Night Sleep and Night Feedings:Reasonable Expectations

Meg Casano BSN, MA and Erin Evans PhD, MPH, ALM

People often have strong opinions about when they think your baby should be sleeping through the night! And, everyone has a different idea of what a good night’s sleep means – 4 hours? 6 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours without waking? Although your child’s pediatrician is who you should to turn to for confirmation that your night sleep and feeding expectations are reasonable because s/he is following your child’s growth and development – we can certainly help steer you in the right direction. Keep in mind – you may make choices that include more wake ups, and more feedings than those outlined below, and if you and your child are well rested and it’s working for your family, that’s okay too!

★ Be sure to evaluate your child’s age from due date if born prematurely

NEWBORNS: Sleep and feeding in newborns is very much “on demand” and your job is to feed your baby whenever she is hungry and sleep your baby whenever she is tired. There is no schedule (yet) so focus on nursing if you are choosing or able to, soothing, and sleeping in any way that is safe and feels right to you. Visit our Newborns 0-6 weeks and 7-16 weeks blogs for more information on newborns and sleep.

3 MONTHS PLUS: After 3 months, the circadian rhythm is strongly promoting sleep in the first third of the night and most healthy babies can do at least a 4-5 hour stretch at three months of age. Your healthy 3 month old may still be eating 2 times a night, but likely does not need to eat during that first long stretch anymore. However most babies would also not be ready for any type of structured sleep training yielding rapid results. See our blog on reducing extra night feedings here.

BSS note: In our consults, we provide lots of tips and tricks for improving nighttime sleep using less structured, very interactive techniques in the first three months, which do not (and should not) involve long periods of crying. We also have a mini book on Amazon that address common sleep problems in the 3-4th months and includes the four month regression.

4-6 MONTHS: Many healthy babies are capable of sleeping “through the night” (about 8-10 hours) without a feeding, however having 1 or even 2 feeding during this age range is also not considered a sleep problem if sleep is mostly well consolidated between those feedings. This is also the age when parents may start more formal sleep training techniques at bedtime and throughout the first half of the night, beginning to reduce extra night feedings if necessary. Babies under six months may not be ready for full night sleep interventions due to the still maturing circadian rhythm.

BSS note: We are committed to helping parents improve and consolidate sleep in a way that feels right to them, whether through slow, gradual, multi layered plans, or faster, more structured interventions.

After 5 ½ months daytime sleep is getting organized and most babies can have a regular napping pattern. If your baby is still napping irregularly or for short periods of time, this is the age you may begin to work more formally on naps. We have a 4 part napping blog here.

BSS note: Naps are hard and can take a long time to improve. We prefer to see parents try to solve napping problems FIRST through the use of scheduling, environmental, and prioritization before jumping to sleep training.

After six months about half of babies no longer need to eat during the night, though some do thru the first nine months of life. Many parents, especially breastfeeding moms, choose to feed their babies in the night for much longer than this to help keep up milk supply or simply because they enjoy it.

BSS note: This is the age when your baby is ready for full night sleep training if desired, and nap training if needed as well, though we typically ask you tackle nights first and then the naps!

Use the following chart to help you determine what age, and what portion of the night you could begin sleep training if desired. Remember to ca