When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?
Just as you can't know when your baby will first smile or start to talk or decide to give up morning naps, there's no way to predict when your baby will sleep through the night. More importantly, there's no "right age" at which your baby should. As with any developmental milestone, your baby may be earlier or later than other babies in developing new skills.
In the early weeks, remember that your baby may not get enough nourishment if he sleeps through the night. Breastfed babies need to breastfeed at least eight to twelve times every 24 hours, usually every two to three hours. Most babies will gradually sleep for longer stretches at night, but they will continue to need night feedings for months. You may find this article about biocultural approaches to breastfeeding reassuring that this is normal. This overview of the research by sleep researcher, James McKenna is also reassuring.
You may have heard that giving your baby cereal will encourage sleeping longer at night. This simply isn't true. A baby's immature digestive system isn't ready for solid food until some time around the middle of the first year, and solids given too early may actually upset a baby's tummy. You will find information about this topic here.
Being awakened during the night can make mothers (and fathers) tired during the day. Especially during the early weeks, try to nap whenever your baby does. Resist the temptation to use baby's naptime to catch up on chores. Put off all non-essential household tasks, and tell your friends and relatives they can help you by bringing meals, running errands, or cleaning house. Lying down when you breastfeed your baby can also help you get a little extra rest. This NEW BEGINNINGS article suggests ways of coping with the lack of sleep.
Many mothers find that keeping baby close all night makes nighttime parenting less tiring. Throughout history, babies and mothers have traditionally slept close to each other. The idea that a baby belongs all alone in a crib is a fairly recent notion. Many have found "shared sleeping" or "the family bed" a good way to meet babies' nighttime needs with few interruptions to the parents' sleep. Rolling over to nurse your baby and drifting peacefully back to sleep is so much easier (and warmer in the winter!) than getting out of bed, going to the crib, sitting up to breastfeed the baby, and then struggling to get both of you back to sleep. This article discusses nighttime parenting.
Some authorities believe that parents need to teach babies to comfort themselves when they awaken at night, and some go as far as suggesting how long parents can allow a child to "cry it out" before responding. While such methods may work for some families, many other mothers and fathers have found peace in trusting their instincts and responding to their babies' cries. It helps to remember that babies' sleep cycles are very different from those of adults, and a young infant needs to awaken during the night in order to get enough nourishment.
Resources for Additional Information
In BREASTFEEDING ABSTRACTS you will find additional information about the work of Dr. James McKenna. Dr. McKenna also spoke at the 2001 International Conference and his session is highlighted in our donor newsletter as well as at the conference session reports.
These items may be available from theLLLI Online Store or through your local Leader:
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING, published by La Leche League International, is the most complete resource available for the breastfeeding mother. (Softcover, 465 pages.)
The No-Cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley
Many parents feel as if there are two schools of thought for encouraging babies to sleep through the night: let the baby "cry it out," or simply grin-and-bear-it. If you don't believe in letting your baby cry it out, but desperately want to sleep, there is now a third option, presented in Elizabeth Pantley's The No-Cry Sleep Solution. There is no strict plan to follow, rather ideas that you can adapt to fit your child and your family.
NIGHTTIME PARENTING by William Sears, MD
This newly revised edition includes the latest research on how sharing sleep may reduce SIDS risk. It also offers tips on safe sleep-sharing and an update on the benefits of breastfeeding at night as well as advice on other nighttime dilemmas such as how to get your baby to sleep and stay asleep; whether or not you should let your baby "cry it out;" dealing with toddlers who wake at night; and getting children to bed without a struggle. (Softcover, 201 pages)
Attachment Parenting by Katie Allison Granju
Looking for a practical guide for parents who want to be responsive and respectful of their baby's needs? Attachment Parenting is the book for you! It is filled with research and personal experience, and features extensive references relating to issues such as breastfeeding, wearing your baby, minimizing baby-parent separation, and co-sleeping. Foreword by Dr. William Sears. (Softcover, 312 pages)
Crying Baby, Sleepless Nights: Why Your Baby Is Crying and What You Can Do about It by Sandy Jones
What do you do when your baby just won't stop crying? How can you possibly know what to do once you've tried everything? This book may be what you need to regain your sanity and help your baby to settle down. Written in a warm, loving tone, this is a great book for frustrated parents. (Softcover, 162 pages)
The Family Bed: An Age Old Concept in Child Rearing by Tine Thevenin
This book explores the pros and cons of sharing a family bed and suggests that sleeping together will help solve bedtime problems and create closer family bonds. (Softcover, 195 pages)
Our FAQs present information from La Leche League International on topics of interest to parents of breastfed children. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise. If you have a serious breastfeeding problem or concern, you are strongly encouraged to talk directly to a La Leche League Leader. Please consult health care professionals on any medical issue, as La Leche League Leaders are not medical practitioners.