Baby sleep through the night

Talk to any new parents and they will tell you how tired they are ( unless they are not taking care of their baby themselves) Many are actually ‘zombiefied’ The many books and the preparation at the prenatal classes preparing them for baby’s frequent need for night feedings has not sank into them until  a week or so after delivery. Broken and interrupted sleep every 2 to 4 hours throughout the day and night, day in and day out prompt many parents to wish that their baby will “sleep through the night “very soon.

To many parents, ‘sleeping through the night’ may mean from 8pm till 6 am without a feed while to another set of parents, this may mean the baby sleeping from 12 midnight to 5 am. For a young baby about 6 months old, it is realistic to try to achieve a sleep through from about midnight to 5 am.

While many parents look forward (or wishing) to baby stopping the night feeding herself, many have been given various form of advice to try to eliminate baby’s night feeds that may not work but may actually have detrimental effects months later. 

One very common advice is to substitute the night feeds with water. “Give baby water to drink at night and because baby does not like the water, she will not wake up to drink.’ Another very popular advice is to ‘just let the baby cry’ till she goes back to sleep.

Whether these advice work or not, it is necessary to remember that there is no one rule that fits all babies and parents. Before considering eliminating the night feeding, there are a few factors that need to be taken into consideration. These include the baby’s age, size; amount of milk baby is drinking and the number of feedings daily. The feeding pattern needs also to be taken into consideration.

It is important that premature and low birth weight babies have all the feeding that they need. These babies may take small amount of milk at each feeds but will then require more number of feeds. It may be a few months before these babies are ready to sleep for a longer period in the night.

The danger in eliminating baby’s night feeds before she is ready to do so is that baby may be deprived of the very nutrition that she needs to grow. Substituting milk with water may fill baby’s belly up temporary but she will still wake up to drink her water, hence the exercise is futile.

 Before we can start to think about “baby sleeping through the night”, we need to practice demand feeding. These include both breast and formula feeding. Demand feeding means feeding baby according to her demands; this may mean that the feeding intervals can vary between 2 to 4 hours initially. It can also mean that the intervals between the feeds are not consistent throughout the day. Demand feeding also means that we allow baby to take what she wants and again, the amount taken at each feeds may vary slightly.

If baby is allowed to feed according to her needs, it is likely that baby will have more feeds during the day and less during the night. This is due to the fact that as baby grows, she has more wakeful periods. As these wakeful periods are more likely to be during the day, baby will also tend to feed more during the day and sleep more at night. (Unless baby is sleeping during the day and staying awake at night). If, however, baby is having long naps during the day, it may be necessary to shorten her day naps so that she can have more wakeful time during the day.

When feeding baby, always ensure that baby is fully awake and ready for a feed. This involve unswaddling baby to allow baby to wake up before offering her a feed and that she stays awake while feeding. A quick change of baby’s diaper and mummy paying a visit to the washroom then grapping a drink and getting comfortably may provide the few seconds needed for baby to be ready for her feed. This will encourage baby to take a full feed at one sitting, hence avoiding small frequent feeds.

During feeding, allow baby to take as much as she wants. If breast feeding, ensure that one breast is well drained before offering the second breast. The breast that has been fully drained is very much lighter and appears ‘deflated’ when compared to the one that is full. If formula feeding, it is advisable to make up a little more milk than baby usually takes. This will enable baby to take the amount she wants.

 It is also advisable to pay a little attention to baby’s feeding pattern. In the first week or two, baby tends to eat and sleep. By the time baby is a month old or more, she is more wakeful and often has her own feeding pattern. While some babies may have feeding intervals that can easily be regulated, some may insist on their own schedule. Many babies are known to have a period in the day whereby the feeding intervals are very short. These babies have ‘marathon’ feeding sessions whereby they ‘tank’ themselves up and then have a long interval before the next feed. Allowing baby to follow her own feeding schedule may eventually lead baby to having a longer feeding interval in the night.

Many babies can ‘sleep through the night’ with a 5 hours feeding interval by about 8 to 10 weeks. If your baby is eating her semisolids and drinking her milk well and is still waking up regularly for her night feeds, it maybe time to consider eliminating her night feeds. However, before embarking on eliminating her night feeds do check with your doctor or health care provider to ensue that baby is ready to ‘sleep through the night’……….have a good night!!

Jennifer Hor

 December 2008