First, what does “sleeping through the night” mean? It is commonly understood that with this expression, we refer to a baby sleeping for five to six hours straight, without the need to be fed or crying for more than 5 minutes.
Note that it is also essential for parents to get at least five hours of uninterrupted sleep in order to treat and potentially lower the risk of postpartum depression, something one of seven mothers suffers from.
Should you be wondering if your little one could be sleeping through the night, there is one thing you need to understand: there is a difference between the event in which babies can sleep through the night and when babies actually do sleep through the night.
When can babies sleep through the night?
Newborns sleep a lot (up to 18 hours a day), but they only sleep in short intervals. They usually wake up every two or three hours to be fed. A newborn’s body clock needs time to get adjusted to the outside world before being able to sleep five to six hours without waking up. Babies have to settle their biological rhythm to get their body to properly regulate the temperature, hormone secretion, and the feeding cycle.
Before your baby can sleep through the night, she (or he) has to have bypassed several physical and cognitive milestones:
- The Moro Reflex has decreased or stopped.
- The day/night confusion has disappeared.
- She is gaining weight at a healthy rate.
- Night feedings have started to decrease.
- She is learning to self soothe (by sucking on her fingers, with a pacifier or a teddy bear).
When do babies usually sleep through the night?
During the so-called 4th trimester (i.e. the three first months of life), your baby’s sleep patterns are rather unpredictable. That is completely normal. Although you can introduce good sleep habits during that time, it is more important to focus on loving and caring for your little one.
Always trust your parental instinct. If you hear your child crying, she probably wants to send you a clear message (she is hungry, bored or tired). So, do whatever you need to soothe her and make sure she is getting all the food and sleep needed.
Ignoring that your baby is screaming, crying and turning 50 shades of purple to avoid the habit of being spoiled and cuddled to sleep can be harmful. Since it is strongly advised not to let a baby cry unattended for long periods, take your child in your arms if needed. The faster you meet your baby’s needs, the sooner your baby calms down and falls asleep. During these first three months, don’t worry about spoiling her or creating bad habits. There is no use in training your baby, just respond to her needs.
Each baby is different because of characteristics such as temperament, health, family dynamics, and sleep environment. This means that babies usually have longer stretches of nighttime and can sleep just about anywhere between 10 weeks to six months.
Around two months (eight weeks), only one in four babies are “good sleepers”, meaning they sleep at least five or six hours without interruption between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m. At four months, this number triples to reach approximately 75%. According to the National Sleep Foundation, by six months of age, nighttime feedings are usually not necessary and many infants sleep through the night. 70% to 80% will do so by nine months of age.
When your baby is around 18 weeks old (adjusted age), more regular sleep patterns emerge, which means sleeping through the night is getting closer for her (and for the whole family)! If by the time your child is four months old she does not sleep through the night, you could start sleep training (read: What is the best sleep-training method?).
Even if your child has started sleeping through the night, beware of sleep regressions! Babies going through growth spurts (around one to three weeks, six to eight weeks, three and six months), sometimes need to be fed at night for two or three days in a row.
If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night by nine months, talk to your pediatrician to determine if there is a root cause (e.g. GERD or sleep apnea). Should this latter consider that your child can sleep through the night or if you would like to get more information on how to improve the quality and quantity of your child’s sleep, schedule your first consultation now! It is a free and non-binding offer.