Very few aspects of motherhood will generate more expectations than the answer to this question. If your child sleeps well throughout the night ever since the very first few weeks, consider yourself extremely lucky. Only those who have faced sleepless night after sleepless night – waking up several times during the night – and the baby’s incessant cries know the toll the lack of sleep can play in their overall health. You expected this to have happened a while ago, but even at this point the baby’s sleep schedule is still not regular…
First of all, experts say that the little ones’ sleep begins to regulate around the first four months. Still, that didn’t happen. Afterwards, they said that around the six-month mark the child would start sleeping better. Then came six, seven, eight months and nothing. You waited anxiously for the one-year mark, but it seems like that wasn’t the case. Were you lied to? Truthfully, no.
During these phases, children tend to improve their sleep mechanisms greatly, sleeping more hours in a row. But, not all children are made equal – and there are quite a lot of them who get to the one year and six months mark sleeping for at least six uninterrupted hours a night. The good news is that doctors were able to pinpoint the exact age a child should be sleeping the whole night through: at the age of three, the magic happens. If, at that point, that doesn’t happen, it’s time to visit a sleep specialist.
Why won’t my baby sleep?
Children aren’t born knowing how to sleep; they need to learn. There are some factors that could help with this whole process.
Up until the three-month mark, the baby can’t breastfeed too much in one sitting, which means they will wake up about three to five times during the night to be fed. Besides, before four months, the child produces very little melatonin, the sleep hormone that regulates our biological clocks, therefore, the child won’t know the difference between night and day. It is estimated this adjustment will happen until the six-month mark, which is why that is also a key stage for the sleep process.
At that age, a child can already sleep the whole night through – and this could even mean uninterrupted sleep for six to eight hours. Besides, the weaning process begins around this age, and solid foods tend to satiate the child’s hunger for longer periods of time. Some studies show that, at this age, at least half of babies are capable of sleeping from night to morning.
When they turn one, it is expected that your child will sleep anywhere from 10 to 12 hours per night and that they already know that nighttime means sleep time. Even though they might sleep well now, it doesn’t mean it’ll always be like that. Peaks of growth and significant jumps in development usually throw the child’s sleep patterns out of whack – and they will come often throughout the first two years. The baby teeth growing in can also negatively affect the child’s sleep. Get ready for a couple of setbacks.
Do I just let them cry?
Some of the infamous methods used to ensure babies get a full night’s sleep include letting them cry it out. It might even solve one problem, but it creates a whole other one: show your child that, no matter how much they cry, no one will be there to help them or just simply be there for them. Seems a bit cruel, no?
There are techniques that still allow letting kids cry it out, but in a controlled setting: by waiting five minutes before going to the crib, then ten and so on and so forth. Again, it’s an approach that embraces crying and not all parents are comfortable with that.
Other methods suggest parents should comfort their children immediately, but without removing them from their crib. And that, progressively, they distance themselves from it. This demands a lot of willpower to get out of bed numerous times throughout the night, no matter how many times are necessary.
Some favor sharing a bed, due to it being more practical and therefore, you won’t need to get out of bed for feedings and if the baby cries. It’s a hot topic. Officially, pediatricians don’t really recommend sleeping in the same bed as your baby, but rather suggest the baby sleep in the parents’ room, in a separate crib, for at least the first six months of life – as a way to reduce SIDS in the baby’s first year of life.
Each family should find the approach that best suits them. But, aside from any technique, some recommendations for good sleep are universal. Check out below what you can do.
What can I do to ensure my child gets a good night’s sleep?
- If you baby still breastfeeds, try feeding them close to your bedtime – around 11 p.m. or midnight. That way, they will wake up a little later and you will have more uninterrupted hours of sleep.
- Don’t let your baby fall asleep while breastfeeding. They can associate the breast or the bottle with being a necessity to fall asleep and won’t be able to sleep again when they wake up during the night. One way of doing this is putting the bottle at the beginning of the nightly ritual.
- Avoid rocking the baby to sleep. We know it’s hard not to commit this “mistake”, but the baby will associate the rocking to falling asleep and will ask for this during the night after they wake up. You can even start the nightly ritual by rocking them, but ideally, it’s always a good idea to place them in the crib while they’re still awake.
- Babies can also become scared if they fall asleep somewhere and wake up elsewhere. With that in mind, always place them inside the crib while they’re awake and avoid letting them sleep in a different spot to then take them to bed.
- Implement a strict schedule throughout the day. The child should have dinner at least two hours before going to bed. Always wake them up at the same time the next day.
- Babies should be in bed at the most by 8 p.m. Truth is, biologically, they are programmed to feel sleepy way before then and ideally should be going to bed by 7 p.m. But, since that’s nearly impossible in our demanding modern lives, its okay to go to bed a little later and allow for more time together with the parents.
- Implement a sleep ritual or change a bit the habitual one already in place. The standard is usually shower, massage, pajamas on, brushed teeth, bedtime story and relaxing music. Test out what makes the most sense for you and your family. The important part is to not agitate your child up to two hours before bed, which means: no overly active games/playtime, no screens and no lights.
- Invest the time into giving the child a massage! Studies show babies that receive a relaxing massage sleep better and tend to get sick less often.