“I wish I was as tired, as I thought I was, before I had kids,” author unknown.
The fractured nighttime sleep of parenting is tough, and makes Moms frequently ask me ….. “When can my baby sleep through the night?”
As an experienced healthcare practitioner and a sleep consultant with over 7 years of empowering hundreds of parents to teach their ones to sleep… the answer to that big question is…. It depends.
First, let’s talk about what the term “sleeping through the night” means to you.
People have wildly different definitions of what sleeping through the night means. In the newborn stage pop culture often refers to “sleeping through the night” as a 6 hour stretch of sleep without waking up or feeding.
After 4 months of age, there are a few different definitions of “sleeping through the night”
- 11 hours in the crib
- 11 hours in the crib but waking 2x to feed
As a sleep consultant, my definition of sleeping through the night is:
- 11 hours of uninterrupted nighttime sleep without waking or eating
Keep reading and I’ll go over age-related stories.
How much overnight sleep and when?
In my experience, it is less common to see kids sleeping 12 hours at night, and more common to see kiddos sleeping 11 hours at night. Keep in mind that you always want to assess your child’s 24 hours of sleep to assess if your baby is getting enough sleep. There’s a range of nap hours per day that is suggested for kiddos.
For example, at 5 months of age, most kiddos need 15 hours overall to be well-rested. This means 11-12 hours of nighttime sleep and 3-4 hours of daytime naps.
If your child is sleeping 11 hours at night, they are likely closer to 4 hours of naps.
If your child is sleeping 12 hours at night, they are likely closer to 3 hours of naps.
For the average parent, aiming for a schedule of 7 pm to 7 am sets most people up to fail. The average kiddo is an 11-hour sleeper and when you reduce night waking and night feeding a very common pattern to emerge is 7 pm to 6 am. You can download my sleep summary by age chart here to find out how much sleep your baby needs by month of age.
Factors to Consider When Thinking About Moving to Sleeping Through the Night
Does your child have “self-soothing skills”?
If your child relies on you to make her relaxed at bedtime it is unlikely that you’ll be able to get a full 11 hours without waking up in the night and asking for help to fall back asleep. Dreamlandbaby’s weighted wearable blanket can be a helpful tool to help your child feel soothed on waking.
Is your child getting enough daytime nap hours?
If your baby isn’t napping well during the day, this can make her overtired before bedtime which puts her at a greater risk for night waking that aren’t related to eating.
Is your child breastfed or formula-fed?
Breast milk has a slower transit time through the gastrointestinal system than formula does. Meaning that formula fed babies feel full for a longer period in the night than breast fed babies. Moving your poor sleeper to formula will NOT be the thing that helps her sleep better, but it can be the reason a child with self soothing skills is able to sleep through the night sooner than a breast fed baby.
In addition, there is some delayed gratification for kiddos who wake in the night and have to wait for a bottle to be prepared vs a breastfeeding Mom who knows that a quick nurse will get her back to bed in a couple of minutes.
Is Mom working outside of the home and pumping?
Your milk supply is naturally the highest between 1 and 4 am. This is usually the last feed to disappear. It’s also very helpful to keep a pumping Moms supply up. Some parents find themselves debating what is more important to them… keeping that feed to keep the supply up or dropping that feed to get more sleep. Every parent has their own journey.
Nursing habits and milk constitution
I’ve worked with hundreds of breastfeeding Moms over the years, I also sit on the Board of the Mothers Milk Bank of San Jose. A chiropractor by training I understand the anatomy and physiology of breastfeeding. I have found that there is a big range of when EBFs sleep through the night 11 hours without eating.
I’ve seen as early as 4 months of age but generally, most kids by 10 months of age are no longer eating during the night.
It is rare for me to come across a 4-month old that doesn’t eat over 11-12 hours. The cases that I have seen Mom has very fatty milk or large storage capacity. In the particular case, I remember Mom would nurse every 3-4 hours during the day but those nursing sessions lasted 30-40 of full-on eating. So that baby was consuming all her oz during the daytime. Many formula-fed babies can often sleep through the night at 4 months.
More commonly, I see 8 and 9-month-old EBFs sleeping through the night once they have 3 meals and 2 snacks well established and nursing roughly every 4 hours during the daytime. This is very average and achievable.
Is it hunger that is waking my baby in the night?
Some general guidelines to help you manage your expectations for babies who are gaining weight and growing well:
- Most babies less than 5 months wake up in the night to eat 1-2 times.
- By 5 months many formula-fed kiddos are sleeping 11 hours without eating as long as they are getting 25 to 30 oz during the day.
- By 5 months, most EBFs who eat every 3-4 hours in the daytime are eating 1x time in the night. Some are not eating at all in the night.
- The average 6-9-month-old EBF is eating 1 x in the night over 11 hours.
- The average 6-9-month-old formula-fed baby is sleeping through the night.
- By 10 months of age, most EBFs and all formula-fed kiddos are not eating in the night.
- If your baby is eating or waking more than these general guidelines, it is likely she is using eating as a way of relaxing back into sleep.
All Humans Wake in the Night
All humans wake in the night. These are called “arousals”. You and I wake up, check the time, change positions and go back to sleep. Our kiddos do the same thing. However, those kids that are reliant on parental intervention to make them drowsy or fall asleep at bedtime need that same feeling to fall back asleep.
The drive to sleep is biological, but the way we sleep is learned. This is true for all humans. If your baby relies on you to fall asleep at bedtime, or even just be made “drowsy” but awake, it’s very common that she surfaces in the night and calls for you to recreate that scenario. And there is nothing wrong with that as long as it’s working for you and your family.
Personally, I found being woken up every 2 hours with my son so he could nurse back to sleep to be exhausting for us, and this led me down the path of researching sleep and sleep habits. My EBF daughter woke up 1 x from 5 months to 9 months to eat and that didn’t phase me at all. We all have different thresholds on how much sleep we need and how we deal with sleep deprivation. There is no wrong or right way to raise your baby but I want you to remember that you and your baby are a unit that needs to be in synch. You are an important person too!
If you are wondering if your baby is getting enough sleep for their age and want a few simple tips on timing, come take my personalized sleep quiz where I’ll provide you with feedback on what seems to be working for you and what might be possible for you in regards to your little one’s sleep.
You can take the quiz here: www.helpingbabiessleep.com/sleep-quiz.
Dr. Sarah Mitchell is a chiropractor by training but found her true passion for empowering parents to teach their little ones to sleep when her own son wouldn’t sleep. As a sleep consultant, Dr. Mitchell has educated and coached hundreds of parents to develop parenting skills to get more sleep but also manage sleep as the months pass. Dr. Mitchell offers home visits, virtual consultations and online sleep classes for babies and toddlers 0 to 3.5 years of age. She believes that you can be loving, attached and well-rested. You can find her at www.helpingbabiessleep.com where she’s been blogging and teaching about sleep since 2013.