When will baby “sleep through the night”?

Every new parent craves more sleep! Adjusting to the needs of a newborn’s 24/7 care requirements is a huge adjustment which is necessary, and fortunately mothers are hormonally super-charged to nurture their infants day and night.  As parents pass through the haze of early parenting, most wonder how long it will be before baby “sleeps through the night” and seek ideas about how to enable this as soon as possible.  This is frequently the subject of conversations among parents who all have their own ideas about what worked for them, what is “normal” and what “should” be happening.

New Baby 101 guides parents through the steep learning curve encountered during baby’s first three months. Things generally settle somewhat around the fourth month as parents have become the experts about their own baby’s individual needs, and have also identified and built their local support networks.

Here is an excerpt from New Baby 101 – “Bedtime”  “Expectations regarding baby’s sleep can be the source of great anxiety for parents if they believe their baby is not sleeping ’well’ or ‘enough’.  Understanding how variable baby’s sleep patterns are from baby to baby, and from week to week according to individual feeding, growth and developmental stages can relieve parents’ concerns, and free them to ‘go with the flow’ of their baby’s individual needs.   Rather than enter the ‘sleep training’ debate, I will share a statement from the Australian Infant Mental Health Association: “Infants are more likely to form secure attachments when their distress is responded to promptly, consistently and appropriately.  Secure attachments in infancy are the foundation for good adult mental health.”  Parents will learn how to interpret their baby’s needs by closely observing baby’s facial expressions and movements.  By learning to read baby’s signals you will understand her various awake and sleep states – yes, there are more than two!  When awake, babies can be quiet alert, active alert or crying which is their principal means of communicating a need.  Drowsiness leads to sleep.  Baby’s sleep states transition between active sleep and quiet sleep. Drowsiness upon waking transitions to the quiet alert state often combined with feeding cues – the perfect time to feed baby.   Young babies often move from state to state quickly so parents who respond to baby’s changing cues swiftly encounter fewer feeding and sleep problems.  As the early weeks of baby’s life unfolds a pattern emerges, and the new parents can begin to relax and embrace their new life-style.  This does not mean baby is dictating the terms of existence forever after.  It means the parents are meeting their baby’s needs responsibly and sensitively as their new family becomes a cohesive functioning unit…. understanding this is fundamental to interpreting your baby’s life rhythm, which will ultimately make life more enjoyable for all of you.”  

Every baby really is unique, as is every family situation. As baby grows he gradually adjusts to his mother’s circadian rhythm in response to day and night stimuli.  Longer sleep periods DO gradually occur however this adjustment is variable and dynamic, influenced by growth and development leaps baby encounters along the way. “Sleeping through the night” means different things to different people. A block of 5 or 6 hours somewhere in the night time could be considered “sleeping through” as baby has missed a feed – hooray!! Others will insist “sleeping through the night” means 7pm to 7am.

This might happen for some babies and parents, however new research from Swansea University challenges the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night. The study led by the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences asked mothers with a baby aged 6 – 12 months how often their child woke in the night and whether they fed their baby when it did.  The findings firstly showed that more than three quarters of babies at this age still regularly woke at least once in the night with six out of ten having at least one milk feed during the night. The study also showed that although mums who were breastfeeding tended to feed their baby more at night, there was no difference in the number of times babies woke up dependent on whether they were breast or formula fed, how many feeds they had in the day or how many solid meals they ate.

The findings are very interesting as they firstly challenge the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night once they are past a few weeks old and secondly that what you feed babies will help their sleep. There is a common belief that formula milk or giving more solid foods will help your baby sleep better and this study shows this isn’t true. This research has challenged the commonly held belief that babies should be sleeping through the night, once they are six months old. They found that 78% of babies aged six to 12 months old usually wake at least once and  61 % still have at least one milk feed in the night. (Dr Amy Brown, MSC Child Public Health, Swansea University).

This debunks the practice of giving breastfed babies a formula feed late in the evening to “help them sleep better” at night. This common practice can work in the short term, but is not likely to influence baby’s ongoing sleep patterns as he grows and develops. If the breastfeeding mother does not pump both breasts around the same time baby is receiving the formula feed she is likely to experience a reduction in her milk supply, which then makes baby more unsettled through the daytime – and so begins the slippery slope of “mixed feeding” and needing to add more and more formula “top ups” into baby’s diet to satisfy baby’s hunger.

So, the answer to the question at the beginning is – “when he is ready”. Probably not what you were hoping to read – sorry.  But the good news is – your will survive. Be very careful about enlisting “sleep training” methods to manipulate your baby’s natural rhythms. If you are in an extremely sleep deprived state and desperate for help seek out government endorsed sleep facilities.  Gentle sleep aids are often very effective for older babies who will benefit from a consistent bedtime environment. Check out  http://www.nighnigh.com.au/ if you are seeking a safe and effective system to help your older baby sleep.  Sweet dreams new parents X

28 Jan 2016| no comments.

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