Why is my baby not sleeping through the night?
If you've ever asked yourself 'why is my baby not sleeping through the night' or wondered how to help them do so, you are with about 99% of other mums. This week sleep expert Jess Mehta, doctor, infant sleep coach and founder of the Sleephive explains why your little one may not be quite there yet.
“Is he a good baby? Is he sleeping through the night?”… I think this is the most common question I was asked after I had a baby, literally as soon as I had got from the hospital. It was usually coming from a good place, friends and family who cared, but REALLY?! what a silly question.
It made me question if there was something wrong with my baby? The longest he slept was 2 hours at a time.. did this make him a bad baby? Was I doing something wrong?
All babies are good babies. Regardless of how much (or how little) they sleep. They are incapable of being bad? They are BABIES. They are not manipulative, they need you.
“Sleeping through the night” means something different to everyone you speak to.
When I use the phrase ‘sleeping through’, I personally mean 10-12 hours of baby sleeping in their own space and not requiring any help to go back to sleep (18:30-06:00 for example). Some parents refer to sleeping through as 19:00 - 07:00 with 2 feeds, some as 23:00- 06:00 because that's the normal length of sleep for them as adults, etc. I’m not saying any of the above definitions are incorrect, I’m just showing you why it’s important to never compare your baby to others because they may well have a different understanding of the phrase ‘sleeping through’ than you do.
5 reasons why your baby might not be sleeping through the night.
Parents often ask me ‘what age will my baby start sleeping through the night?’ … Every single baby is different, some are fantastic sleepers who will sleep 5-6 hour stretches from birth and are sleeping through by 10 weeks, however, the majority of babies will be a lot older and may need a little helping hand to get there.
Newborn babies wake often to be fed, they have small stomachs and so cannot hold a lot of milk in one go. Waking is also a protective mechanism to prevent SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Older babies can still wake hungry, this can either be habitual or genuine hunger (or a combination of both). Imagine you ate a pizza every night at 1am, you would probably find that soon you would start to wake around that time hungry because you were hungry and had become accustomed to consuming those calories. It’s the same for our babies.
If age appropriate, and there are no medical concerns with babies growth, then night feeds can be weaned gently, only if you want of course. If you are feeding baby overnight and it is working well for you then there is no reason to change anything. Your baby your business.
2. Daytime Sleep
It sounds simple doesn’t it… if your baby is getting too much sleep during the day then she won’t need as much at night and will wake more often? But wait... if she doesn’t sleep enough during the day she will also wake more often? Correct.
The balance of daytime and night-time sleep can be really tricky and to make things harder your baby’s sleep needs are constantly changing. Up until the age of 6 months following wake windows is a great way to get naps right. The length of both wake windows and daytime sleep are different depending on your babies age. After 6 months following a set time for naps e.g. 9am and 1pm is often better for baby. I could talk all day about naps and wake windows so that's for another blog …
3. Sleep Environment
Have you ever found yourself waking up at 4am to the light beaming through your windows .. you probably look at the clock, see it’s too early and just pull the covers over your head. Unfortunately, baby doesn’t know how to tell the time. He sees light and thinks it TIME TO GET UP. So top tip to getting a better nights sleep, make that room DARK.
White noise. White noise. White noise.
I cannot recommend this enough. When baby is in the womb it is incredibly noisy. White noise replicates the blood rushing through the umbilical cord, a sound baby was familiar with for 9 months and so you can understand why it is so comforting to them. They are not used to silence. Another plus is it drains out other startling noises that could wake baby, if you have ever just put baby down for a nap and someone rings your doorbell, you’ll know exactly why you need white noise.
Babies sleep best in 16-20 degrees and so we change their clothing accordingly to try and achieve this. Don’t check babies temperature by feeling their hands and feet because these are usually cool, use the back of the neck or their chest. They should be nice and warm, not sweaty or cold.
4. Falling asleep independently
Arguably the most important step is HOW your baby falls asleep. If she is being rocked/cuddled/fed to sleep and then put in her cot, then it is likely that she will wake and start to cry and want help to go back to sleep. Think about it.. if you fell asleep in your own comfy, warm bed with your partner but woke up in the middle of the night outside and alone in the garden shed, you would probably cry too right?!
It is really important that baby is placed in the cot awake and is able to ‘self-settle’. This doesn’t mean leaving baby to ‘cry it out’ as so many people think. There are lots of ways to achieve this gently whilst supporting your baby the entire time. Baby will likely still wake during the night (as we all do, at the top of a sleep cycle) but will be familiar with her surroundings and so will just drift off back to sleep again.
This is the case for around 80% of babies. If your baby is part of then 20% that can be placed asleep in their cot and stays asleep then there is no need to change anything. Remember you only ever need to change something if it isn’t working for you.
Stick at it. Working on sleep when you’re already exhausted is so difficult. I know, I’ve been there. But staying consistent is key and you will more sleep again!
I know how tough it is to have a baby that isn’t ‘sleeping through’. Please know you’re not alone. If you would like to know more, or even just chat things through with me, then please get in touch. I am here to help you.
Jess is a mum, a doctor and most importantly, to you, a certified infant sleep coach. She is also the sleep expert for workout app Carifit. You can find out more about Jess and the Sleep Hive by visiting her website.