Night Wakings + Feedings: Setting Realistic ExpectationsMar 21, 2022
Let’s be honest. All babies will wake in the night relatively frequently at some point during the first year because they’ve just experienced a major life transition of being born! (I can only imagine how it would feel to go from living inside a cozy womb to seeing the bright, busy world!)
Night wakings are just the reality of having a baby. But I wanted to share a deeper look into what is common and what is normal depending on the age of your baby or toddler so you can know what help you need.
First of all, I want to share with you the trends I have seen with my own 1:1 sleep clients, and those who have followed my sleep shaping and sleep teaching programs.
After I share this, I will address the available research on babies (not all initiating sleep independently at bedtime) and reference/link the studies at the end for you!
What’s “Normal” for babies at each age (according to my experience as a sleep consultant):
NEWBORNS 0-8 WEEKS
Newborns wake frequently. Like…. every 2-4 hours at night is absolutely normal and you shouldn’t be worried if this is happening. More often than not, they are waking up for milk! Their tiny little stomachs are sooo small these first few weeks (as small as a blueberry/lime the first week or so), and they can really only drink small amounts of milk at one time, resulting in more frequent feeds (typically 8-12 feedings within 24 hours).
They also may be waking for comfort at this age too. If you haven’t read about Dr. Harvey Karp’s theory of “The 4th Trimester,” make sure to check out this Instagram post. This theory explains what your baby is going through the first 3 months of life (aka “ The 4th Trimester”), what they need, and how to help them during times of fussiness.
Some newborns at this age are total unicorns, and are doing 5-8 hour stretches after they’ve gained enough weight back the first week of life. Make sure to check in with your child’s pediatrician to see what they recommend in terms of how long they CAN sleep without a feeding at night.
Every baby is different and I take that seriously. Usually, pediatricians will recommend that you wait for them to wake YOU in the night for a feeding once they have got back to their birth weight. Make sure to check with your pediatrician about this.
Oh, P.S. You’ll still want to feed every 2-3 hours during the day to make sure they’re getting enough calories, even if it means waking them from a nap!
NEWBORNS 9-16 WEEKS
At this stage, newborns are beginning to get into more of a “normal” day/night rhythm as their bodies begins to produce melatonin, and they are often able to sleep longer stretches of 4+ hours overnight. Some babies will even sleep through the night (10ish hours straight) at this age… but I will say this is unusual and shouldn’t be expected. At this age with my clients I usually see 1-3 feedings overnight.
BABIES 4-6 MONTHS
Between 4-6 months old, a decent amount of babies can sleep through the night with 1-2 feedings or sometimes a full 11-12 hours without a feeding. This is more common if your baby is taught to initiate sleep at bedtime (sleep teaching/training), has an optimal sleep environment, and excellent sleep hygiene practices. If your baby is being rocked/fed/bounced to sleep or anything similar, it’s common that they will wake more frequently overnight.
It is very natural for your baby to go back and forth around this age with feedings. This is totally normal. Try not to feel frustrated.
Some days they may sleep through the entire night 10-12 hours! Other days they may have a feeding or 2. During growth spurts they may need that extra feeding, or their bodies may just be getting used to feeding less overnight, and it takes a few weeks of going back and forth to adjust.
Many parents will be frustrated if this happens if their baby could sleep through the night once before (or even for several weeks at a time). It’s easy to think they MUST be able to do it again and forever if they did it before… but you have to be realistic.
They are still SO teeny tiny and young at this age. Now…that doesn’t mean that you can’t have excellent sleep, or have them sleep through with a quick feeding before bed or in the middle of the night and fabulous naps… it just means you may have to have patience for a couple more weeks or months to get them sleeping 11-12 hours straight on a regular basis. I promise, It’s coming sooo soon!!!
BABIES 7-12 MONTHS
Age 7-9 months is when things start to become a *little bit* more consistent. Yes, there are definitely potential “regressions” from developmental progress happening at this age (crawling, standing, and even walking for some babies), but for the most part, it’s getting there.
