When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?

Babies don’t sleep through the night until between two and three years of age. I wish this weren’t true. I wish I had a magic wand that would take away the challenge of night waking, but I’m afraid it comes with the territory. The good news is that it does get better; the bad news is that it’s not over as soon as we’d like.

My personal experience with four children tells me that it takes about two years for the nervous and immune system of a child to mature enough to foster the ability to sleep through the night. Sleep has developmental milestones such as the progression from sleeping more in the day to sleeping more at night and the progression from waking during the night to sleeping through the night.


Informal and formal research confirms this. kellymom has a great page on her site listing several studies of normal sleep. Here are some provocative quotes from the abstracts of these studies. Quotes link to the study:

84% were not sleeping through the night at six months.

…night waking at the end of the first year is a common developmental phenomenon.

The increase in night waking towards the end of the first year coincides with significant socio-emotional advances which characterizes this developmental stage.”

It is not until after 24 months that regular night waking (requiring attention) becomes much less common.

Babies who slept well at night were exposed to significantly more light in the early afternoon period.

“Infants who were breast-fed into the second year did not develop sleep/wake patterns in conformance with the norms. Instead of having long unbroken night sleep, they continued to sleep in short bouts with frequent waking…The sleep/wake development accepted as the physiologic norm may be attributable to the early weaning and separated sleeping practices in western cultures…As prolonged breastfeeding becomes more popular in our society, the norms of sleep/wake patterns in infancy will have be be revised”


If our culture appears to be in a state of illusion regarding babies’ sleep habits and parents’ ability to control them, it is because we are a bottle feeding culture. A breastfeeding culture has different norms. On good days, we know this. On bad days, we want to make sure we’ve tried everything we can just in case there is something to be done about night waking. Here are some things to consider:

Is your baby hungry?

Is the room too hot or too cold? Is the baby’s clothing right for the temperature of the room?

Is your baby overstimulated? (Does your baby feel, see and hear things more acutely than other babies? Those with low sensory thresholds wake more at night.)

Is your baby teething?

Is your baby sick or getting sick?

Is your baby getting bit by bugs or does your baby have pinworms?

Could your baby be having dreams or night terrors?

Is your baby overtired?

Is your baby active enough during the day?

Is your baby sensitive to anything in his or her diet?

Unusual things that could keep a baby awake at night include: inadequate cortisone levels, cerebral allergy, allergic-tension fatigue syndrome, low blood sugar, central nervous system, glandular or mineral imbalance, mold in mattresses, petrochemicals, down comforters, or sleeping bags. These, of course, are things to talk about with your health care practitioner.


The vast majority of the time, however, night waking is perfectly normal. All we can do is change ourselves: don’t take night waking personally;  stop feeling sorry for yourself; make time and space to have a nap; practice relaxation techniques and keep everyone’s blood sugar up. The rest is grace. May you have that grace.



Peggy O’Mara


Peggy O’Mara founded Mothering.com in 1995 and is currently its editor-in chief. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has lectured and conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League International, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 at 5:23 PM 

33 thoughts on “When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?”

  1. Thank you! I do believe it is the difference between breast-feeding and bottle-feeding. Unfortunately, the societal pressures, including those from my pediatrician,made me feel that I wasn’t doing something right because my daughter still wakes once or twice a night at 10-months old, but happily goes back to sleep with one nursing session. Now, I can feel confident that scientists are realizing this too!

  2. Thanks. I needed this today! not feeling sorry for myself is an important thing to keep in mind–hard to swallow sometimes, but you’ve pushed me to consider it!

  3. I think i just got lucky i have a newborn and he sleeps through the night only wakes up once every night and some nights dont wake up

  4. Thankyou. I feel like I have lost all my grace!! You are 100% correct, I know all this on a good day but sometimes with everyone’s suggestions that it is somehow my fault that my 9mo doesn’t sleep, I do feel sorry for myself!!! Time to allow grace back into my life :p

  5. Thank you, I also think that I just have luck my baby is almost 4 months old and he has been sleeping through sins 3 months and it feels good.

  6. My daughter, now 8, didn’t sleep through the night until 3 when she fully weaned. My son, nearly 3, still wakes in the night to nurse and probably won’t sleep until he is weaned either. In spite of this, I sleep just fine due to the fact that we cosleep. I know it seems like it will never end, but it does. If you can survive those first years, you can truly survive anything. And just think…they will soon be teenagers. Given that, night waking is a piece of cake!

  7. tasha,

    Congratulations on having what sounds like a settled baby, all this said with kindness and compassion: I hate to break this to mums but its not what nature intended for a newborn to sleep through, their stomachs are the size of their fist (roughly) so they are meant to wake for feeds often. So it may be something that could be mentioned to your trusted health care provider – whoever that is – your midwife maybe?

    Please seek help, just to be certain. If all is well then it may be OK, but most health care people I work with would want to check everything else like nappies, skin and body tone, feeding etc.

    best wishes,

    Jenny Richardson BfN Tutor and Supporter.

