Before I became a parent, if you had asked me when a baby might begin to sleep through the night, I would have made a random guess, like “2 months old.” As a first-time parent, I would have said, “Never!” — because my son didn’t sleep more than 2.5 hours at night for the first five months of his life. However, as a doula and parent of two, my answer to when a newborn will sleep through the night is a surprising, “Always.”
Babies are smart enough to know they need sleep. With the exception of an illness or diagnosed sleep issue, babies really do love sleep! That said, the way we sleep through the night is not the way our children sleep through the night.
From a technical standpoint, until they’re about 3 months old, they only have two sleep stages; adults, on the other hand (and children 5 and over), have four sleep stages. Our little ones will make sure they get enough rest on a daily basis, at night or otherwise. It’s the “otherwise” part that concerns most parents.
Babies don’t have great awareness of night and day for the first couple of months. Personally and professionally, I have seen kids who love sleep so much they need to be woken up to eat! Others become a small version of Laila or Muhammad Ali when it’s time for a nap or bedtime. If you’ve found yourself searching “how to get my baby to sleep,” you’ll see there are a million and one baby sleep programs. (I prefer recommending local programs like Nurture by Naps over generalized sleep solutions.)
When families ask me what they can do about their baby’s sleep or how to get more sleep as a parent, I tell them to try a few simple things first.
1. Set reasonable expectations.
Don’t worry about your friend’s baby who slept soundly for 10-12 hours through the night at 6 weeks old. Most 6-week-old babies wake up every two to four hours to eat. While it is true that some babies will sleep longer based on how much they weigh, the majority of babies (over 60%) will begin to sleep longer stretches naturally sometime between 6 and 12 months old.
2. Make a plan with your partner for sleep.
Feeding your baby at night is demanding, but not every job — including diapering and burping — has to fall to mom. Some parents trade off night by night who stays with the baby. Others might break the night up into shifts so each parent has a solid stretch of sleep. Just find a way that works for your family.
3. Don’t expect to get all of your own sleep at night.
Your baby will nap better during the day in the beginning because they have no circadian rhythm. Try to commit to taking one nap or quiet rest period at the same time as the baby. One of the best things you can do for yourself in postpartum is rest!
4. Establish a good day and night routine for your family.
Unfortunately, babies don’t provide a lot of routine — but they do thrive on it! The newborn fog is absolutely real, and it is normal to “live by the baby” for awhile. Once you’re ready to get into a routine, start with bedtime and work backward toward the beginning of the day.
5. Get support!
When someone asks how they can help with your newborn, you’d probably love to tell them to come by at about 2 a.m.! That kind of help sometimes comes from family or good friends, but more often it comes in the form of hired professionals. If your baby has medical needs, you may need a night nurse, and if you simply need a knowledgeable helping hand, you can look into postpartum doula support.