If there is one question I get all the time, it’s this one: How can I encourage my baby to sleep through
the night while still responding to their needs?
First, let’s define what that means. If your baby is sleeping 6-8 hour stretches, that’s considered sleeping
through the night. Although babies need 10-12 hours of sleep overnight (along with naps), your baby
may technically “sleep through the night” by sleeping 8:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. I don’t know about you, but
that’s hard to celebrate unless you also want to go to bed for the night at 8:00 p.m.!
The good news is that there are things parents can do to encourage a healthy chunk of sleep at the right
time, but there are some factors to consider: Age, weight, and habits.
Here are my top 5 tips for getting your baby to sleep through the night, with parents getting the most
sleep out of it too!
1. Keep your expectations realistic.
A newborn (8 weeks or less) needs to eat frequently. Expect your baby to wake every 2-3 hours
for feeds. If they don’t wake that often on their own, check with your pediatrician about setting
an alarm overnight for feeds. It’s very important that your growing baby gets the calories they
need in these vital early weeks.
These are the exhausting days. The trifecta of physical recovery, sleep deprivation, and hormone
adjustments in the post-birth period can bring on a myriad of complex emotions. Consider hiring
a postpartum doula. A postpartum doula can provide overnight newborn care while a mother
gets the vital rest she needs to stay physically and emotionally healthy. Don’t try to just survive
this period, reach out for help and support, you won’t regret it.
Once your baby has regained their birth weight and is closer to 2 or 3 months old, 4-6 hour
stretches become more realistic.
2. Don’t neglect the daytime calories.
Sometimes a baby will sleep A LOT during the day. Your baby is a perfect calorie regulating
machine. While this may be great for getting things done, keep in mind that the calories a baby
does not consume during the day, they will wake for overnight. Don’t be afraid to wake your
baby for a feed if they’re still napping and they’re due a feed.
3. Place a feed before parent’s bedtime.
If your baby is 12 weeks or under, consider a “wake and feed.” This technique combines a feed
with a short awake window to build sleep pressure, with the goal of a long sleep placed at a better time for parents. Wake your baby an hour before you’d like to go to bed and combine the
feed with some kick and play time in lower light, then put baby to bed for the night.
If your baby is 16 weeks or older, do a standard “dream feed” with no awake window. Just rouse
baby enough to take feed, then back to bed again.
The goal here is to help maximize sleep for the parents. If that doesn’t happen, ditch the
technique, and just aim for a filling feed at bedtime.
4. Start working on laying your baby down awake.
When your baby is under 12 weeks, and especially in the first 8 weeks, they’ll need total
assistance to sleep. But that doesn’t mean you can’t help them off to sleep while they’re laying
down in their own safe sleep space! Get your baby nice and drowsy in your arms, then try to pat
their bottom and “shush” (white noise is great here) them off to sleep once they’re laying down.
You can gradually pull back on how drowsy you’re getting your baby as they get older. A baby is
far more likely to sleep through the night when they recognize the environment is the same one
where they first went off to sleep.
5. Don’t rush straight to a feed overnight.
Your baby will make all sorts of sounds overnight, so try not to rush straight to a feed at every
sound or wake. If your baby is under 12 weeks, wait a minute or two before responding—your
baby may fall back asleep. If your baby is 12 weeks or more, a healthy weight and tracking well
along a growth curve, it’s worth a try to see if you can resettle your baby without a feed. The
amount of time is whatever you’re comfortable with, but I’d suggest trying to resettle with
motion, white noise and/or a pacifier for no more than 30 minutes before going to the feed. If
you’re exhausted, aim for just trying this one time a night.