Babies need lots of sleep – 12 to 20 hours each day. They sleep for a few hours at a time, then wake to eat and play, then sleep again. Including at night. For some reason, though, we equate long stretches of baby sleep with being an accomplished parent. How many times have you been asked, “Is he sleeping through the night yet?” Some parents feel if their baby isn’t sleeping through the night by X weeks, they’ve failed as a parent. But realistically, babies aren’t programmed that way.
At birth, babies don’t have a circadian rhythm – that internal clock that shapes our 24-hour day. Your baby just doesn’t know you expect to consolidate sleep into nighttime hours and waking into the daylight hours. It takes the first three to four months for this to start developing, and it doesn’t mature until six to 12 months. Once that happens babies sleep more predictably and for longer stretches at night.
Young babies – whether they are breastfed or bottle-fed – are going to wake at night to eat. For breastfed newborns, their sleep cycle neatly matches their digestion. Researchers have found that it takes a newborn about one hour to digest an average amount of breastmilk, and that is just the length of their sleep cycle.
Being honest with yourself … do you really sleep eight hours straight? Or do you wake occasionally yourself to adjust the covers, check the clock, get a drink or use the toilet? Baby does all of these things, too; but because of his immature nervous system, he needs your help to get back to sleep.
One of the most bothersome things about baby sleep is that it’s throwing your sleep patterns completely off. Sleep deprivation is something you read about before the birth of your baby but can’t completely understand until you’re living through it. And it’s not just that you’re not sleeping – it’s that the sleep you do get is fragmented. You’re often waking before you’ve had a chance to recharge. Tips for dealing with this interruption to your sleep include:
- sleep when your baby sleeps
- if you can’t sleep, at least rest
- go to bed when baby does – even if it’s early evening
- do less, relax more – let the housekeeping go, and rest instead
- get help – whether it’s with the housekeeping or with baby care
So, when will your baby sleep through the night? It’s hard to say. Sleep is a developmental milestone that every child reaches on his own timeline. As your baby grows, he will start to sleep more, and that sleep will consolidate into night hours eventually. And before you know it, you’ll sleep 8 hours and not even remember what it was like to be awake all the time!
Written by Michelle, childbirth instructor, lactation consultant, and mother to 4 busy kids
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice. All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2016. All rights reserved.