Feeling exhausted by your baby’s nighttime sleep (or lack of) and wondering when do babies sleep through the night?
There’s something about being new parents that makes everyone ask about how your baby is sleeping. Whether by your pediatrician or a well-meaning grandparent, you’re often asked, ‘Does your baby sleep through the night?’
But what does it mean for a baby to sleep through the night?
Bedtime at 7 pm and not a peep until 7 am? Sleeping from midnight onwards?
Sleeping through the night is a broadly used term that means different things to different people.
Let’s explore sleeping through the night and what it means for you and your baby.
What is sleeping through the night?
When I became a new parent I quickly learned sleeping through the night for a baby doesn’t usually mean 8 or 10 hours of sleep.
Not many young babies sleep for long cycles, as they need night feeds, comfort, and nappy changes.
The definition of sleeping through the night for an infant is 3 to 8 hours, depending on the age of the infant.
Broken down by age, to sleep through the night often means:
- 3 hour stretch for a newborn
- 4-6 hours sleep duration for a 2-3-month-old
- 5-6 hours stretch for a 4-5-month-old
- 6-8 hours sleep duration for a baby 6 months or older
The age when your child sleeps through the night can vary.
Generally, you can’t expect an 8 hour period for a very young infant. Older infants, though, are unlikely to wake as frequently as a newborn (unless they’re teething or unwell).
Why don’t newborns sleep straight through the night?
Baby sleep is one of the most talked-about parenting topics. As parents of infants, we’re all pretty tired and we don’t want to create ‘bad’ sleeping habits.
There are endless books, articles, and even schools, related to baby sleep.
Many parents worry they might do something to prevent their newborn from becoming a good sleeper. However, sleeping through the night means different things at different ages.
Studies show up to 80% of babies from ages 6-12 months wake at least once per night.
Newborns have stomachs that range from about the size of a cherry to the size of an egg (depending on their age). They’re growing very fast so they need calories and to stay hydrated.
Their stomachs can only hold so much milk at a time. They empty fairly quickly, so babies wake hungry in the middle of the night.
When should a baby not be left to sleep for longer periods?
Some newborns are capable of having sleeping patterns closer to four or five hours per night. But they should first be cleared by a midwife, doctor, or pediatrician, as not needing to be woken for feeds every few hours.
Some newborns are jaundiced, or extra sleepy for other reasons, and need to be woken regularly, for a few days or weeks, to be sure they eat enough.
If you’re worried or you’ve been told you’re creating problems by meeting your baby’s need for feeds and comfort, consider this: will your newborn become dependent on nappies and unable to figure out potty training later?
Babies have a physical and developmental need for frequent feeds, nappy changes, and comfort. Don’t worry about meeting your newborn’s needs, or their future sleep cycle and sleep habits.
You can begin a nighttime routine (bath, feed, bed) and make the nighttime sleep environment dark, with low lights, and quiet; you needn’t start stressing about infant sleep training at this age.
Should I wake my 3 weeks old to eat at night?
At three weeks a baby is still very new and adjusting to the new outside world. The digestive system is working itself out and, if breastfeeding, the baby is working with your body to establish a good supply.
Most babies at this age still need to feed regularly, day and night. Breastfed babies feed, on average, 8-12 times in 24 hours. Note the word ‘average’ – sometimes they feed less and sometimes more.
If your 3-week old baby is gaining weight a little too slowly or you’re trying to maintain your supply, the baby needs to be woken for feeds.
It’s important to look at the whole picture to know what’s going on with your baby. A common concern for mothers is whether their babies are feeding enough to let them sleep longer periods at night.
There are many reliable signs your baby is getting enough food – for example, the number of wet and dirty nappies.
There are also some unreliable signs you might hear about; they can make you doubt your ability to supply milk for your breastfed baby.
Read 7 Things You Need To Know About Waking Your Baby For Feeds for some more great advice.
When do babies sleep from 7 pm to 7 am?
The question is, when does anyone sleep from 7 pm to 7 am?
Most people, old and young, wake through the night as they shift through different sleep phases.
If people feel secure and their needs are met, they’re most likely to feel comforted and fall asleep easily, and settle back to sleep if they wake in the middle of the night.
This applies to babies just as much as to older children and adults. Is it realistic to think anyone should be able to sleep 12 hours at night straight without waking? I know I can’t.
How much sleep does my baby need?
We know sleep during the day and night is very important for growth and development. But exactly how much sleep babies, children, and adults need varies and is very individual.
Studies have shown there’s no strong evidence to suggest exactly how much sleep people need at different ages.
