Why sleep teaching doesn’t always mean sleeping through the night
Updated: May 11
There are a lot of adjustments we make in our lives as new parents. There are many changes even as parents the second, third or however many times around. Sleep, or the lack thereof, seems to be one of the most discussed and most warned about part of life with a new baby. While it is very important for everyone in the family to be getting the sleep they need in order to be rested and healthy, this doesn’t mean that we can expect our little ones to immediately sleep 12 hours through the night without waking. Babies and children have biological needs and meet cognitive milestones that challenge their own independent sleep as well as put parents’ sleep through the ringer.
We would all love for sleep to come easily and quickly for our babies. If they could sleep 12 hours straight through the night, take long naps and still grow cognitively and physically without any concerns most parents would be very pleased with this sleep situation. Unfortunately, this is not reality. Parents and caregivers need to be aware of their little one’s biological needs and abilities. One of my roles as a sleep consultant is to help parents identify the sleep issues that are occurring and develop a plan with them to address their concerns while being respectful of their little one’s sleep requirements and biological needs.
Sleep teaching doesn’t always mean getting your little one to sleep through the night without feeding. If they are not physically able to, the last thing I am going to do is recommend that feeds be withheld. With your baby’s growth and maturation, sleep will return to you as well.
If you are unsure of how often your baby should be eating at night or are wondering if you can eliminate feeds you should always check with your doctor first. Below are some examples of how many feeds babies may need at night as per their age. You can use these as a guide but please remember not every baby is the same!
Under 4 Months
These babies need to eat frequently, and nighttime feeds should not be withheld or limited. If babies want to eat every 2-4 hours they should be fed as in the first months, they may not even be able to wait 2 hours between feeds.
· Stomachs are still small
· Digest milk, especially breast milk, quickly
· They are still working on melatonin development
· Their circadian rhythm is still not fully established/developed
Unless otherwise approved by the pediatrician, babies 4 months and under should still be fed on demand; even if you are exhausted.
3 – 4 Months
· Many will need 2-3 feeds throughout the night.
· Some babies will continue this pattern until around 5 months old.
Barring any health or growing concerns, some 5month-olds may be able to wait at least 3 hours between feeds.
Around 5 Months
· Some will be ready to have a longer stretch of sleep and then wake for a feed.
This longer stretch of sleep is usually between 4 and 6 hours after their last feed.
This feed often falls sometime between 10:00pm and 12:00am.
5 – 9 months
· Some babies require two nighttime feeds until they are 9 months old.
These two feeds typically occur between 10:00pm and 12:00am and again between 3:00am and 5:00am.
· Some 6-month-old babies are ready to sleep long stretches through the night without feeding but are unlikely to go a full 12 hours without eating.
· At 9 months, some babies are still feeding twice a night. At this stage, night feeds are likely occurring because:
Daytime feeding isn’t being maximized
There is a sleep prop dependency
If growth and development are not concerns for you and their doctor, baby and family would benefit greatly from implementing healthy, independent sleep habits to curb unnecessary sleep disruptions.
· If your little one needs to eat at night past the age of 9 months because there is a health and/or growing concern, then there are gentle ways you can encourage independent sleep.
· You should contact your pediatrician/health care provider to help you make the decision about whether or not your baby needs to feed overnight.
· Babies and children, as well adults, have nighttime wakeups and times where it is difficult to fall back asleep. This is normal and expected but at this stage, consolidated nighttime sleep should be the goal.
Sleeping through the night is something that babies will achieve at different times. While it is hard to be missing out on sleep while other babies are sleeping through, it really is an individualized process. A good sleep consultant will not push you or your baby to eliminate feeds if they are not biologically prepared to do so.