Sleeping like a baby

Sleep... the age old controversial issue and point of obsession of parents and society in general. Frequently one of the first questions asked by family friends and even strangers…. ‘Is he sleeping through the night yet?’ It’s like the gold standard, the badge of our success as mothers resulting in a societal unrecognised pressure to achieve perhaps the unachievable. So, is it realistic to expect our babies to sleep through the night? What does sleeping through the night look like and most importantly how does it happen? For those of you further down the parenting track you may have actually studied and researched your precious bundles sleeping and learned a lot. You will have received a plethora of advice and helpful tips and perhaps not so helpful tips. What was working well may not be working so well now.


Examining these questions let’s look at the reality of sleeping through the night.

A study completed in 2012 by Netmums highlighted the reality of sleeping babies. According to this same study only 26% of babies up to 12 weeks slept through the night. What’s more the Foundation for Sleep defines and medically recognises ‘sleeping through’ as baby sleeping for a 5 hour stretch! This is very different to the 8-12 hours suggested and commonly understood by most people when they talk about ‘sleeping through’. Furthermore, 62% of parents admitted to lying about their babies sleep patterns in order to appear more successful in their parenting skills. It is my opinion that this speaks volumes about cultural and society expectations more than anything else!


Let’s debunk 3 of the common myths which often fuel this misconception:


1.  ‘Bottlefed babies sleep longer than breastfed babies.’


In part this can be true for some babies as formula takes longer to digest than breast milk. However, despite what you might be told by the parents of other babies, research studies have shown that no group of new mothers obtains more or less sleep than another group.


2.  ‘Most babies settle and are sleeping through by the age of 4 months.’


This is often a reassurance suggested by health professionals and particularly in relation to babies 6 months plus. The reality of this sweeping statement doesn’t take into account developmental stages, individual family circumstances and the fact that each baby is unique in temperment and needs. In fact, Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Author and Specialist in the field of attachment parenting and psychology of parenting describes this stage age as the 4 month ‘regression’. Where frequently babies aged 4-5months have such a developmental leap that it often disturbs their sleep pattern. A sleeping pattern which may have been just settling! Their world is changing and new skills are developing at a profound rate.   They are stronger, more aware of surroundings, have increased hand to mouth co-ordination to mention a few changes. It is often the hands in mouth and dribbling and observing eating that prompts the suggestion to wean your baby onto solids – that will get them sleeping through!


3.  Weaning your baby onto solids will get them ‘sleeping through the night’


The reality for those who have tried this one is that this is sometimes the case but rarely a solution. In fact, a study by the University of Swansea of 715 babies aged 6 – 12 months found that 78% of them were still waking at night regardless of being breast fed, bottle fed or having solid foods!


So what do you do? 10 tips to maximise you and your babies potential to sleep!

  • Recognise that it is not the norm for lots of babies to sleep through the night in the first year. That is not to say they don’t and wont but rather you are not setting yourself up for an unrealistic goal.

  • The next time another parent tells you their baby is sleeping through the night remember there’s a high chance that they may be keeping up appearances and more so that this will change too.

  • Try to establish a routine that will help your baby develop a rhythm between feeds and sleeps. This takes at least 8 weeks.

  • Be aware of developmental stages for your baby and how these can interfere with his sleep – this will help you understand, support and empathise with where he is at.

  • There are no laws to say that you cannot continue to have a sleep when your baby is sleeping during the day after the newborn phase.

  • Try using a blanket or muslin that you have worn next to you to soothe and settle your baby to sleep.

  • Remember that you are not alone – the statistics speak for themselves. Each stage passes and parents do survive.

  • There is lots of advice, support and guidance out there – try to develop a confidence in your baby and yourself to figure out what works for you.  If you consider professional help and support make sure you discuss what is really important to you and your family. If ‘Sleep training’ makes you wince say so. This is your baby.

  • Recognise your babies cues for tiredness can sometimes be subtle – eye rubbing, yawning, fussing – if your baby ‘overrides’ tiredness he will become overstimulated and find it very difficult to settle to sleep – thus setting off a vicious circle of crying, tiredness and result in an over tired mummy and baby. Age appropriate naps are really important.

  • Equally be aware that your baby may also be very active during the active sleep phase. This looks like twitching, smiling, sucking appearing restless and even opening their eyes. All of which could be misunderstood for being awake and thus interrupting a full sleep cycle.


There is such a vast world of advice and information out there – which is conflicting and potentially soul destroying. I do not wish to add to that in any way. I am aware that there are many sleep trainers and suggestions around this subject. I can indeed support with those areas of challenge but I think its most important first and foremost to set realistic expectations and correct understanding of babys sleep ‘norms’ for parents and professionals alike.


If you would like to discuss your concerns about your babys sleep, feeding or any other area of baby care which is challenging please do call me on 07841657141. Big steps Little Feet offer workshops on all matters of baby development on a one to one and group basis.


For more information see our website – Have a look at our Facebook page we would love you to hear from you and your experiences.




Brown Amy and Harries Victoria. Breastfeeding Medicine. June 2015, 10(5): 246-252. doi:10.1089/bfm.2014.0153



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