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Two of my neighbors and my best friend all had babies within just a couple of weeks of each other less than 8 weeks ago. All of them have commented on the sleep deprivation that goes along with having a newborn and one asked me when my babies started sleeping through the night. First, I always need to ask what that means to someone because, for some, they mean to have a baby sleep through the night, including feedings, and others mean sleep straight through 10-12 hours, with no feedings.
What does it mean to have your baby sleep through the night?
For me, “baby sleeping through the night” meant my baby sleeping 10-12 hours without feedings. It was around 4 months old, with both breastfed sons, that they started sleeping pretty much straight through with two feedings at night, so I couldn’t really expect much more than that. Sleep was not perfect (particularly with my eldest son because why else would I have a whole website about baby sleep?), but it was ten times better once I changed their sleep associations with needing to breastfeed to sleep or be rocked to sleep all night long. Of course, that’s the trickiest part of this crazy thing about getting babies to sleep and why it’s never a simple answer or silver bullet (oh how I wish it were! I’d e-mail everyone my silver bullet RIGHT NOW!).
One thing I know for certain is regardless of whether you think of “sleeping through the night” is with or without feedings, it can feel like your baby will never do it. If it’s not one thing it’s another. If it’s not a feeding, replacing a pacifier, or rocking her to sleep, it’s cold in her room. If it’s not cold, maybe it’s hot. If it’s not temperature, your baby is now teething. Later on, with your toddler or preschooler, it might even be night terrors or nightmares. You will think of a million reasons about maybe WHY she isn’t sleeping through the night and you might seriously start feeling like it’s a pipe dream that will ever happen.
When Will Your Baby Sleep Through the Night?
Obviously, I can’t really look into my crystal ball to tell you when YOUR baby will sleep through the night (I save the crystal ball for winning the lottery, but for some reason it’s on the fritz right now), but I can tell you that I’ve heard it all when it comes to doctors telling parents when their baby shouldn’t need anymore night feedings and should be sleeping all night. I can also tell you that parents who are skeptical that their 3-month old breastfed baby can go without any feedings for 12 hours per night, you should be. 12 hours is a LONG time, even for many adults and if your baby is breastfed, she will likely need to eat at night a bit longer than her formula-fed friends.
But, when I hear about 12 to 18-month old toddlers who still need a bottle (or 2 or 3) per night or aren’t sleeping all night, then I say there is action to take IF you want a baby who sleeps through the night. If you are fine with co-sleeping or feeding your toddler at night, then there is nothing much to worry about except the effect on the teeth without brushing and how it can lead to bottle mouth syndrome, in some cases.
The short answer is that NO ONE goes off to college needing a bottle in the middle of the night (at least that I know of), so don’t worry about it “never happening” (same for potty training, by the way, as I never saw anyone in the dorm still wearing diapers).
The not-so-short answer is that if your definition of sleeping through the night is with feedings, your baby can sleep fairly well through the night by 4 to 6 months, usually, on average. If you mean straight through without feedings, most can be night-weaned by around 9 months, sometimes as late as 12 months or beyond. The “experts” all vary:
• Dr, Sears (The Baby Sleep Book) says night feedings are normal up through 18 months or more.
• Pantley (The No Cry Sleep Solution) agrees.
• Weissbluth (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child) says it’s normal for babies to need 1-2 feedings up through 9 months, and can then be night-weaned.
• Kim West (Good Night, Sleep Tight) agrees.
• Ferber (Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems) says a baby can go up to 8-10 hours without feeding by 3 months.
• Baby Wise agrees.
My pediatrician and yours would probably say something different, too.
This is why reading all of these different opinions made my head spin and I wrote my own book on baby sleep (to save other parents time and money). No, I don’t have THE answer. I actually keep the option open that YOU have the answer! Surprise!
If you think your baby or toddler is waking out of habit, then he probably is. Even if you think he is truly hungry, you might have the confidence that if he would just eat more during the day, he’d be able to sleep all night (I recommend at least an attempt at night-weaning once you feel this way). If you believe your baby or toddler “needs” to eat just to fall asleep and not because he’s hungry, then teach him how to sleep without eating. You know your baby best and the key is not to have the answer (believe me, there is not ONE answer for all of us), the key is to have the tools to teach your baby to sleep independently and when you have your tools, sleeping through the night will naturally follow when your baby is truly ready.