I think one of the most common questions parents have is “when will my baby start sleeping through the night” – and fairly so. Sleep training culture has us believing that there is some magic age by which babies should be “sleeping through” (usually around 6 months). And obviously, if your baby is not sleeping through the night by said age, it’s because you are doing something wrong.
Stresses you out, right?
But I’m here to tell you that it is a MYTH!!
So, let's get down to it - realistic expectations:
In the first 18 months (and beyond) baby sleep is more like a rollercoaster than a straight line. And when we consider all of the development that takes place in this time frame, there is no wonder that their sleep will be affected.
I say it often, but I will say it again: our babies aren’t robots! They are human, and as such they are all unique. What is “normal” for your baby, might not be for another. Some babies are more affected by developmental leaps, or need more night feedings. Some babies are really affected by their environment, while other babies can just sleep through anything. There are no hard rules and you are not doing anything wrong.
Understanding what your child is experiencing at certain ages may help you to be able to empathise with their feelings and the resulting sleeping patterns.
What you can expect from 5-12months:
5-6 months: Some babies this age are still affected by the 4 month sleep progression, but hopefully by now they are over the bulk of it. They might be getting slightly longer stretches at night (or not) and some days are more predictable than others. Some days your baby may have 3 naps, some days 5.... It’s best to not try and force a schedule and try to go with the flow as much as possible.
Research has found that ONLY about 16% of 6-month-olds regularly sleep through the night and 71% of babies who may have slept “through” at 3 months will relapse into more frequent wakings after 4 months. In addition to this, many babies of 6 months have no regular sleeping pattern at all.
By 6-7 months babies naps and wake times may start becoming more consistent and predictable. Most babies this age will be on 3-4 naps (depending on how long your baby sleeps) and their wake windows are approximately 1.5-2.5 hours long. It is still important to focus more on their sleepy ques than following strict wake windows.
There is also a sleep progression around this time. And around 7 months your baby will start developing discriminate attachment, causing the first big spike in separation anxiety.
Between 7 and 10 months you can expect a lot of development: physical (sitting, pulling up, standing, etc.) cognitive (language, object permanence, etc.) and emotional (from approximately 9 months your baby will start needing boundaries and loving limits as they start looking for “care taking” and figuring out hteir relationship to you). You can thank all of this development for the 8-10 month sleep progression – typically one of the most challenging ones for new parents.
Most babies will also need to drop a nap (transition from 3 to 2) by this time.
For some reason, many people will recommend night weaning around 9-10 months. There is absolutely no reputable research to back this up and as we’ve mentioned before, no two babies are the same. Also, due to a growth spurt around 9 months, your baby may have an increase in night feedings.
By 11-12 months your baby will experience another period of bursting development, accompanied by another sleep progression and another growth spurt. Many babies this age will start fighting their 2nd nap of the day, causing parents to drop the nap too soon. Even though it’s normal for some babies to drop the nap around this time, for MOST it’s just a phase. Try to get that 2nd nap by any means possible, even if it’s just a short cat nap in the pram/stroller.
As I've mentioned before: learning consolidates during sleep. So, any developmental leaps can have an impact on sleep. It can cause baby to take longer to fall asleep / be more restless at bedtime; more frequent wakes; early rising; nap niggles; etc.
This isn't to say you should suffer through it and just wait-it-out if you're having a really hard time with sleep - not at all!! But, if you can release yourself from the stress (and frustration) of not having a baby that's "sleeping through the night" at a certain age and try to ride the wave of highs and lows, you may find the challenging times easier to handle.
If you really are struggling and feel you need help with getting more sleep /longer stretches/easier bedtimes/etc. don't hesitate to reach out! You don't have to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, like leaving your baby to cry) but you also don't need to wait it out either. There is a middle-ground! And having realistic expectations is already a good step in the right direction.