The National Sleep Foundation has a guideline showing how much sleep, on average, babies should get.
Just remember, every baby is different. Don’t be disheartened or concerned if your baby isn’t able to sleep for longer stretches or for hours at a time.
Your expectations might be too high, or you might need some support to find time to rest, or to help you cope.
If sleep is a problem for you, find ways to help your baby sleep, or talk to your healthcare provider.
Our article How Many Hours Of Sleep Does A Baby Need is great for more reassurance about how much sleep your baby might need.
How long can 2 months old go between feedings?
If babies are breastfed, at 2 months old they’ll feed an average 8-12 times in 24 hours.
Bottle-fed babies (formula or expressed breast milk) might not need to feed so frequently. This means they’ll feed every 2-4 hours, depending on their individual needs.
Every baby is different and it’s important not to try to fit every baby into one set feed or sleep schedule.
Keep your baby close so you can easily check on her if you feel she’s sleeping longer; babies are still so little at 2 months.
Follow the SIDS guidelines for sleep, to keep your baby as safe as possible.
Check out our article SIDS Prevention- 6 Ways To Reduce The Risk for more great information.
Can I let my 2 month old sleep through the night?
By 2 months, most babies have feeding patterns fairly well established, whether it’s breast or formula feeding.
It’s possible your baby could have adjusted quickly to day and night sleeping patterns, and has started sleeping through the night.
It’s perfectly fine if your 2-month-old baby feeds more frequently during the day and has a longer period at night.
You needn’t be concerned as long as all her needs are being met, she’s generally well, and the output (nappies) and weight gain are normal.
Do four month olds sleep through the night?
For some reason, there’s a persistent myth most infants sleep through the night by four months of age.
There’s some research from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) showing sleep consolidation occurs in the first 4 months. This means babies are sleeping less during the day and longer at night.
Most of the infants in the study met the criteria for nighttime sleep by 12 months of age.
If we’re looking at the definition of a night as a 4-6 hour period, then perhaps many four-month-olds are sleeping through the night.
However, if you think of sleeping through the night as ten or twelve hours, most four-month-olds aren’t sleeping through the night like an older child or adult might.
Many four-month-olds still need at least one nighttime and an early morning feed. Although their tummies are bigger than a newborn’s, they still need nutrition to grow and stay hydrated.
Some four-month-olds are capable of sleeping much longer – even ten or more hours. If they’re growing well, feeding well, and doing so on their own (and not on a strict schedule), this is perfectly appropriate, although not extremely common.
Every baby is different.
If you have a four-month-old who’s sleeping long stretches but struggling with weight gain – especially a breastfed baby – you might want to speak with a lactation consultant. This is to make sure the baby is getting enough feeds in each 24 hour period.
If your child is still feeding at the breast frequently at night, this is also perfectly normal. Each mother-baby pair has unique feeding needs.
Be sure to read Nighttime Breastfeeding – 7 Reasons Why It’s So Important to learn more about nighttime feeds.
Is it bad for a 6 month old still to be night waking?
Not only are you asked endless questions about your baby’s sleep, you’ll also get plenty of advice and comments about how to ‘fix’ it.
There are some who believe infants need to be on a schedule and learning to self-soothe by a certain age.
Although some 6-month-olds can sleep for long stretches, there’s nothing to be concerned about if your baby still wakes for feeds or comfort.
It’s also common for 4 to 6-month-olds to sleep for long stretches on some nights, but wake frequently on other nights.
Infants have a lot to manage – developmental leaps, milestones, growth spurts, teething, illness, and crawling – and all of this can affect their sleep.
Be sure to read Wonder Weeks – How They Help You Understand Your Baby to learn more about your baby’s development and its impact on sleep.
At what age do babies sleep longer through night?
If you’re wondering why it seems as though every other parent is getting more sleep than you, take what they say with a grain of salt.
Some studies have found parents aren’t always honest about how well their infants sleep, and where – for example, in a crib in a separate room, or co-sleeping.
There’s no exact answer to the question, ‘ At what age a baby will sleep through the night?’
Babies start sleeping longer at night when they are ready. And all babies have their own individual needs.
You can rest assured when they’re 18 years old they’ll be sleeping longer, and most likely still waking you up at night to pick them up from a party.
How do I get my baby to sleep longer at night?
Eventually, babies learn the difference between day and night and they start sleeping longer stretches when the sun is down.
It can take a while for them to adjust to the outside world and for their bodies to catch up with day and night.
Have their sleep space out in the open with filtered sunlight during the day so they can learn what daytime is.
