There's a reason many new parents are tired all the time — a baby's sleep schedule is a lot different than what adults are used to. Despite newborns and infants needing a lot of sleep, their sleep is broken up into very short segments. Babies typically only sleep for two to three hours at a time, waking frequently to feed for about an hour or so before returning to sleep. And after a few days, weeks, months of dealing with that new schedule, it makes sense for parents to find themselves asking Google and everyone else they know, when do babies sleep through the night?
Yes, those early weeks are challenging. But the good news is, newborns' sleep schedules are only temporary. How temporary, sleep-deprived parents are probably asking? When do babies sleep through the night, exactly? This depends on a few factors, but a better night's rest is usually only a few months away.
Why Babies Wake Up During the Night
You're trying to get the recommended seven or more hours of sleep, but your baby may have other plans. While a baby needs a lot of sleep, they may wake throughout the night for various reasons.
"Babies need to feed frequently, especially in the beginning, so they can get adequate nutrition, grow, and help maintain Mom's milk supply," says Tiffany Kimbrough, MD, a pediatrician and the medical director of the Mother-Infant Unit at Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU. "It's not uncommon for breast-feeding babies to wake up more often at night during those early weeks to help establish healthy feeding rhythms."
Unsurprisingly, small babies have small bellies. This is why they typically need to eat every two to four hours but may be hungry every one to three hours during the first few weeks and months. Naturally, this means that some feeding sessions will have to occur in the middle of the night during normal sleeping hours. To make sure your baby is getting enough nutrition, you may even have to wake them to feed. Waking up every couple of hours in the middle of the night isn't ideal, but it's important for developing babies to eat frequently.
When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?
You may feel especially sleep-deprived during the first few weeks, but within a few months, babies start sleeping longer. Specifically, around the three-month mark, babies can usually sleep for up to five hours at a time, reports the Mayo Clinic. While it's not a full night's rest for adults, it's a good start.
As babies grow older, they need less sleep, but they're able to sleep for longer unbroken stretches throughout the night. By six months, many babies are capable of sleeping through the night, according to WebMD. At the nine-month mark, many infants are able to sleep eight to 10 hours without waking for a nighttime feeding, notes MedlinePlus.
"Many babies are able to start sleeping six to eight hours at night without waking at about four to six months," Dr. Kimbrough says. However, she adds an important disclaimer: "It's crucial to keep in mind every baby's sleep routine is different. Your baby may not sleep through the night for months."
It can take up to a year for some babies to sleep throughout the night, Johns Hopkins Medicine notes. If your baby hasn't reached this milestone, it's perfectly normal.
How to Help My Baby Sleep Through the Night
Like adults, sleep hygiene is important for babies. They're often compared to sponges because they soak up information all the time, so adopting a sleep routine for your baby will help him or her recognize those patterns early on. There are no tricks for getting a baby to sleep through the night before he or she is ready, but settling into a routine can help make things easier.
"Establish a healthy bedtime routine early," Dr. Kimbrough suggests. She recommends dimming the lights and quieting the space as sleep time approaches. "You can add a little structure to your baby's night by weeks four to six, such as bath time or story time before bed. They'll begin to understand nighttime cues, so around three to four months, they may be able to sleep on their own with the cues in place."
Daytime naps also help babies sleep at night. Some parents try to keep their baby awake during the day in hopes they will be tired and ready for a long night's sleep by the evening, but this idea could backfire. Overtired babies have even more trouble sleeping than those who napped during the day. "Skipping naps can actually have a negative impact on nighttime sleep," Dr. Kimbrough says.
When to See a Doctor
During the early years of your baby's life, you'll look forward to many milestones — sleeping through the night being one of them. It's easy to compare your baby to someone else's, but babies don't achieve these milestones at the same time. Your baby will go at their own pace, and you can discuss this during your baby's pediatrician appointments.
"Talk with your pediatrician about sleep habits and any concerns you have," Dr. Kimbrough says. "If your baby seems to be sick or in pain or if sleepless nights are leading to increased stress for you, you can always reach out to your baby's doctor between appointments for troubleshooting help and to find a solution that's right for your family."