Will My Baby Ever Sleep Through the Night?
Worrying about your baby’s sleep may not be productive, but it’s certainly a normal part of parenting. You’re not alone if you find yourself asking your friends, pediatrician, or really anyone who’ll listen hundreds of questions about your baby’s sleeping habits. Are they getting up too often at night? Are they waking up frequently enough to eat? And, most pressingly, are they ever going to sleep through the night again?
While many of us prudently plan how we’ll take care of our babies during the day, sometimes the idea of caring for them at night is forgotten or even actively avoided. Though you may hear a lot of varied opinions on infant night waking, try to keep away from negativity and remember that it’s normal for babies to wake during the night. Night waking can even be a great way to connect and bond with your baby. As with many parts of parenting, listen to your gut and trust that your baby knows what they are doing.
Night Waking: What’s Normal?
Normal: it’s one of the most detrimental words a newborn’s parents can hear. That’s because, when it comes to parenting, nothing is normal. Every baby is different and while you may have that one lucky friend whose baby slept through the night as soon as they were born, most babies wake a few to several times a night for the first year after birth.
Do Breastfed Babies Wake More Than Formula Fed Babies?
Breastfed babies tend to wake more often at night because breast milk digests faster than formula. However, it’s important to remember that babies wake up and breastfeed for a variety of reasons. Rather than simply being hungry, they may be scared, cold, wet, or just need to be held. For babies, and all humans for that matter, touch is a basic need for survival. For our babies, nursing satisfies the demand for comfort in many ways.
Should I Give My Baby Solids or Formula at Night?
It’s tempting to switch your baby to solids or formula at night in order to get them to sleep better, especially if you’ve got a baby who becomes restless once woken. Will formula help your baby sleep better because it takes longer to digest? Not necessarily. While some parents have found it helpful, others have found that formula causes their baby to wake more often, experiencing gastrointestinal distress throughout the night and sometimes during the day. It’s also helpful to remember why formula takes longer to digest than breast milk: it contains sugars, proteins, and other compounds unfamiliar to your baby’s body. Supplementing with formula may be an option for you and your baby, but the practice does take away from the health benefits that exclusive breastfeeding provides.
Solids may or may not help your baby sleep longer at night. For babies older than six months, a small snack before bed may be worth trying. When offering solids, it’s most essential to avoid giving them before six months of age, while they are sleepy and thus prone to choking, or through a bottle. Years ago, it was common for parents to add baby cereal to their infant’s bottles in hopes that they’d get more nutrients and sleep better at night. This practice is no longer recommended because it may increase the risk of developing allergies and teaches your baby to eat larger quantities in a sitting. This may seem like a small thing at first glance, but growing accustomed to overeating could lead to greater dietary issues, like obesity, down the road.
Evaluate Your Expectations Surrounding Night Waking
When given the chance, children will naturally wean. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about when children should be sleeping through the night. These expectations may contribute to some of the distress surrounding nighttime waking. If you’ve got a baby who still wakes at night, know that you’re not alone. By twelve months, about half of babies are still waking at night. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone much like walking, talking, and getting teeth. Studies show that night waking generally continues with frequency until your child is about twenty-four months old.
To cope with night waking, consider re-framing the occurrence as a positive, rather than a frustrating situation. Night waking offers you a way to reconnect with your child in a quiet way without other children, spouses, or chores keeping your attention. Practice room sharing to reduce the time awake and make soothing your child back to sleep easier. Remember that night waking is temporary even when it feels like it’s been going on forever.
What to Do When You’ve Had Enough
Although you know that, given the opportunity, your child will wean naturally, you may want to stop night waking at some point before this natural development. Begin by weaning your baby from the breast at nighttime by keeping them as comfortable as possible. If they are teething, you may want to put off weaning or check with their physician about offering a pain reliever such as acetaminophen. Make sure your baby’s room is of a comfortable temperature so that they aren’t waking because it’s cold.
Before putting your baby to bed offer them a nice, long nursing session. Do the same in the morning and expect an increase in nursing sessions during the day. Another option is to nurse your baby, although he’ll likely be asleep, just before you turn in for the night.
Ask your partner to wake with the baby during the night and try to soothe the baby back to sleep by singing, rocking, or cuddling with them. If your child is a bit older, talk to them about nursing and explain that there won’t be milk anymore when it’s dark outside.
When it comes to night waking, start by evaluating your expectations, listen to your baby, and trust that you and your infant know what’s normal and best for them. Trust your child to develop naturally and respect your comfort too. Enlist the help of your partner and ask them to join you in caring for your baby, and you, during the night so that your baby’s night waking can be less of a hassle and more of an opportunity to bond as a family.