With the right sleep training, most babies develop a clear 'night sleep' of five or six hours uninterrupted sleep from just a few weeks old. Some sleep experts advise never feeding your baby again during these 'core' sleep hours, once they have been established.
If you have taught your baby that nights are for sleeping, he should be spending most of the night asleep. And if you have also taught him to settle himself when he stirs in the night, he is far more likely to drift happily back to sleep than to cry out for reassurance. So, you should automatically find lat the time between your baby's night wakings gradually increases, as he is able to slip naturally into the next stage of his sleep cycle.
Of course, for young babies the aim of sleeping through the night may still be some way off: if his tummy simply isn't big enough to sustain him through the night, he will still have to wake for feeds. As he grows, you should find the time between feeds gets progressively longer; you may even find he suddenly drops one of his night feeds of his own accord.
The good news is that by the age of 6 months most babies are physiologically capable of sleeping all night long. What's more, there are steps you can take to make sure your baby is one of those who achieves this goal as soon as his tummy enables him to go all night without a feed.
The first thing is to make sure you are only feeding your baby at night when she really is hungry. It is very easy to offer her a feed the moment she wakes - after all, you know it will settle her - but if you do she could end up waking from habit, rather than because she is hungry. And that's not doing either of you any favours.
Before you rush to give her milk, check whether there may be other reasons why she is awake. Is she wet or dirty? Is she too hot or too cold? Is she teething or suffering from wind? If you only feed your child when you are sure she needs it, you should again find the time between her night feeds increases, until from around 6 months old she abandons them altogether.
Tips for success
Some parents find their children cling to night feeds long after they really need them. If you suspect this is the case with your child, try:
- - Offering her water instead of milk. If you don't feel happy making this switch overnight, gradually water down her milk.
- - Being strict about feeding her in a chair and putting her straight back down in her own bed, rather than falling asleep with her in your bed.
- If you are breastfeeding, try:
- - Offering a bottle at night - it may reduce her incentive to wake up.
- - Gradually cutting down the length of each feed.
Many parents fall into the trap of rushing to their baby the moment she wakes at night. But we have already discovered that it is quite natural for babies to cry out at night, as they shift about in their sleep and move from one part of their sleep cycle to the next.
Try restraining yourself: wait five minutes before you go to her. You may well find that she goes back to sleep. And the more she gets used to resettling herself in this way, the more successful she will become at it.