between two and four hours, sometimes less. As they develop, babies can sleep for longer at once. By 2 to 3 months old you’ll find they may be sleeping between four and six hours. Nonetheless, they will still likely have two feeds through the night.
From four to six months, your baby can transition closer to seven or eight hours sleep ‘through the night’. Although, it’s worth bearing in mind that if your baby goes to sleep at 8 pm, eight hours is only up to 4 am which is still the middle of the night for you!
Babies, like adults, will wake up or stir through the night. If you rush in at the first sigh or whimper, you will likely disrupt your baby more and stop them from being able to fall back to sleep. Allow them time to settle themselves back to sleep before you intervene. If by 6 months old, your baby is unable to self soothe, then you may wish to consider looking at the overall sleep picture and identify any sleep issues or challenges that you may be experiencing and work on them. This can be referred to as sleep training, however, I much prefer sleep shaping, sleep learning or moulding sleep. Most often babies are not born with the skill of sleeping and need their parents to lead them on a path to natural sleep habits.
By establishing a bedtime routine, and sticking to it, babies start to learn what’s coming next, the bedtime cues. A warm bath can help calm and soothe a baby, followed by a full feed. I recommend that this last feed of the day is approx. 45 mins before bedtime in a brightly lit living space not associated with sleep. About 20 mins prior to bedtime go to your little ones sleep environment, pull the blinds and curtains & dim the lights. These again will become bedtime cues. Read two age-appropriate books to them and change their nappy. Bedtime routines can be comforting and signal bedtime. It can be challenging to stick to a routine when members of your household have a different sleep schedule, but consistency is critical.
Related Article: Ideal Baby Bedtime Routine
Experts, including the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), recommend that babies start by sleeping in a room with their parents until they’re at least six months old. To start with having them beside your bed is helpful and necessary for overnight feeding, comfort and safety. However, as they grow and develop moving their sleep environment a little away from your bed may result in them sleeping longer stretches and you hear less of the mooching that we all do in our sleep. When you are ready you then may have the confidence and feel comfortable in your little one sleeping in their own room.
By making sure your little one is having all their day time nutritional needs meet in the day it is less likely that they will feed excessively through the night. This may bring the outcome of your little one sleeping through as they are less likely to require overnight feeding.
Start by creating a structure around feeding that respects what is recommended for their age range. For example, the typical 6 month old will require 4 full milk feeds in the day and will be starting on their weaning to solids journey.
You will find that breastfed babies may have different schedules as breast milk digests quicker, leading to your breastfed little one being hungry more often. This may result in breastfed babies requiring feeding at night for a longer period than a typical bottle-fed baby.
If you are ready to move away from overnight feeding and you feel that your little one is too then reducing down feeds can be a route to take. Start by reducing by an ounce every 3 nights if a bottle-fed baby of by minutes if a breastfed baby.
Eventually, your baby will get used to less and less each feed and eventually stop expecting to be fed through the night. If your baby continues to wake during the night despite taking this route then having a plan to help them with resettling would be advisable. My Sleep Series programs can help you with establishing such a plan. Before you start trying to wean away from night-time feedings consult with your family doctor or public health nurse.
Often the introduction of a dream feed can assist with the night time weaning process. Wake your baby before you go to bed for one last feed. Remember to wake them up just enough so that they’re not entirely asleep and never feed them fully lying down. They will generally take a really good full feed and easily get their wind up as they are so sleepy. Only change their nappy if you feel it is necessary and I recommend that you do this at the beginning of their feed. Once they have finished their feed then you can return them to their sleep environment.
Related Article: Dream Feeds – Should I be using them?
While it’s important to learn how best to get your baby sleeping through the night, it’s also critical that you keep in mind there are some factors entirely out of your hands that may keep your baby awake. These include the following.
While you’re busy plotting a baby sleep schedule and bedtime routine, your baby is busy growing and developing. Teething will often keep your baby awake through the night, most likely crying, as early as 2 to 3 months before you even see a tooth. Furthermore, developmental leaps happen as your child grows and develops. These are linked to big progressions in your child and may result in regressions around sleep at night.
Furthermore, sickness such as colds can disrupt your baby’s sleep habits temporarily, but once they’re feeling better, they should be able to get back to sleep for longer through the night.
Related Article: Dealing with Sickness & Sleep
Even the best sleepy baby will likely experience sleep regression around 4 months. The dreaded 4 month sleep regression. This is a huge progression for your child as it is the formation of circadian rhythms that govern our wake-sleep cycles. Try not to feel too frustrated, even if it feels like you’ve only just cracked some sort of routine and thought your little one was becoming a good sleeper, you can get it back. Keep in mind all the points in this article and you will be able to recover more settled sleep.
From very early on, it’s essential that you prepare a suitable sleep environment for your baby. That’s not to say you should be avoiding all loud noises as it can be useful to get your baby used to these, and sometimes repetitive sounds will help them get to sleep. However, the right temperature and a dark room are of the utmost importance in getting your baby to sleep well.
It’s also essential to develop good sleep habits from an early age, such as trying to avoid sleeping in arms, feeding to sleep or motion to sleep. Not only will this help your baby, and you as parents, avoid sleep problems, it will hopefully reduce the possibility of separation anxiety and increase the chances of them being able to fall asleep more independently.
If getting your baby to sleep is proving difficult, then you may wish to consider using some techniques around sleep shaping, learning or moulding. There are many many techniques out there that parents can adopt. Everything from low to high parental involvement. My top tips here are to respect your parenting style, do what feels okay to you and be consistent.
Sleep needs to be taken as a big picture and not just centred on nights. By understanding what day time sleep structure is supportive of your child’s overall sleep picture you are more likely to have overnight sleep success. A rested baby is a restored one and more likely to sleep well at night.
My Sleep Series programs have been designed around my 7 Steps to Better Sleep and have proven very successful in helping parents achieve their family sleep goals.
Related Article: What does a Sleep Consultant do?
Although it can be hard not to compare to your friends, or even your own, experiences, and the internet is full of information, you must remember that every baby is different. There are scientifically recommendations around sleep that I would advise you to make yourself familiar with. Like, that melatonin (the sleepy hormone) needs darkness to help us get to sleep and stay asleep. You are going to get lots of tips and tricks on ways of doing things from friends, family, well-wishers and the internet which can influence your decisions. But at the end of the day, you’ll know what’s best for your baby and for you.
Every family is different so respecting each other’s parenting journey is very important.
Erica Hargaden is a certified child sleep consultant and mother of 3. Through her private practise Babogue she works with families one to one and is the creator of an online sleep program called the Sleep Series. To learn more check out @babogue_sleep, www.babogue.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org