Managing Middle-of-the-Night Wakings During the First Year
Updated: Aug 4, 2022
Let’s be honest, we all just want to go to bed at night and know that we can sleep until the morning without disruption. Ah that is living the dream! But with young babies, it should be expected that there will be some night wakings and feedings. In the early months you will likely be feeding at least every three hours. As your baby develops, we hope to see some night wakings naturally drop. Night time sleep is highly restorative so we want our babies getting as much of that good stuff as they can. But many parents face disturbed nights with multiple wakings well beyond the newborn stage.
There are some strategies I want to offer to help manage those night wakings. Some depend on age. What’s important to also know is that overtiredness can cause more disturbed night sleep - overtired children find it harder to fall asleep and get back to sleep when they wake. So do your best to optimize your daytime schedule and aim for an early bedtime. Check out this blog first to help with schedules, routines and how to follow sleepy cues to avoid over-tiredness.
I’ll walk through suggestions and strategies by age as well as factoring in whether or not a child has been sleep trained. Note - we don’t do any sort of sleep training before a baby of 4 months old (based on due date).
Newborn - 4 months
I want you to know that during these first few months, you can’t spoil your baby and create bad habits. Try as best you can to get nice full feedings during the day. If you have any doubts/questions, I encourage you to talk to a lactation consultant. I believe that it’s better to feel confident with your feeding as early as possible.
Bedtime for babies in these first few months will likely be later (9-10p) - you’re basically timing “bedtime” around when you are going to sleep. You will need to feed your baby around every 3 hours. By months 3-4, your baby may be having some longer stretches so let them sleep.
If your baby wakes earlier than a 3 hour stretch, try giving him/her 1-2 minutes before you pick up. They may still be asleep but making noises (babies can be loud!). If they continue crying, pick up and either rock to sleep or feed.
4 months onwards
There are a couple things I want you to start to tune into as your baby continues to develop past 4 months.
Is your baby waking and crying during the night from hunger or comfort? A couple signs are if they’re falling asleep while feeding & how much they’re drinking. If you are breastfeeding, pay attention to the latch. If it’s a nice strong latch and they’re nursing each side, then your baby was likely hungry. If they were showing lighter suckling and not nursing for long, then it may be more likely for comfort. If drinking under 2oz with a bottle then
Overtiredness. When babies and children are overtired, it’s harder for them to fall asleep and then get back to sleep when they wake. Try to optimize their day schedule and follow sleepy cues to time sleep before they get too tired. When in doubt, opt for an early bedtime. Read more about schedules & sleep here.
For babies who have gone through some form of sleep training…
If you have had initial success with sleep training, your baby should now be able to initiate their own sleep. That means they can be put down in their crib when sleepy (but awake), and fall asleep on their own.
4-6 months for sleep trained babies
You will likely still have 2x feeds.
If your baby wakes less than 3 hours after a feed, wait for 15x mins, then go in and reassure briefly. Wait another 20x mins and go in again to briefly calm. If your baby continues to cry and protest then try and rock to sleep (versus feeding to sleep).
We gradually want to try and get to a place where your baby is sleeping through the first half of the night without waking as that is when they get their deepest most restorative sleep.
6-12 months for sleep trained babies
By now we want babies to be sleeping through to midnight without waking. If your baby is waking before midnight, try 2x 20 minute intervals. If still crying (not mildly fussing) rock back to sleep. Feel free to feed when your baby wakes after midnight. If they wake again, do the 2x 20 minute timers and if still crying rock to sleep.
For babies who have not gone through any sleep training
The same concepts apply for these babies. We want to try and gradually get your baby to sleep through to midnight without waking. For 4-6 months you’ll likely have two feeds, and eventually drop down to one.
The main difference is that your baby may not be able to initiate their own sleep and/or you are not comfortable with letting your baby cry/protest for some amount of time. And that’s totally OK! Remember, I want you to be at a stage where your baby’s sleep doesn’t cause you stress. So if you prefer to respond without letting your baby protest and that is less stressful for you, that’s just fine!
If your baby is waking less than three hours after bedtime or a night feed, you can either try to feed and gradually reduce the volume/time feeding over a week or so until you offer no feed and rock to sleep. Alternatively, when your baby wakes under three hours, you can try to rock to sleep and gradually reduce how much “intervention” you offer. So instead of picking up and rocking to sleep, you keep your baby in their crib and put your hand on their back and gently pat them. Then you may gently pat them and sit next to the crib with shussing. Then verbally shush without physical reassurance. This will take time (many weeks) but is a more gentle approach and alternative.
Now this may all sound intuitive and manageable but if things aren’t falling into place, there may be some other factors we want to look into. Sleep can be complex! We have different comfort levels as to how we respond as well. If you need an extra level of support and guidance, let’s connect. Feel free to reach out to me and I’ll put together an action plan specific to you and your child and support you as you implement the plan. Let’s get your baby’s sleep on track!