Keep the normal daytime noises going – things like the radio, tv or vacuum cleaner – so they can start to wake and show more interest in everyday activities.
At nighttime, start a bedtime routine. Keep the environment darker and quieter. It’ll help them learn when the sun goes down is when we’re meant to sleep – and for longer periods. Eventually.
You might like to read Baby Has Night And Day Mixed Up? 4 Tips To Help for more information.
Is it safe to sleep with my baby?
In the first year of a baby’s life, it’s recommended your baby sleeps in the same room as you, to reduce the chance of SIDS by up to 50%.
As recommended by Red Nose Australia, the safest place for your baby to sleep is on a separate surface from you and your partner.
They recognize many parents choose to sleep with their babies and children (sometimes you’ll do anything for sleep as a parent) and they provide guidelines on bed sharing and how to do it safely.
BellyBelly also has a whole range of articles for you about sleeping safely with your baby.
Enjoy some further reading, to give you extra reassurance:
- Sleeping With Baby-Is Co-Sleeping Safe?
- Co-Sleeping- Say Hello To Your New Bed
- Babies And Sleep-The Benefits Of Co-Sleeping.
How do I get my baby to self-soothe?
Being aware of your baby’s cues early on can help you work out if your baby is able to self-soothe. Some babies are able to be self-soothed easily in their crib or bassinet once their needs, such as hunger, comfort, and stimulation, are met.
Often they wake, feed until they’ve had enough, have some play or tummy time, and then start to yawn, look a little red-eyed, or get a little sleepy.
This is a great time to wrap your baby up gently and put her in her bed so she can settle off to sleep on her own.
Forming sleep associations from an early age can be helpful. A good bedtime routine, such as a bath before bed every night and white noise, allows babies to understand. ‘Ok, I’m in my sleeping bag, it must be bedtime’.
It’s worth a try but don’t be disheartened if your little one loves an extra feed before bed or likes to settle off to sleep in your arms or while feeding at the breast.
You’re doing nothing wrong and you’re giving your baby exactly what they need.
When should I stop night feedings?
Only you and your baby will know the answer to this question.
If you’re both happy and thriving there’s no actual time frame you should stop feeding at night.
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding until 2 years and beyond, and for different families, this can mean totally different things.
Your baby might only be fed once a day or many times a day and night, and if it’s not affecting you negatively then it’s fine.
If you find you’re struggling in general and feel it could be due to nighttime feeds and having broken sleep, reach out for help from a breastfeeding counselor or IBCLC. They can help you get a good picture of what’s going on and offer suggestions and tips on how to help improve things for you.
Do formula-fed babies sleep better?
If you’re a breastfeeding mother you might be told “Just put them on formula or start solids early!” when you complain about not getting enough sleep through the night.
It’s such a common thing for people to say with absolutely no evidence and it needs to stop! It’s making mothers doubt their ability to provide for their babies.
Research shows formula-fed babies don’t sleep better than babies fed at the breast.
We also know introducing solids early doesn’t make your baby sleep better. Introducing Solids Early Won’t Help Your Baby Sleep Better takes a deeper look into this.
The current research shows starting solids at 6 months is most recommended.
The World Health Organization, National Health and Medical Research Council, and The American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months. After this age, introducing solid family foods can begin, but breastfeeding should continue up to one year as the main source of nutrition.
It’s important not to make a mother doubt the amazing nutrition she’s giving her baby in the hope her baby might sleep better due to false beliefs that formula is the answer.
How can I get more sleep with a baby?
Parenting can be hard. Extremely rewarding for the most part, but also extremely hard.
Adjusting to less shut-eye as a new parent is difficult, but it’s normal. Babies need frequent feeds to grow and this means nighttime waking, which is never usually short-term.
My 23 yr old still wakes me at night if he forgets his keys and my 18 yr old often needs to be picked up from the station after work late at night!
As a parent your responsibility changes. You’re in charge of tiny humans that grow into bigger humans and they can disturb your sleep for many different reasons.
For myself as a parent of 6 wonderful kids, I’ve learned to adjust to less sleep than always fight for more.
I try and reduce the pressure around the house or on my workload if I haven’t had a good night’s sleep.
Here are 6 Things To Do To Get More Sleep when you have a new baby and you find you’re struggling.
Please take the pressure off yourself around sleep expectation, stop looking at the clock and just follow your beautiful baby.
You are doing a fantastic job and you’re not alone!
There are so many parents trying to adjust to parenthood, it’s been 23 years for me and I’m still trying to adjust!
Put your feet up and have a laugh at our article 50 Signs You’re A Sleep-Deprived Parent!