If you’re worried about regressions, make sure to sign up for my FREE Sleep Regression Mini Course HERE ⬇
This is the age where your baby begins to move into a solid 2 naps per day, and can either sleep through 10-12 hours overnight, or sleep through with one quick feeding! With my clients, I most often see that all night feedings are dropped around 9ish months old, but anywhere between 7-12 is common.
TODDLERS 13-18 MONTHS +
This is where it can get tricky, and people have many differing opinions! In terms of babies who are taught to initiate sleep on their own, the majority will have dropped all feedings at this age. Of course, if they are sick, I think it’s still absolutely appropriate to offer feedings to keep them hydrated if they wake overnight, but for the most part, they are dropped naturally by now!
Even though it’s normal for feedings to be dropped by now, many toddlers still are waking 1-6 times per night. This is usually because they have trouble falling asleep without parental assistance, and therefore need help getting back to sleep by parents when they wake between sleep cycles. What could be just a simple partial arousal from sleep (we ALL wake partially through the night), can turn into a full blown night waking and toddlers can become super hyperactive, even at 2:00 AM! Ahhhh!
Normal Sleep Patterns According to Data
OK, SO THAT’S WHAT I’VE SEEN HAPPEN WITH MY CLIENTS AND OTHER SLEEP TAUGHT BABIES (OR JUST UNICORN SLEEPER BABIES), BUT WHAT ABOUT ACTUAL RESEARCH AND DATA?
I’ll try to sum this up into a few bullet points so it’s not information overload, but I will reference all studies below if you're interested in learning more.
FROM THE RESEARCH WE HAVE AVAILABLE TO US CURRENTLY, THEY HAVE FOUND:
0-2 months old
- The majority of parents report several night wakings.
- This, of course, is developmentally appropriate as newborns require feeding every 2-4 hours during the day and overnight.
3-5 months old
- The majority of parents reported at least one night wakings.
- 50% or parents say that their 2-5 month old longest stretch of sleep overnight is about 5 hours.
- The majority of parents reported at least one night waking, and many claimed their babies sleep for more than 10 hours per night consolidated.
- 15% of parents reported that their 12 month old had not yet slept more than 5 hours consecutively.
Interestingly, one study found that babies aged 6-12 months woke about 3 times per night on average. However other studies suggest many parents with babies this age report only one waking overnight.
It’s reported as normal for infants and babies to wake 3-4 times per night, but that many infants are able to quietly fall back to sleep on their own without any parental intervention. When this happens, parents can often have no idea their baby has woken up in the night as they didn’t call out for them.
IF YOU JUST FEEL LIKE YOU’RE CONSTANTLY STRUGGLING WITH YOUR CHILD’S SLEEP, I AM HERE TO HELP!
As a mum of two myself, I understand how challenging it can be to go without sufficient sleep, especially when you’re caring for a newborn baby or fussy toddler! The effects of sleep deprivation can range from plain old physical fatigue to extreme emotional instability, making it difficult to enjoy your child and truly become the parent you want to be. There is NO shame in needing support to improve your sleep, and as a sleep consultant, I am here to offer guidance, resources, and practical solutions to help you and your family achieve better sleep and a healthier, more balanced lifestyle, absolutely guilt-free.
Whether you’re up every 2 hours, every 4 hours, replacing the pacifier, nursing, or whatever it is, I can help you go from surviving to thriving! Together we’ll get your baby/toddler sleeping 11-13 hours straight (with age appropriate feedings).
If you’re ready to get started RIGHT NOW... I have a variety of self-led sleep guides and courses that walk you through step-by-step plans for teaching your child to sleep, using methods that are totally safe, loving, and research based. I’ll show you what to do at bedtime, how to handle every situation, and how to help your baby/toddler sleep through the night!
If you need more help and you want someone to show you EXACTLY what to do, the Cozy Baby Sleep Course is a step-by-step program designed to teach you how to teach your baby to fall asleep on their own and sleep all night long. With personalized sleep plans, guidance on building a solid sleep foundation and creating a consistent sleep routine, the Cozy Baby Sleep Course can help you and your baby get the restful sleep you deserve. Learn more about the course here.
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