When I started out in motherhood, I had no idea how brutal the sleep deprivation would be. And while it's gotten easier to manage the more times I've had to endure it, you'll never hear me romanticizing that part of parenting. None of my three older children were good sleepers, and while this fourth baby of ours is the best at it so far, that's really not saying much. Mama's tired. So as my little guy rounds the corner to 5 months old, I'm finding myself in need of a refresher: When does a baby stop waking up at night? I can't quite remember what's normal, but I need a sliver of hope here.
Mylee Zschech, certified Child Sleep Consultant at Little Big Dreamers, says many babies are able to go a full night without a feeding — whether breastfed or formula fed — by 6 months of age. Due to individual differences, however, she adds that it is not really fair to expect that all babies can do so until 9 months old.
Zschech tells Romper that it's normal for babies to wake during the night as brief awakenings are actually common for people of all ages, even if we don't remember them the next day. It's not the wakings that are the problem necessarily, but the self-soothing skills required to put oneself back to sleep are often undeveloped in babies.
"Sometimes babies will make some noises at these awakenings — a short cry, whimper, or groan," Zschech says. "A baby with good self-soothing skills will be able to put themselves back to sleep, without the help of their parents, outside of a need to feed. If parents attend to their babies at normal brief awakenings or complete arousals, and do not give them a chance to try to get back to sleep on their own, this can start a night waking habit because their baby isn’t learning the needed self-soothing skills."
On the topic of self-soothing, Dr. Natalie Barnett, pediatric Sleep Expert at Nanit, tells Romper that after about three months, the most important thing a parent can do to lengthen nighttime sleep is to have your baby fall asleep by themselves at the beginning of the night. "What your baby needs to fall asleep at the beginning of the night will be what they need to fall back to sleep when they wake during the night," she explains. "Encouraging your baby to fall asleep by themselves will help them go longer through the night without a feed so that we can gradually and naturally cut down those night feeds with little or no crying involved."
If your baby isn't sleeping through the night at 9 months old, are you doing something wrong? Not necessarily, and if it's more or less working OK for you, there's no reason to feel pressured into making major changes. Dr. Roseanne Lesack, a child psychologist and parenting expert, tells Romper that the spectrum of normal really varies between families.
"It depends on the culture of the family and and their comfort, but also on the needs of the baby," she explains to Romper in an exclusive interview. "There are babies who naturally fall into a 12-hour straight sleep schedule as early as 6 weeks. For other babies, this may not naturally occur until after 12 months. There are some parents who have no problem sleep training and others who prefer not to have their baby cry and are willing to wake up to feed as needed. There is not one way that is 'correct' but rather, it is important to find the correct match between the baby and the family."
No matter what approach to infant sleep you decide is right for your family, one thing is for sure: your baby will sleep through the night eventually. Until then, there's always coffee and under-eye concealer.