Some babies sleep like the little angel you pictured when you were pregnant. Others sleep like, well, babies, which is to say in fits and starts and not on the preferred schedule of their tired parents. There's an entire baby sleep industry of books, consultants, and soothing accessories to meet the demand for sleep advice and solutions, especially once your baby is officially out of the newborn stage. You're not alone if your 6-month-old is not sleeping through the night and you’re at your wits’ end about it. But is it okay?
The short answer? Yes. If your baby is not yet sleeping through the night by the time they are 6 months old it’s “not necessarily a concern,” Elizabeth Murray, assistant professor at Golisano Children’s Hospital tells Romper on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics via email. Every baby is different and every parent has their own parenting style, so it’s important to find a balance of what works for your family, but there’s a benefit to starting the sleep training process early. “As a baby ages, they start to become more aware of their surroundings and also start to form habits. This is why it’s important for your infant to feel comfortable in their own sleep environment right from the beginning,” she says.
Because your 6-month-old is no longer a newborn, they likely won’t fall asleep as easily as they did the first couple months of their life. But because they are a little bit older, they should be able to stay asleep for longer stretches of time. “The general recommendation is to think of sleep as a learned skill and part of a routine that a child needs to learn,” says Murray. (And be flexible on timing. Anything recommended for a 6-month-old could occur when they are anywhere from 5 to 7 months. Babies who are born very premature or required time in the NICU might take a little more time to fully sleep through the night, she says.)
That’s right: falling asleep is a skill babies have to learn. "It is normal for babies to wake multiple times during the night just like adults do, but the goal is for them to soothe themselves back to sleep on their own," pediatrician Trung Tristan Truong, MD, FAAP of Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, tells Romper.
Dr Truong breaks down what to expect of your baby’s sleep schedule during the first half year of her life. "Most newborn babies sleep around 16 or more hours per day," he says. "By the time they are around 6 months of age, their sleep requirement decreases to 14 to 15 hours in a 24-hour period (naps and nighttime sleep)." But by the time your baby is 4 to 6 months old, Truong says they should be able to sleep eight to 12 hours of those hours in the evening time, but some may wake up for a middle-of-the-night feeding or due to a variety of other reasons like teething discomfort or separation anxiety.
To help drop the midnight feed, making sure your baby gets enough sustenance during the day is crucial. Your pediatrician can help determine if your baby’s getting enough calories before bed. If they are, “the waking during the night might be a habit and not truly out of a need to eat,” she says. Sleep training can help with . Sleep training? Experts agree that sleep training can help babies and their parents get the rest they need.
Proper sleep training can address the issue of separation anxiety, as it teaches Baby how to fall asleep on his own, without Mom or Dad’s assistance.
Natalie Nevares, sleep consultant and founder of Mommywise, agrees that babies (and toddlers) can sleep up to 11-12 hour stretches in the evening — that’s the goal, at least, when working with her clients. First, it’s important to recognize that “each baby needs different amounts of sleep,” says Navares. Ideally a 6-month baby will sleep 11-12 hours at night with 2 or 3 naps during the day, the lengths of which really depend on the baby. She once had a client who only took 30-minute naps during the day, which turned out to be fine for that particular child. “Most babies who are sleep training, if they wake up after 30 minutes, they’re crying, their eyes are closed, they’re rubbing their face… because they're tired, not because they're sad. So if the baby is consistently waking up happy after 30 minutes and we give her space to fall asleep but she just doesn’t — she ends up babbling, rolling around in her crib and being totally happy — then that’s fine.” You can’t force a baby to sleep more than she needs to, she says.
How about getting your baby to fall asleep?
It’s important to create an environment that is conducive to falling asleep. Make sure Baby has what she needs, whether it be a little bit of freedom or a buffet of pacifiers.
Dr. Truong recommends establishing a routine, in the same order every night if possible. And now might be the time to stop swaddling Baby, says Nevares, so that she can have access to her arms and can roll around. Rolling is important, says Nevares, because it allows your baby to get in a position that is most comfortable to her, so make sure you’re letting her spend a lot of time on the floor during the day to practice this skill. And “if your baby is dependent on a pacifier to fall asleep and can put her pacifier in by herself, then you just put 10 pacifiers in the crib for sleep training,” she advises.
The AAP follows the four B’s: “The concept of bath, brush, book, bed can help keep you on a good path right from the beginning,” says Murray. Give them a scrub if they’re dirty (not daily), brush their teeth or wipe their gums, read to them, and place them in their crib. “It is very important for older infants (over 4 months) to be put down to sleep when they are groggy but not necessarily fully asleep. This way, if they awake during the night, they are aware of their surroundings instead of wondering what happened to Mom or Dad.”
Dr. Truong and Nevares agree that putting your baby down when they are awake is crucial to teach your baby how to fall asleep. “If a baby starts to fuss, then they may be overly tired and sometimes that makes sleep training more difficult, so try putting the baby down in the evening half an hour earlier,” advises Dr. Truong. If you’re putting your baby down after they’ve already nearly fallen asleep on a breast or bottle, for example, you’re technically putting them down when they are asleep, explains Nevares, not “drowsy but awake.” So when they wake up in the middle of the night, they will look for your body or food to help them get back to sleep.
If your baby is 6 months old and not sleeping through the night, don’t panic. First try keeping a consistent day and nighttime schedule, make sure your baby gets more food during the day (versus at night), and attempt sleep training if it's a right fit for your family. Soon, you'll all be sleeping — until a new milestone happens, that is.
Dr. Trung Tristan Truong, MD, FAAP Pediatrician at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California
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