By Nicole Johnson, Founder and Lead Consultant at The Baby Sleep Site®
Before I get into this list, it’s important to define our terms. ‘Sleep through the night’ is actually a bit of a misnomer. Many of us (including pediatricians, authors of baby sleep books, and other baby sleep experts) use the term ‘sleep through the night’ to mean 8-10 (or maybe even 12!) straight hours of sleep, with no wakings. Technically, though, babies are sleeping through the night when they can sleep for a 5 hour stretch without waking. Big difference, right?
I’ve found, over the years, that most parents use the first definition. When parents come to us for help with their babies’ sleep, what they want is a solid 8 (or possibly more) hours of uninterrupted sleep. So, for our purposes in this article, we’ll use ‘sleeping through the night’ to mean 8 or more hours of uninterrupted sleep. Okay, now — on to the myths!
1. “All babies can sleep through the night by 4 months.” Yes, a small percentage of babies will be sleeping 8 hours or more at 4 months old – but in my experience, most babies can’t do this. The truth is that it’s normal for a baby to feed at night up to 6-12 months, depending on the baby. What’s more, this kind of blanket statement fails to account for lots of important factors, like health history (babies with reflux tend to wake for feedings longer at night, for example), developmental delays, feeding (formula-fed babies may sleep for longer stretches than breastfed babies, for example), family situations, and temperament. If I had to pick an average age for sleeping through the night, it would probably be around 7-9 months. So, by those standards, babies who are sleeping through the night by 4 months are actually doing it early – not ‘on time.’
2. “You should keep your baby awake a lot during the day; then, he would sleep through the night.” No. Why? Because babies become overtired very quickly. And while a small percentage of babies are able to fall asleep on their own quickly and easily, the majority of babies are not able to do so. Instead, if they are kept awake too long, they become progressively fussier and crankier, until they are a wailing, screaming, flailing mess, and they are downright impossible to soothe and put to sleep. The fact is, well-rested babies tend to fall asleep easier and stay asleep longer than babies who are overtired.
3. “Your baby isn’t sleeping through the night yet? It’s probably because you’re breastfeeding.” Formula takes longer for babies’ tummies to digest, while breastmilk digests fairly quickly — thus, breastfed babies may need to eat more often, and may get hungry faster, than formula-fed babies. However, this does not mean that formula-fed babies automatically sleep better than breastfed babies – I’ve worked with plenty of parents whose formula-feeding babies are up all night. What’s more, it’s very possible for a breastfed baby to learn healthy sleep habits, and to sleep through the night.
4. “If you start feeding your baby solids, she’ll start sleeping through the night.” Any health professional worth his or her credentials will tell you that this is absolutely untrue. For one thing, there’s no real connection between feeding a baby solid foods and having him sleep through the night. For another, a lot of recent medical research indicates that starting a baby on solid food too early is actually detrimental to the baby’s health. New AAP recommendations make it clear that parents shouldn’t offer solids to a baby who’s under 4 months; what’s more, it’s considered best to delay solids until baby is around 6 months.
5. “Your baby still isn’t sleeping through the night? MY baby started sleeping through the night when she was 4 minutes old!” Some parents have pretty grand claims about when their babies started sleeping through the night. And while some of those claims are actually true (some 8 week old babies really do sleep 8 straight hours all by themselves), they aren’t always.
The Only Sleep Through The Night Advice You Need
Here’s the bottom line, moms and dads — no one else gets to dictate to you when and how your baby sleeps through the night. You are the parent of your baby — you and no one else. You get to decide what is good and healthy and right for your baby — not others. You get to decide when your baby’s sleep habits actually become a problem, and when it’s time to take action. When it comes to sleep advice, sift out the good stuff, ignore the rest, and proceed to do what you know is best.
Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site (www.babysleepsite.com). When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep.” If you have your own sleep issues, Nicole and her team at The Baby Sleep Site® can help. Download the popular free guide 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night, and get started on your journey to a better night’s sleep today!