But the topic of breastfeeding and sleeping through the night has multiple angles. The first one I will address is: when is it ok to let your baby sleep through the night if she wants to? What I teach new moms is that a newborn needs to nurse at least 8 times a day. Some of them want to nurse 10-12 times a day, and if they do let them. Now, for a baby to nurse 8 times in 24 hours they have to feed every 3 hours. If she is going to go 6 hours without nursing at night, she will have to nurse every 2 hours for the other 16 hours of the day. Nursing every two hours during the day may be worth sleeping 8 hours at night. Sometimes you can wake a baby to nurse every two hours during the day to nurse and that will encourage them to sleep longer at night. But, remember that some newborn babies need to nurse 12 times in 24 hours, and these babies will be nursing every two hours already. And when you are counting hours, you count from the beginning of a feeding to the beginning of the next feeding. SO if a feeding takes 30 minutes, you will start again in an hour and a half.
Not all babies should be allowed to go 6 hours without feeding. Basically, a tiny or hungry baby may respond to being hungry by sleeping. An easy going baby that has never been full will often times not tell you he is hungry. A premature baby, a baby who is not back to birth weight, or a baby who does not weigh 8 pounds yet should not go longer than about three hours without breastfeeding. But, a baby that weighs 8 pounds or more and is back to birth weight can wait up to six hours before nursing at night, but ONLY if it is the baby’s idea. Don’t force the baby wait that long. Basically, don’t set an alarm. If he wakes up or if you wake up in a puddle of milk them nurse him.
So, let’s say that your baby isn’t one of the babies who wants to sleep 6 hours at night starting at 2 weeks old. What then? Well technically, sleeping through the night is sleeping from midnight to 5am without waking up. By this definition, all but one of my children have slept through the night by four months old. The National Sleep Foundation says 70% of 9 month olds sleep “through the night”. That statistic is for all babies, not just breastfed or formula fed ones. But if less than 20% of babies are breastfed at 9 months old, then we know it is not only breastfed babies who are not sleeping through the night at 9 months.
My first daughter slept 8 hours at night by the time she was 2 weeks and 12 hours straight at night without nursing by the time she was 4 months old. My second daughter nursed every 3 hours on the dot from birth until she was 9 months old. I was young and didn’t particularly care. It was 7 later and I was older with Jujube. Suddenly I cared that he slept through the night. It seemed like forever at the time, maybe because I was working full-time outside the home. Currently, the baby sleeps all night, about 11 hours, but he wakes once or twice to nurse most nights. I’m back to not really caring that I am waking up at night. Maybe it is because I think he is my last baby. Actually, now that I think about it, I am a little late in teaching this one to self-settle himself to sleep.
I have known plenty of mothers to give formula at night trying to get their baby to sleep longer without success. That being said, by the time a baby has doubled his birth-weight and is four months old, he should be able to go six to eight hours without eating as long as he has already eaten all the calories he needs for the day. This is easy to determine with formula fed babies. But not so easy with breastfed babies. And breastfed babies nurse for more reasons than purely hunger, many continue to want to nurse at night.
Come back tomorrow to see tips on getting your baby to sleep through the night.