We’ve all felt envious—or annoyed—listening to that mom brag about how well her baby sleeps. Tales of little ones babies sleeping through the night were literally the stuff dreams were made of for Beaumont, Alta., mom Nicole Benes.
“I couldn’t even attend mom groups because Faith would be the baby crying inconsolably while the others napped. I was exhausted,” she says. Faith, now three, wasn’t what you’d call a good sleeper—at least not at first.
Experts say that, physiologically, babies are capable of sleeping in five to six hour stretches by as early as three months old. By then, they don’t need to feed as frequently, and their circadian rhythm (the internal clock that regulates sleeping and waking) is kicking in. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, by between six and 12 months babies don’t need to be fed if they wake midway through the night, which means more uninterrupted sleep for both of you.
However, babies don’t read textbooks.
“These are general guidelines—every baby is an individual so it’s difficult to say when exactly she will start sleeping better at night,” says Calgary paediatrician Peter Nieman. “Many factors can disrupt or delay this progression.” Your baby could wake some nights due to a growth spurt, upset tummy or teething, and many babies don't sleep through the night until closer to their first birthdays.
While there are no guarantees, we’ve rounded up a few expert-approved, tried-and-true tricks that can help everyone catch a little more shut-eye.
“Instead of waiting until she’s out, put her down when she’s almost asleep,” says Nieman. Learning to fall asleep on their own is essential to helping little ones snooze for longer stretches. That’s because when they rouse and notice things aren’t the same as when they drifted off (like that they’re no longer cradled in your arms) they’re likely to get confused and upset.
Little ones sleep in short cycles of about 40 minutes, which means they stir frequently during the night. Give her a few moments to settle on her own. If that doesn’t work and you need to attend to her, try another method of comfort rather than offering the breast or bottle right away. Soft singing or rubbing her belly might be all it takes to soothe her back to dreamland.
By four months, babies can benefit from an evening ritual. “They’ll get accustomed to cues and it will make bedtime easier in the months, even years, ahead,” says Nieman. A bath, a story, soft music and dim lighting are elements many parents use with success.
Newborns need to feed every two to three hours, but she’ll slowly stretch out the time between feedings. Use this shift to your advantage by offering a feeding right before you go to bed so you know she’s full when your head hits the pillow.
Parents used to start solids pretty early, thinking that if their baby was extra full, there’d be less chance she’d wake in the night. But serving up solids too soon can actually hinder sleep, potentially triggering food allergies and gastrointestinal issues. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, babies aren’t ready for solids until the six-month mark, and there’s no research linking the start of solid foods to better sleep.
“What I’ve learned over the years is that parents do best when they follow the baby’s schedule, not the other way around,” says Nieman. Note feedings and sleep times to help tease out your baby’s patterns. Things clicked for Benes when she started watching for her daughter’s sleep cues, like rubbing her eyes and yawning, which helped her decipher the right nap and bed times. “As soon as I figured that out, I could plan my whole schedule around it.”