One of the most commonly asked questions by new parents is: “When will my child sleep through the night?” The answer is less straightforward than you might think. Your child’s sleep patterns will change dramatically from the first few weeks to six months (and yours will too!). New arrivals also have special nutritional needs so how often, and how much, they feed is important.
During the first month, you’ll be getting to know your child and his sleep cycles. Be prepared for him to wake up frequently throughout the night. Night wakings are normal and necessary for little ones because their tummies are tiny and they need to eat frequently.
For the first month after your child is born, you should wake him if four hours have passed since his last feeding. He will need breast milk at least every four hours during these early weeks. Once he is one month old and is growing well, you no longer need to wake him for a feeding.
Your child will be easier to wake up if he’s in “active” sleep – look for twitching and fluttering eyelids. Some tips for waking him up from a heavier, deep sleep include changing his diaper, or even giving his back, stomach, or legs a little massage.
If you find that your child is having a hard time staying awake during regular feedings or falling asleep at the breast frequently, ask your healthcare provider to check that your child is at a healthy weight.
Settling into a routine
By around three months, your child may still wake up at night to feed, but he will begin to sleep for longer periods of time between feedings. Because his stomach isn’t as tiny, he can go for longer stretches without needing to eat.
Consistency and routine are key to establishing healthy sleep patterns for your child. These practices have been shown in scientific studies to help increase the amount of sleep a child gets. Not following some of these practices has even been linked to less sleep and more night wakings.
Why is sleep important?
Adequate sleep time for children is needed for their healthy growth and development. You can help your child develop good sleep habits. Scientific studies show that children who have a regular bedtime routine and consistent sleep schedules are more likely to learn good sleep habits early in life. These good habits are then more likely to continue through childhood.
How sleep patterns develop
Between two and three months, many small children may be able to sleep for a five-hour stretch during the night. Some people consider this to be sleeping through the night – and it may feel like it to you compared with the early days. This may not happen every night at first, but it indicates that more structured sleep is beginning. The expectation that your child will sleep an eight-hour stretch is more likely after six months of age.
One way to think about your child’s night-time sleep is to ask yourself if your child sleeps well, wakes for feedings, and is able to settle himself right back to sleep. If the answer is yes, then your child is a good sleeper. Being aware of your child’s sleep needs and starting a bedtime routine early will give him the chance to learn good sleep habits while he’s young.
Remember that the sleep skills your child develops now set the stage for his sleep habits when he is older. So the time you invest in helping your child learn good sleep techniques now will have a positive impact on his healthy growth in the future.
Sadeh A, Mindell JA. Infant sleep interventions – methodological and conceptual issues. Sleep Med Rev 2016; 29:123-5.
Henderson JM, France KG, Owens JL et al. Sleeping through the night: the consolidation of self-regulated sleep across the first year of life. Pediatrics 2010; 126(5):e1081–7.
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Sleeping-Through-the-Night.aspx(Accessed January 5 2017)
https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/sleep/Pages/Getting-Your-Baby-to-Sleep.aspx(Accessed January 5 2017)
Last revised: January, 2017
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