Some babies naturally sleep through the night (not fair, right?!) However, babies with more sensitive temperaments may need a little coaxing as billions of sleep-deprived parents can attest. As a pediatrician I can tell you that babies can endure 8 hours without any parental intervention sometime between 4 and 6 months of age. Their stomachs are big enough to store sufficient food for the night, and their sleepy minds don’t need your attention.
So every baby is capable of sleeping through the night.
Babies just don’t want you to know that they are capable of soothing themselves back to sleep. Naturally, many parents expect that their little one needs their help. When you first hear your baby fussing in the middle of the night do you jump out of bed to hold, feed and comfort your angel? Most babies love this nocturnal attention and learn to rely on someone else settling them down for the night. But it’s sleep-sabotage. Expect your baby can’t sleep and they won’t.
First, you need to know what you can realistically expect of your baby. In the first 3 months, babies can only sleep 3 to 4 hours in a row and their brains aren’t able to calm themselves down. So you aren’t doing any harm if you rock or feed your baby until she falls asleep at this age. But sometime after 4 months a child can sleep much longer and that’s your window of opportunity to help them learn to settle themselves. Here's how:
Watch for sleep readiness
When your darling remains awake at the end of the day’s last feeding for 2 or 3 nights in a row, that’s your cue to begin to allow her to fall asleep on her own. As her eyes are just beginning to get heavy, place her in bed. You can place a hand on her gently, but leave the room for at least 30 seconds, gradually extending this time.
Put baby to sleep in bed
Some babies are very disturbed to wake up in unfamiliar surroundings. For example, if a baby always falls asleep in a parent’s arms with a bottle or pacifier and they wake during the night without those conditions, they won’t fall back asleep. It’s like if you were to fall asleep on the sofa and wake up in your bed; you would be confused about how you got there too! You just wouldn’t scream and cry about it.
Create a sleep routine
Just like adults have routines that signal sleep time is approaching, (reading a book, watching TV, or, say, guzzling whiskey) babies form sleep associations too. It’s up to you to help baby develop healthy sleep associations - for the sake of everyone’s sleep and your sanity. Do the same thing every night. Try a bath, bottle, or read a book and discover what activities your baby seems to find relaxing. Then do the same thing, at about the same time, every night so your infant knows that sleep is coming up next.
Teaching your baby to settle herself to sleep is the first parenting milestone. Once you’ve mastered sleeping through the night, you will have the confidence to trust your child to try all kinds of things on their own. Before you know it, your 5 year-old will be helping with dishes and your 12 year-old will be making thoughtful decisions independently.
***If you miss the opportunity to teach self-soothing, only a sleep training method will work. After 6 -7 months of age try the Ferber Method or other sleep-training technique, all of which are safe.