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When Will my Baby Sleep Through the Night?

When Will my Baby Sleep Through the Night?

Aaaaaaaahhhhh........ the six million dollar question!

The age that babies should sleep through the night varies and the answer depends a huge amount on which book you read!

Some really strict routine books will tell you that your baby will sleep through at 6 weeks if you do all the right things. Other authors consider that completely unrealistic and inappropriate, saying babies need feeding in the night as long as they continue to wake up and cry for you, which could be years.....

From our personal experience, our research and our work with The Sleep Store, we believe there is some middle ground - yay!

When will my baby sleep through?

We believe there are many ways you can gently encourage your baby to sleep through the night by 3-6 months, including swaddling and a simple daytime routine (see below). For other babies it may take another month or two, but a lot of babies can physically go from 10pm to 6am without another night feed by 4-5 months. This doesn't mean babies will naturally start to sleep through the night....or that they wouldn't love you to keep feeding them every time they wake.

By 5 months the main factor that determines if your baby sleeps through is how you settle your baby at bedtime - if you help your baby get to sleep at bedtime, they will need your help to get back to sleep when they stir or wake in the night. Click here for more information on teaching babies over 4 months to sleep through the night.

The following information covers the most common questions we get about how to help your 0 - 4 month old baby sleep through the night:

What does 'sleeping through' mean?

We consider 'sleeping through the night' to mean a decent night's sleep for mum and dad! So that means sleeping from about 10pm to 6am........however you will have put your baby down to sleep at about 7pm and do a feed at 10pm before you go to bed.

Some books consider 'sleeping through' to mean 5 hours sleep - but that's not a full night sleep for anyone!!!

When can I drop the 10pm feed?

Many babies right up to about 9 months old will struggle to sleep through from 7pm until morning without getting hungry by 4-5am. So we recommend doing a feed at about 10pm to ensure your baby has a full tummy to last until morning.

If your baby is over 10 weeks old, we recommend you try this feed as a 'dreamfeed'. This means feeding your baby while they are asleep. This can help baby remain in a deeper sleep and it anticipates the feed before your baby wakes crying for it! It also means your baby doesn't rely on the feed to fall back to sleep. Click here for more info on dream-feeding.

Once your baby is sleeping through the night, you can gradually bring the time of the dreamfeed earlier...say by 10 mins each night. If she carries on sleeping through, you can then drop the 10pm feed.

How do I get rid of the middle of the night feed, eg 2 - 4am?

If your baby is over 8 weeks and you are keen to encourage her to do a longer stretch through the night, start working on gradually moving back the time of the middle of the night feed towards morning.

Most babies don't drop the middle of the night feed in one go. It usually moves from 2am, to 3am..... until one morning you wake up at 6am and realise with a fright you haven't heard your baby in the night. And yes you will then rush in and check she is OK!!!

You will only know if your baby can do without this feed if you see what happens if you don't feed her immediately when she wakes up crying. If you can gradually delay the feed a little each day, your baby will start to learn to go longer between the 10pm feed and the next one.

You can try settling your baby in the night using some other technique(s). If she goes back to sleep with one of the other techniques, she probably didn't need a feed right then and can go longer between feeds.

A hungry baby will not be settled by anything other than feeding, but don't worry that delaying a feed slightly will starve your baby!! She will make sure she is fed if she is really hungry.

Other night-time settling techniques:

  • Swaddling - make sure your baby stays firmly wrapped all night, which means she is less likely to wake up and far easier to resettle. The Miracle Blanket is brilliant for this.

  • Playing white noise on repeat all night or playing it when baby wakes. We recommend 'Baby's First White Noise' CD on repeat all night.

  • Ssssssshhhhhhing loudly about 15 cm from your baby's ear.

  • Pick her up for a cuddle and try some jiggling movements or rocking.

  • Pop in her dummy.

  • Patting either on her tummy or roll her onto her side and pat (put her on her back to sleep!)

Once your baby is calm, go back to bed and see what happens. She may even cry for a few minutes and then resettle back to sleep.

If your baby wakes again after about 30-60 mins, then it's probably time for a feed! But even 30 minutes extra sleep at a time gradually teaches your baby she can go longer before she needs her feed and she is starting to learn to sleep through the night.

Does swaddling help babies sleep through the night?

YES!!!!!!! Firm swaddling that stays wrapped all night is one of the key tools you have to encourage your baby to sleep through the night.

You need to ensure it does stay wrapped - check our instructions or use an effective wrap such as our Miracle Blanket.

Swaddling reminds babies of the snug space they spent 9 months in and also means their startle reflex doesn't wake them at the end of each sleep cycle. It also keeps babies warm and secure, both of which are necessary for decent sleep.

So if you're not wrapping your baby, we strongly recommend you give it a try!

Where should my baby sleep?

