SLEEPING THROUGH THE NIGHT
It's a tough conversation...Do you cringe when someone asks you if your baby is 'sleeping through'? Do you ever think in your head 'damn - why can't that be me?' Well - we're here to tell you that sometimes, your little one just isn't ready. Did you know that less than 20% of babies are 'sleeping through' the night at 9 months of age? And that 'sleeping through' is classified differently per age related groups? Yes - some babies master is naturally, some parents seek help to guide their babies towards this. It is possible that a 6 month old can sleep through, heck- sometimes even a 3 month old gives us a good few days worth of full night sleeps! But remembering, each and every baby is individually different. There are so many factors that need to be on point to achieve this, so don't beat yourself up if it's just not happening for you! It's not problematic that a baby wakes at night throughout their first year of life. It's not always about getting a baby to sleep through the night either! And just because they've done it for a week or so, doesn't mean that they are going to keep it up for the rest of their life either, and here’s some reasons why... ✖️ There are age specific sleep needs per individual baby that are a basis towards assisting an easier transition towards sleep, and these change as your baby’s tolerance for activity and awake time slowly increases with age and development. ✖️ Timing is everything! And we're not just taking about picking up on when your baby is tired - but how long should a nap be, when should you drop a nap, when should a nap decrease in duration & realistically, how long can a baby stretch before they need a feed... and much more! ✖️Age specific developmental milestones, maturation in sleep, illness, baby temperaments and so much more come into play! Sleep breakdowns at these times should be expected - even if sometimes your baby breezes through - being prepared is and understanding how, why and when these can occur gives you the knowledge and confidence to work through. ✖️Using a responsive, holistic and gentle method structured towards each parents unique style of parenting in order to teach your baby to self settle once old enough does help - and eventually this is required in order for them to sleep a solid 12 hour stint. So, how does each age group differ in regards to night sleep, and what expectations can we have for our little ones?
Understanding your baby’s realistic and age appropriate needs surrounding night time sleep will reduce any unrealistic expectations you, or others have for them. This understanding will create less pressure on yourself as the parent, and stop you from asking ‘why aren’t they sleeping?’, in turn having you say ‘They’ve just gone through ‘ABC’ so I’m supporting them by ‘XYZ’. We help you to understand why they are waking, how you can help them, why/how everyone’s sleep journey is different, and that some babies naturally pick up the self settling process easier then others! In saying this, do we believe every baby should STTN by a certain age? No. Nor do we push a baby to do this before they are neurologically and developmentally ready. Each baby is unique and individual and will progress through the stages of sleep at different times.
STAGE 1: Newborn - 4 Months - The Immature Stage ✖️ Babies in the earlier stages of this age bracket are young and underdeveloped neurologically. They rely on their mother to provide nutrition, nurturing and comfort, especially newborn babies. They respond to feeding and hand on settling! Do not expect them to go lengthy stints overnight, no expect them to be able to settle themselves back to sleep in the event they wake. The sooner you accept this, the easier this stage will be. ✖️ Babies in this age bracket do not have the ability to self settle, although closer to 5 months we can see some elements coming into play - such as maturing sleep cycles and hormone regulation/production, a change in dietary needs as babies commence solids and further develop and grow, and developmental changes evolving, such as rolling or the beginning of being able to sit upright. ✖️ Newborn babies up to the age of 6-8 weeks CAN still wake up to 4 times per night to feed IF their daytime calorie intake isn’t sufficient and they are sleeping more, resulting in feeding less. This can reverse cycle your day/night sleep as baby receives more feeds/less sleep overnight, while during the day they are sleeping more and feeding less often. But, the least we’ve seen ourselves working with this age group is a baby taking 1-2 feeds - with an occasional 1 feed overnight in some instances! They are still very young and require lots of hands on settling, womb like techniques that support their neurological development and sleep needs. An overtired baby will wake more frequently overnight, which in turn can seem like a hunger wake, where a less fulfilling feed will be taken - by the breast/bottle/suckling offers a soothing and calming effect, this settling them. ✖️ Moving closer to 9-12 weeks, many babies have mastered their feeding and milk production (if breastfeeding) is well regulated by this stage. Babies become more efficient in their feeding and are developing some more predictable day sleep. They are sensitive to their sleep environment, and melatonin is being produced and released in accordance to their establishing biological clock. We can begin to see them down to 1-2 feeds overnight, on the odd occasion we’ve even seen one late feed at 10pm and a Baby of 3 months sleeping through til 6:30/7am! Again, the above applies regarding an overtired baby and reverse cycling of sleep/feeds. ✖️ From 3-5 months your baby may being rolling over, lifting their head and becoming more socially interactive - their day feeds have typically spaced themselves out to around 3-4 hourly, and by adding in top up feeds before naps, you can ensure daytime calories and milk intake is supportive of a nice, lengthy night stint. If they are stretching this duration comfortably during the day - they can also do this overnight! They may likely be taking one night feed still. ✖️ From 4 months however, your babies sleep cycles shorten as their second burst of melatonin surges their body, their sleep cycles have matured and this makes them much more prominent - which can see night waking of around 2 hourly again! Tricky times which may signal to you that they need more frequent night feeds again. At this stage we look to support babies back to sleep through re-settling every second wake, and determining if they are actually in fact hungry , or have just woken from a sleep cycle and can not get themselves back to sleep again.
