Jennifer Gowans of Rested Development, gives her insight on sleep variations and what you might expect in the first year.
“When will my baby sleep through the night?”, is probably one of the most common questions that new parents have! And my answer is always the same: “it depends.”
Sleeping through the night (STTN) can sometimes cause a lot of stress and anxiety for parents for a number of reasons. Whenever this topic comes up, I like to review the basics of baby sleep – most importantly, helping parents set realistic expectations of their child’s sleep needs.
The first thing to note is that, in general, STTN is technically only an uninterrupted stretch of 5 hours. That is a big difference from the perception of 8-10-12 hours that we might be expecting when we think of how long the ‘long stretch’ of sleep should be! Now, that doesn’t mean YOU are doomed to a life of one 5 hour stretch of sleep per night; but there are age appropriate norms that will give you a better idea of how much sleep to expect and when. Lets review age appropriate amounts of nighttime feedings/night wakings.
(I am going to list the norms for breastfeed babies – it is generally true that formula fed babies will sleep slightly longer stretches; so, if you are formula feeding, you can tack on 30-60 mins to the example times below)
0-4 months old: Newborns typically wake every 90mins – 2 hours to nurse. This will be true for nighttime feedings as well. Somewhere around the 8-12 week mark, you might see ONE, 3 or possibly 4 hour stretch.
4-6 months old: This age range will typically nurse every 3-4 hours with one long stretch of 4-6 hours (STTN!), and 2-3 additional nighttime feedings.
6-9 months old: 3-4 hours between nursing (but small solid snacks in between). This is the age where we typically start to see 6-8 hours as the long stretch with only 1-2 night nursing’s
9-12 months old: 4-5 hours between nursings with larger solid intake. Finally…This is the age where we can typically see an 8-10 hour stretch with 1 or no night wakings!
The average ages and times listed above are just that… averages, made up of highs and lows. Just as some adults need more or less sleep – so do babies. I find (although there is no scientific data to prove it), that babies will typically follow their parents sleep patterns. So, you or your partner are ‘more’ or ‘less’ sleepers (or late or early risers), your baby might also have the same tendencies.
Where these averages tend to get tricky is when you factor in ‘habitual’ wakings vs. ‘necessity’ wakings. What will often happen is that baby will be following their ‘typical’ wake/feeding schedule and then hit a sleep regression and revert back to more frequent wake ups and feedings (necessity wakings); after a couple of weeks, baby passes through the regression but keeps the more frequent wake/feeding schedule (habitual wakings). There is no set formula to determine exactly when your baby has moved from Necessity wakings to Habitual wakings, but most regressions only last 1-2 weeks, after which point you will notice that your baby is less interested in the night time feeds and seems to be nursing more for comfort than hunger. This is a big indication that your baby has passed through the regression and you can then use some form of sleep training/coaching to get baby back on track and get those longer stretches of sleep back.
Here are a few tips to help get your baby back on track after a regression or to help promote a ‘long stretch’ of sleep:
- Add 1-2 nursing/solid meals in during the day. The more calories baby gets during the day, the easier it is to drop a nighttime feeding.
- Use a Dream Feed as opposed to waiting for baby to wake on their own (creating/maintaining an habitual wake up)
- Wean one night feeding at a time. Typically, the 2am feeding is the first to come back and the easiest to drop.
- Promote your babies self settling skills (so that they are not relying on you to help them back to sleep). There are many options available to do this.
When it comes to baby sleep, I think the most important aspect is to set realistic expectations of what is considered ‘normal’. Sleeping through the night is a lot fewer hours than most parents realize, so your baby might actually already be STTN - yay! If you are still unsure about age-appropriate norms for your little one, or are looking to change some habitual wakings, I am happy to point you in the right direction!
About the Author:
Jennifer is a Certified Sleep Consultant and owner of Rested Development Sleep Consulting. She works with clients during all stages of parenthood, from pregnancy through to newborn and early childhood. Jennifer completed her sleep training education from the International Maternity and Parenting Institute.
She is educated in a wide range of different sleep training methods and with an in-depth understanding of sleep challenges and solutions, lactation, special needs, emotional well-being, and nutrition for sleep. Within her practice, she examines the entire context for sleep – the physical, emotional, social, developmental and environmental factors – as her primary goal is to assess the family, not just the sleep concerns; and then make adjustments to sleep habits that are responsive to the family’s needs. The end result is that she works together with her clients to initiate the method that best suits the family’s needs. Jennifer works with her clients in a one-on-one setting and she periodically holds group seminars.
In addition to her IMPI certification, Jennifer has also attained her BBA from Acadia University (joint major in Finance and Psychology) and holds accreditations and certificates in areas such as Happiest Baby on the Block Educator, Baby & Toddler Nutrition, Child Psychology, Child Protection and Pediatric First Aid and she is a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants. She is a published author, and a mother to 3 beautifully rambunctious boys.