The Crying Question – When Do Babies Sleep Through The Night?

When Do Babies Sleep Through The Night? This Mother Wants To Know

If there’s one question any new parent is certain to ask within a few weeks, it is: When do babies sleep through the night? If you are like me, you ask this out of desperation, because you have realized it is going to be a long time before you get a decent night’s sleep. However, it’s a question to which there is no easy answer.

Sleeping Through the Night — What Does it Mean?

For one thing, it’s not always clear what is meant by “sleeping through the night,” especially where babies are concerned. For some people, it means 8 hours’ continuous sleep without waking, probably because this is what most of us regard as a proper night’s sleep. Others define it as 11-12 hours without interruption, because this is the number of hours most babies need.

However, there is a medical definition of sleeping through the night. In medical terms, a baby is sleeping through when he sleeps for 5 hours, from midnight till 5 a.m. — so if your baby is sleeping 5 hours, technically he is already sleeping through. But you probably can’t function on just 5 hours a night, so what you really want to know is: when will my baby start giving me a full night’s sleep?

All Babies are Different

The second reason this question is a hard one to answer is that, like the rest of us, all babies are individuals. They are all different sizes and weights, and have their own genetic makeup and their own temperament, so they will all have their own timetables for sleeping through. Just as all adults differ in the amount of sleep they need, and whether they are light or heavy sleepers, so do all babies.

How Baby Sleeps

Of course, I know this isn’t very helpful if you’re a new parent. You want to know when you personally can expect to start getting a reasonable night’s sleep. First, you first need to understand about your baby’s sleeping patterns.

It is important to remember that your baby arrives with no concept of day or night. As we go through life we develop a body-clock, or circadian rhythms, which tell us that night is for sleeping, and day is for being awake and doing things. Your new baby hasn’t yet developed this body-clock, and in fact his wide-awake time is more likely to be during the night than during the day, so don’t expect him to know instinctively that night is for sleeping!

Feeding Needs

For young babies, sleeping patterns are dictated more by their feeding requirements than by whether it is night or day. These patterns develop as the baby grows. If you understand your baby’s feeding needs, you have a clue about how he will sleep.

Feeding Need 1 In the first few weeks, your baby’s need to eat outweighs his need to sleep. He has a very tiny stomach, so he needs to feed frequently — if you are breastfeeding, he needs to be fed 8-12 times in 24 hours, slightly fewer for bottle feeding. So he will certainly wake up every two or three hours during his first two or three months — if he sleeps the whole night, he probably won’t get enough nourishment.

Feeding Need 2 By the age of 3-4 months, some babies, though not all, start sleeping for a stretch of 5 hours without feeding. Breastfed babies still need to feed 2-3 times during the 12 hours, but many can make it for at least one 5-hour stretch. Bottle-fed babies may need fewer feeds.

Feeding Need 3 Babies of 5-6 months old need at least one, and usually two, feeds during a 12-hour night. Some babies at this age may start to sleep for an 8-hour stretch on some nights, though not every night. Most babies of this age can make it for a 5-hour stretch.

Feeding Need 4 From the metabolism point of view, a baby who has reached 11 pounds in weight doesn’t need a night-time feed. They usually reach this weight at around 4 months. However, your baby may still wake up and demand to be fed, because he is bored or is accustomed to his bit of attention in the middle of the night.

Later Disruptions

Bear in mind that all these are averages, so don’t worry if your own baby doesn’t conform. You should certainly be able to expect a good few unbroken nights by the time your baby is 8-9 months old. However, the problem is that once your baby gets to this age, other things can disrupt the pattern.

Disruption 1 A baby who has been sleeping for good stretches at night will start waking more frequently when he starts teething.

Disruption 2 When babies reach some developmental milestones, such as crawling, they often find this such fun that they prefer to practice their skills during the night, rather than sleeping.

Disruption 3 Older babies often start experiencing separation anxiety, and may cry in the middle of the night just to get the reassurance that you are still around.

Ways to Maximize your Sleep

In view of these facts, your next question may be: Is there anything I can do to help my baby sleep through the night sooner? There are a few tricks you can try.

Trick 1 Start a bedtime routine — bath, story, songs — and make it consistent. This gives him the message that night-time is sleep-time.

Trick 2 When your baby gets to 11 pounds, start to lengthen the time between feeds — try adding half an hour every few nights. At this stage, he is probably demanding feeds from habit rather than hunger.

Trick 3 When baby wakes and cries, try leaving him alone for a while to see what happens. He may drop off to sleep again without your help. Once he learns that crying in the night doesn’t automatically result in a feed, he may do it less often.

Trick 4 Some people find playing soothing music works. You can get special tapes and MP3s made to help babies sleep. You can also get tapes and MP3s of “white noise,” like the sound of a hairdryer, which masks other sounds.

Above all, try to hold on to your perspective. You may find it hard to believe, when you are feeling like a zombie from sleep deprivation, but your baby will eventually learn to sleep through. The timetable for sleeping through the night is different for every baby — but there is definitely an end to your interrupted sleep.

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