➕ We classify waking for one feed from 3 months and going straight back to sleep STTN! STAGE 2: 5 Months - 1 Year - The Learning Stage ✖️ Babies who are supported brought their 4 month sleep regression and are given the opportunity to establish healthy day sleep habits through well timed naps, respect for sleep and begin to show signs of self settling typically begin to sleep longer stints again overnight, with 1 feeds up until 9 months of age. ✖️ At 5 months babies begin to require extra support and nutrition through solid commencement, and those who haven’t yet began solids at this age will likely still be waking for 1-2 feeds overnight until established. ✖️ At 6 months of age, if a baby is over the 50% percentile, thriving or showing gains, doubled their birth weight and stretching their milk feeds out 4 hourly AND established on solids, we can see them sleep through the night IF they have the ability to self settle. However, for those who are unsure and for peace of mind we recommend keeping one night feed up until the age of 12 months. Although it sounds lovely to have a 6 month old STTN, some babies just cannot manage it, even if they CAN self settle. Our philosophy states that we can teach a baby to sleep through the night, but we would never suggest weaning or limiting their nutritional needs in order to achieve this. ✖️ At 9 months of age many night wakings aren’t due to hunger, more so habit! Circadian rhythms are programmed by three factors: light, activity and food. At this age we can look to wean if your baby wakes at the same time, every night like clock work - which would be showing that this is more of a habitual wake then a hunger wake, and a sleep association is likely to have been established here. Further, frequent night feeds from this age cause your babies digestive system to initiate activation, releasing insulin and digestion hormones and blocking melatonin/sleep hormones. Typically, a feed will settle your baby, and they will wake 1-2 hours later due to the above occurring! ✖️At 12 months of age we typically see babies sleeping through the night, no longer taking night feeds and doing a nice solid 12 hours from bedtime to wake. They may wake, but have the ability to pop themselves back off to sleep if they have learned to self settle themselves.
➕ We classify waking for one feed from 5 months and going straight back to sleep STTN! STAGE 3: 1 Year - 3 Years - The ‘Make or Break’ Stage ✖️ A child who hasn’t learned to self settle by the age of 2 is usually waking frequently overnight, relies on something or someone to fall asleep and often co-sleeps with the parent just so they can get some sleep themselves. This is a stage we call ‘make or break’ - 2 years of ‘coping’ and doing what we it takes to ‘make them sleep’ turns into a ‘break’ - an event that usually leads to a need for change...and thus, the child learns to self settle!
✖️ Not much changes from 12-18 months of age sleep wise, so this is usually a pretty cruise period for our clients. As mentioned above, night feeds aren’t nutritionally needed at this age and can be more detrimental to sleep, instead by triggering the GI system to wake, releasing insulin for digestion and blocking melatonin for sleep. ✖️ From 18 months, dropping to one day nap can cause your child to become overtired, especially if they have previously had a longer morning nap and are learning to cope with dropping this and shifting their nap time closer to noon! ✖️ A little regression here can cause some set backs, but extra help from parents to guide them through is all that is needed to achieve STTN again. ✖️ Sleep associations are a big factor for this age group, and as they have typically been going on for this lengthier duration, they are unfortunately much more difficult to change. However, we do always see success, and aim to introduce new or older positive associated sleep tools to get them through. ✖️ One specific sleep association from 2.5 years of age is removing a dummy. Before this age it’s usually a difficult task and involves a lot of crying due to the child’s underdeveloped brain and limited understanding and rationale surrounding a dependence and comfort time being removed. At this time your child has to learn to self settle again without their sleep prop. ✖️ If all sleep and skills are learned early on in the second stage, many children STTN from the time they learnt the skill!!
➕ We classify no night feeds, and a baby who if they wake, can get themselves back to sleep as STTN! This is where people can become confused. All babies will wake - some may grizzle, have a 5 minute chat then head back to sleep independently - because they’ve woken doesn’t mean they haven’t slept through! It’s because they’ve resettled independently that they have slept through. Overall, we do know that sleep is a skill that is taught. Much like teaching your baby to move to solids, helping them learn to crawl, walk and talk and become toilet trained! Sleep is another skill in the process of parenting that we can gain further knowledge and confidence around, and support our children to develop and maintain healthy sleeping habits.
If you’d like more information on how you can improve your baby’s sleep, contact us.