  8. Thank you so much for this! My daughter is 18 months and still so reliant on my presence and on nursing to fall asleep and go back to sleep throughout the night. We have some nights that are so easy and we all get great rest, and we have some nights that are just so hard still. I know in my heart that she is still so young — she needs me through the night (and in many ways, I need her through the night!), but it is so hard in this bottle-feeding, crib-sleeping, cry-it-out culture to not feel like a failure because you’re still waking with your baby/toddler several times a night. Thank you for the much-needed reassurance and for the study info to provide a solid frame of reference.

  9. I agree that a lot of the issue is due to our societal norms/expectations but most babies frequently night wake, it just depends on whether you want to accept this and respond. Both my girls slept in my bed and woke to nurse. I never expected to get a full nights sleep,even I wake to pee often. I decided to ignore “expert” advice and go with my gut,I sleep better with them close and enjoy the midnight snuggles with my 10 month old.

    PS I indulge in naps often…

  10. My first son slept through the night at 4 weeks and the other one at 12 weeks. Healthy breastfed babies. They fed a lot during the day. My doctor said that every baby is different and as long as they gain weight and happy it was fine.

    Perhaps it was because my babies slept in a separate bassinet by my bed and I did not take them out for every little noise. Come to think of it, I know many breastfed babies who slept through the night by 12 months without CIO

  11. Kate, don’t indulge in naps! Take them with pride, you need them, you work at nights :))

    When your baby wakes at night (any age) and you respond, you are: building trust; showing him or her that people can be relied on; showing that people help each other when they’re in need; and if you’re lucky enough to be breastfeeding and you nurse at night, you’re: giving yourself and baby a dose of relaxing hormones; keeping your milk supply good; reducing your risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis ; protecting your baby/child from illnesses of many kinds; reducing the NHS costs for hospitalising babies with those illnesses; creating a fabulous delicious food; (tis all applies daytime too of course)j; and joining the many other unselfish people who work nights…. Thank you. Take care of yourselves.

  12. Great article. We mothers are too hard on ourselves and put pressures where they shouldn’t be. Putting a time limit on when baby should sleep through the night, eg by 3 months, by 6 months they should be sleeping, is a recipe for disaster. Each baby is a little person, figuring out how they are and what works for them. I fed/weaned/sleep routine both my boys the same way. And my eldest has always been a great, deep sleeper while my youngest from day one, just did his own thing and still wakes at night wanting a cuddle. He’s almost 3 and while i love my sleep, how I can resist those chubby arms!

  13. Hi Maggie, I think you are right (at least in my limited experience) — my daughter slept longer stretches during the first three months when she was in a co-sleeper next to my bed. Once we moved her into bed with us, she started waking more frequently — I wonder sometimes if I would do it differently if I’d known that going into it — I don’t know, honestly. Anyway, you have a good point, that some breastfed babies do sleep longer stretches and through the night with CIO. Don’t know if you had read my comment and were replying to it specifically, but I should have been more clear. 🙂

  14. Yes! It’s so weird to me, being a first time mom, that people would constantly ask me if my daughter was sleeping through the night. And when I said “no, hardly. She’s up every 2-3 hours to nurse” they would give me that pitying look or give me advice on how to get her to sleep longer, etc, etc. It REALLY did not bother me at all. I actually liked getting up with her through the night. But still, you start questioning your parenting with so many people telling you “she really should be sleeping through the night by now”. In my opinion she’s right where she should be. She’s nearly 8 months old now and wakes 1-2 times/night.

  15. My son still wakes up once or twice in the night. I’ve learened at this point that everyone sees this as a Big Problem that needs to be immediately fixed. I’ve learned the hard way just to say he’s sleeping through the night to most people. Either that or, if I’ve had a rough night, I blame it on teething (he’s getting his teeth in later than most – and this usually is the actual cause of a rough night anyway).

    It is utterly amazing how people-particularly people without children of their own-see this a something wrong on the part of the parent.

  16. It’s so nice to learn I am not the only one. I have always just assumed it was something I as doing wrong as just last night my 1 year old daughter woke up 3 times for a quick feeding. My son was the same way until about 2….GRACE!

  17. Wonderful article, Peggy! I would just add one (very important, often overlooked) thing to your list of possible night-waking culprits:

  18. My daughter continued to wake once through the night until she was about 20 months or so. When she would wake I would go into her room nurse her, usually for about 10 minutes give or take 5 minutes, and then return to bed. I didn’t worry about it and just let it be what it was. I got used to it, but it was a relief when she finally began to sleep solid through the night. I continued to breastfeed her until she was 2 years and 8 months. Sounds to me like your baby is perfectly normal!! And you are doing a good job! 🙂

  19. gosh, i needed this! my first didn’t begin sleeping for longer stretches until he was almost 2 1/2 yrs old. i just didn’t have the energy to stop night nursing, and so i accepted the fact that i would lose sleep as a consequence to my choices. i was perfectly okay with it. now i’m in the midst of the second time around. my boy is only 16 months old and for 3 months i’ve been working at trying to get him to sleep a four-hr stretch, to no avail. i’m so tired and couldn’t imagine doing this for another yr (especially given i know no one else who has had this experience in this culture of not nursing past one). reading this article made me realize that one, his sleeping patterns are not abnormal (which i never forgot with my first somehow), and that two, i am actually losing more sleep by trying to shift his patterns prematurely.

    this validation could not have come at a better time! thank you!

