That's the million-dollar question that most new parents will ask themselves at some point. I would love to be able to say I have a crystal ball and can tell you, but as with pretty much everything else when it comes to babies – it depends on each child.
While some babies just magically sleep through from only a couple of months old, that’s not the norm (so if that’s your baby – lucky you!). Most babies typically start to sleep through sometime between 6-9 months. Before we delve deeper into what factors play a role in sleeping through the night, we should probably look at what “sleeping through the night” actually means. No one actually “sleeps through”. We all wake up briefly between sleep cycles, usually we roll over and can’t remember this brief arousal when we wake up in the morning. These brief wake periods between sleep cycles are remnants from our caveman days, where we would quickly check that everything is as it was when we first went to sleep. If nothing had changed, we could simply continue sleeping. If things were different, our brain would wake up further so we could investigate this change in environment further.
If your baby hasn’t learned to link sleep cycles overnight or has a sleep association that involves your input, think feeding to sleep, popping a dummy back in, rocking, etc, then you likely have to get up multiple times a night and your baby isn’t able to sleep through. If your baby wakes briefly but manages to self-settle, that’s sleeping through the night.
In the early days, it’s completely normal and often necessary for your child to feed multiple times overnight. As they get older and their tummies get bigger, the necessity to feed overnight diminishes. One tool to help your child consolidate the first half of the night is by offering them a dream feed.
A dream feed is usually offered sometime between 10pm and 11pm, ideally before your child wakes from hunger. The aim is to feed them before they wake up, so they can continue sleeping and consolidating the first half of the night.
I recommend dropping the dream feed sometime between 6 and 7 months, as after this it can actually disturb your child’s deep sleep phase and their tummy is now usually big enough to sustain them overnight.
Sleep associations can play a massive role when it comes to sleeping through the night. I briefly touched on this above, but if your baby requires parental input in order to go to sleep at the beginning of the night, they will most likely require the same input when they wake after a sleep cycle.
So if you usually feed your baby to sleep and that’s the last thing they remember before drifting off, they will want another feed to go back to sleep (this is super common by the way!).
Another big one is nutrition, the recommendation is to start solids at 6 months. I suggest starting with lunch, followed by breakfast and then dinner. Ensuring your child gets enough nutrients during the day, will decrease the need for overnight wakings. Offering protein at lunch from 8 months can be really helpful in getting your child through the night (think meat, eggs, yoghurt, beans, tofu, etc)
Last but not least we need to look at sleep pressure. If your child has had too much or too little sleep during the day, it can impact their night sleep too. There are only so many hours of sleep your child needs over a 24-hour period, so if your child gets too much sleep during their daytime naps, it decreased the amount of sleep they need overnight.
To summarise, there is no set time your child should be sleeping through. It’s a matter of different factors that influence your child’s sleep.
If you would like to have a chat about your child’s habits and to see whether sleep training makes sense for you, book an obligation free chat