If you've ever been a new mom, chances are you've heard that question. And if it hasn't happened yet, don't worry. Someone, at some point, is going to ask you if your baby is sleeping through the night. After they tell you how cute he is of course!
I never did quite understand why this question was at the forefront of every conversation you have when you first bring your little cherub into this world. Honestly, there are a great number of questions you could ask a new mom. Such as: "How was your delivery?" "How are you feeling?" "Is he eating well?" "Is he gaining weight?" Or how about, "Do you need anything?"
So why is this the first question people always ask? Is it habit? Do they truly care about your baby sleeping through the night or is it just a way to validate their own experience? Are they a sleep consultant trying to make a sale? Haha, doubtful. Seriously though, I don't have a good answer as to why we all ask this question above all others.
To me, the more important question is what does sleeping through the night actually mean? If you search what does sleeping through the night mean for babies on the internet you will get about 35,300,300 results - seriously, try it. The most common answer seems to be sleeping a 6-8 hour stretch. Personally, I'm not crazy about that answer and here's why:
Say you're the parent of three older kids and an infant. Once you get your oldest three to bed you hang out in your living room to snuggle with your new baby and watch t.v. and retire to your room around midnight because you've always been a night owl. You take your baby with you to your bedroom place him in his bassinet and crawl in bed and blissfully sleep until 7 AM. The next morning while you're out for your morning walk your neighbor stops you to tell you how cute he is and oh by the way, "Is he sleeping through the night?" Your answer is probably yes!
Okay, now say you're the parent of one baby. You work downtown and your infant has to be in daycare by 6 every morning. You start bedtime routine at 530 and have him in bed at 600 so he can get the rest he needs for the next day. And, you can have a little time to yourself before hitting the sack at 9 PM. Your baby wakes up at 1230 to eat and then 430 on the dot to eat and while your baby would probably go back to sleep it's time to get ready for daycare and work. You get to work and finally get to brew that first cup of coffee for the day and your co-worker casually asks, "Is he sleeping through the night?" Your answer is probably no!
So what's the difference? They technically both slept between 6 and 8 straight hours.
This is why I came up with my own personal definition of what sleeping through the night means. Which is, the ability to put your baby down at bedtime and not have to intervene or soothe back to sleep for anything other than necessary feedings. As I mentioned, this is just my personal definition, other sleep consultants may have a different definition. And honestly, you can have your own definition too. It doesn't really matter as long as your nighttime routine and sleep are working for you. I always go with the age old adage, if it's not broke don't fix it.
So what does it all mean? Truly, I would love to see a shift in how we think about nighttime sleep. That's not to say we can't work at making your child an 11 or 12 hour sleeper if that's your goal, because that's completely possible. But, our focus should change from clock watching and feedings to laying out a healthy sleep foundation. In my personal experience, parents who are able to shift focus away from the clock and move towards focusing on a healthy sleep foundation are typically the parents that have the scary, running into your child's room at 6 AM to check and make sure they are okay because they never woke up moment. Trust me, after you see them peacefully lying there safe and asleep and your heart rate returns to normal resting you'll be happy you had that moment.
I know you must be thinking okay Mak, so how do I set up this healthy sleep foundation you're talking about? Don't worry I've got you covered.
Set Up a Conducive Sleep Environment
Keep the room cool between 68 and 70 degrees
Use white noise only - noise such as lullabies and nature sounds can be counterproductive
Limit all light coming into your child's room with room darkening blinds or window coverings - this is especially necessary in the summertime and for naps
Keep a general comfort in mind a good rule of thumb is if it would be uncomfortable for you to sleep there it's probably uncomfortable for them
Keep an Early Bedtime
Kids need a lot of sleep, like a ton of sleep. Keeping an early bedtime will allow your child to get the most restorative sleep they need and also keep that overtired, jumping on the bed, chatterbox at bay. What's early? My recommendation is between 6 and 7 PM especially once they reach 8 weeks of age.
Set Up a Consistent Bedtime Routine
Kids thrive on routine. By setting up a consistent routine such as bath, bottle, book, then bed. Your child will quickly learn what to expect and what is expected of them.
Allow the Opportunity to Self Soothe
Babies and toddlers, like adults, wake up between sleep cycles. Giving your child a few minutes to try to fall back asleep between these cycles will teach them how to self soothe and therefore, eventually sleep through the night. Of course, we aren't going to do any hard and fast sleep training before 4 months of age but experimenting with a couple minutes upon waking and trying to lay your baby down drowsy but awake is completely appropriate. You never know they might surprise you and fall back asleep.
If Your Baby is Hungry, Feed
A common misconception is that teaching your baby to sleep means you can't have any nighttime feedings. That is simply not true. You can still teach your baby to sleep and give necessary feeds. The key word being necessary. If the feeding turns into a crutch or a means to fall asleep then you may have to intervene with some sleep training. But, if you have a child that wakes up for a feed and easily goes right back to sleep when he is done, I give you permission to proudly say - yes, my baby sleeps through the night.
And last but not least.
Adhere to Safe Sleep Guidelines
In general keep in mind the ABC's of safe sleep Alone on his Back in the Crib - for more information please visit the resources section of my website for in depth information on safe sleep.
Here's to happy sleeping!