My Baby’s Nightwakings – Habit or Hunger?

Frequent nightwakings are within the top 3 issues that I deal with on a daily basis. It’s tough enough to be consistent with baby sleep during the day, but when it’s the middle of the night and all you want to do is go back to sleep – it’s even harder. But sending a consistent message 24 hours/day is very important in order to see success with our babies’ sleep, and that means trying to stay strong even in the wee hours. First, let’s take a look at what the ‘average’ nightsleep of your baby at each age looks like:

Average Nightsleep for Babies 0-12 Months

0-2 months: every 2-3 hour feedings during the day and night (could mean as many as 5 nightfeedings)
3 months: 3 nightfeedings, longer first stretch emerges (about 4 hours long)
4 months: 2 nightfeedings, first stretch is about 5 hours in length
5 months: 2 nightfeedings, first stretch is 6+ hours
6 months: 1 nightfeeding, longest stretch is 6/7 hours
**in order for baby to go longer than 6/7 hours at night, solids need to be well-established, meaning 3 meals/day consisting of all 4 food groups in addition to milk
7 months: 1 nightfeeding, 6/7+ hour stretch
8-9 months: this is the average age that babies will drop all nightfeedings
10-12 months: babies may have an occasional nightfeed, but are able to sleep through most nights 

**this chart is assuming that baby is gaining weight properly, healthy, and has no other medical concerns. Speak to your doctor if you have any doubts

Trying to decide whether your baby is waking out of habit or out of hunger? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is your baby eating enough during the day? Sometimes babies will get stuck in a cycle of taking in too many calories at night thus leading to less during the day (also called ‘reverse cycling’). Baby truly needs this feeding, but it’s important to reverse the cycle.

  • Does your baby eat and then fall back asleep quickly and easily? Sometimes when a nightwaking is habitual and not hunger-related, it will take baby quite some time to return to sleep afterwards.

  • After your baby feeds, does s/he then sleep in sound 3-4 hour stretches? If you’re feeding baby only to find them waking up again every hour all night long, you likely have a habitual waking on your hands.

  • If you don’t feed, will baby stay up crying for an extended period of time? A baby who fusses or cries persistently if s/he’s not fed may truly need the feeding.

  • Does your baby fall asleep for the night completely independently from the wide awake state? If baby is a self-sufficient sleeper with no sleep props and is still waking for a feed, it might be truly necessary.

  • Is baby under the age of 8/9 months? It is very likely that before this age, baby may still need at least 1 nightfeeding.

Pam Edwards is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant and founder of Wee Bee Dreaming Pediatric Sleep Consulting in Grande Prairie, Alberta. Healthy sleep is addicting and she has made it her life mission to help families all across the world get the sleep they deserve – a good night’s sleep doesn’t have to be a dream!

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