Another one of those tricky questions! Plunket recommends your baby sleeps in your own room for 6 months, as this slightly reduces the risk of SIDS.

But many babies sleep through the night much sooner if they are in their own room, as they have more opportunity to resettle (as you don't spring up as soon as you hear a snuffle!!). Babies and parents often wake each other up in the same room and mums tend to be 'on alert' waiting for any noise that means she needs to get up to baby.

If you choose to have your baby in her own room, you could delay the move until baby is over 4 months, as that is when SIDS risk is far lower. And check you have covered off all the other SIDS risk factors too, e.g. no smoking near baby, no loose bedding, no over-heating, and BABY SLEEPS ON HER BACK!!!!!

Using a movement monitor such as the Angelcare Monitor is a good idea for babies sleeping in their own room who are still within the 2-4 month SIDS risk age group.

I feel bad if I don't feed my baby as soon as she wakes in the night!

The main thing about encouraging your baby to sleep through the night is to do it when you are both ready! There is absolutely no right or wrong answer or any right time that your baby SHOULD be sleeping through. Different things work for different mums and babies, and you need to do what is right for you!

Never mind what the rest of your coffee group is doing or how long they say their babies are sleeping for...much of it might be exaggeration and remember some people think 5 hours is 'sleeping through the night'.

The age of your baby, how well she is gaining weight and feeding in the day are of course major factors in how soon you can encourage some longer stretches between feeds in the night.

However you do have every right to want sufficient sleep when your baby is physically capable of sleeping through without a feed. This doesn't make you a terrible mother or not be meeting your baby's 'attachment needs' or whatever else you may read.

A well-rested mother is far better equipped to cope with the stresses and exhaustion of life with a baby, toddler or both! In fact much post natal depression is resolved as soon as the BABY is sleeping better, as mum is no longer sleep deprived.

And a well-rested baby will be far happier and less fussy during the day, and better able to cope with all the development happening in their little body.

So do what's right for you and your child, and feel good about your decisions!

Should I give my baby a bottle of formula (or starts solids) to get her sleeping through?

Hhhhhmmmmmmmmm......another one of those tricky questions and one that people seem to feel very strongly about!

We believe it's absolutely unnecessary to introduce formula or solids to help your baby sleep through the night. Breastfeeding is completely sufficient for your baby right up to 6 months old and formula should only be used if you can't breast feed, choose not to for whatever reason or need to supplement your breastfeeding for supply reasons.

If you feel your baby is really hungry and not getting enough breast milk, have a chat with your Plunket nurse or midwife about this. Most often it is because mums are not looking after themselves! Breastfeeding is a big job and your body requires a lot of extra protein and liquid to make all that milk. So make sure you are eating properly and drinking lots of water.

Also check you are resting daily and not rushing round all day! If you are often out and about, rushing about to meet people and go shopping......your milk supply may suffer in the late afternoon and early evening. This is the time to SLOW DOWN, take it easy on yourself and let your body make lots of lovely milk to sustain your baby through the night.

You could try expressing a bottle of breast milk in the morning to offer your baby after your bedtime feed. That way you will see if she is still hungry and this also might be an indicator you need to take care of yourself more in the late afternoon! Sometimes it's the extra volume of milk that makes the difference to a hungry baby, rather than baby being given formula.

Formula itself is not what makes the difference to a baby sleeping through. What your baby needs is regular, quality feeds that fills your baby's tummy. Breast milk can absolutely provide this.......provided you give your body the opportunity and fuel it needs!!!!!

Does my baby need to be in a routine to sleep through the night?

Many babies can sleep through the night without being in a routine, but using one will certainly help your baby sleep through sooner and make life easier for you!

For babies up to 4 months we recommend using the feed/awake time/sleep routine (or EASY as it's called in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer). This simple routine gives your day a gentle rhythm and also helps your baby fall asleep without relying on feeding to get to sleep.

Using feed/awake time/sleep also helps you know why your baby is crying during the day and makes spotting tired signs much easier.

Does my baby need to be able to self settle to sleep through the night?

For babies up to 4-5 months, they may be helped to sleep, such as being fed or rocked to sleep, and still sleep right through the night.

However after 4-5 months, babies who are helped to sleep (either feeding, rocking, patting etc etc) will come to need that same help to resettle at the end of each sleep cycle in the night. So that means your baby will start to wake every couple of hours and need your help to get back to sleep.

Babies over 4-5 months who use a dummy will need to learn to put the dummy back in for themselves, or they will constantly want mum or dad to do it for them.

So we recommend using whatever techniques work for you and your baby for the first couple of months - just get used to each other and get what sleep you can! Then start to gradually work on teaching your baby to fall asleep without needing any help, so she learns the skills to resettle herself in the night.....which is essential for babies to CONTINUE sleeping through the night after about 5 months old.

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