  20. sarah, i feel you! i tend to not even mention what our nights are like simply because i don’t want to hear the millions of suggestions that are offered (even if they are well intended).

  21. If moms are tired of hearing it’s “not normal” for a baby to wake at night to eat, there’s an equal need to not criticize moms whose babies who DO sleep through the night and imply that they’re not feeding their babies! Geez. The point of all this is that there is a huge range of “normal” and we should recognize that.

    My daughter is 3.5 months and exclusively breastfed. She sleeps in a cosleeper next to us. From 2 months on, she has gone through periods of waking 1-2 times a night or not waking at all to be fed. Her growth is normal. I listen to my baby; she tells me when she needs to eat more often.

    Maybe I’m just grumpy (I had more wakings than usual last night;-) ), but parents of night-waking babies can be allowed to feel “sorry for themselves” now and then! Sleep deprivation is very challenging. I accept that I will not sleep as much as I’d like to many nights, and also accept that not getting enough rest is my least favorite part of being a mom. It’s also okay to not love that part – it’s just the truth!

  22. Wow…I was extremely lucky with my two kids, now 22 and 25. My older one slept through the night at 4 weeks, my younger at 7 weeks. I was unable to breastfeed, so they got formula with a tiny bit of rice cereal in the bedtime bottle (I absolutely always held them for feeding, never a propped bottle in our house). It worked like a charm. They were hungry and formula alone didn’t do it. In spite of all the scare statistics about early food they are healthy, slim, non-allergic adults. I also used disposable diapers, so no waking up soaked or stinging from rash. I guess I was a very unhip mama in the 80s.

  23. What great timing for this article! Recently, someone left a comment on my blog about this (in response to an article I did about the Cry It Out method). She talked about how her baby slept through the night early on and attributed it to having a higher- fat diet, the baby’s larger size, and her frequent day feedings (she breastfed him). She told me that a few nurses told her that babies are capable of it.

    But what she fails to realize is that no two babies are the same. AND the fact that a baby is waking up in the night can be attributed to soooo many other things: allergies, room temps, stimulation, household stress, etc. I have heard of breastfed babies sleeping through the night early and many that don’t.

    My two babies did not sleep through the night until later. Now, they sleep really well through the night. However, in talking with other mothers, I am realizing that even (some) children who have been bottle fed, and subjected to CIO, that not all those children don’t sleep through the night when they get older, as well.

    Right now, I have an autoimmune disease, so if I have another little one, I will NOT use CIO, but I will definitely look for ways to get as much sleep as possible (naps, early bedtimes, etc).

    Thank you again for the article. 🙂

  24. As someone who still wakes 2 or more times a night with a nearly two-year-old, articles like this are always welcome. However, I’m definitely with Lily that I firmly reserve the right to “feel sorry for myself” from time to time – I’m not interested in being a martyr or a saint! And I would love to see some more pointers on how to cope/improve sleep from people who know all the things listed in the article. “Take naps” isn’t a very realistic piece of advice for someone who works full time outside the home. Are there any other full-time working moms out there who can commiserate and/or offer advice? Everyone I know who “attachment” parents works part time at most, and all the full-time working mamas I know had to sleep train or wean out of desperation or necessity. Just curious if anyone else out there is doing both.

  25. I just would like to reply that I bottle-fed both my babies and they both slept in cots from 3 months in their own room. They both woke several times a night, and my youngest of 2 years 3 months still unfortunately does. It is a fallacy to be on the side of breastfeeding/ bottle-feeding and separate-sleeping/ co-sleeping and say that you have one result (of sleeping through the night) from one philosophy and one from the other (sleeping through the night) – it all depends what you do with it when your child cries in the night. I cannot leave her to scream, so either my husband or i go in to her and cuddle her til she agrees (by her own signals) to go back into her bed. We’ve tried putting her back into our bed and she doesn’t want to, (and her first 3 months were in our bed all night til she grew bigger and we felt there wasn’t enough space from her point of view as she kept wanting to spread out and we were in the way!)

    And we get so many pointed looks and negative feedback that we don’t leave her to cry. It all depends on the child and the parents reactions, not so much on the external issues.

  26. Whew, great to hear I’m not alone!

    My son is 9 months, and was a very big baby at birth and for the first few months. A neighbour/pediatrician of mine also had a big baby, and she told me it can be a myth that bigger babies sleep through the night easier. In our case, it’s true. He’s always ravenous when he wakes for his night-time feeds. I wish it weren’t so, but it’s often every 2 hours.

    Ah, well. We co-sleep, and I get knowing quips from friends about how co-sleeping babies wake more in the night. Is it true? I don’t know. I might consider some kind of sleep-training, but half the time he’s so hungry when he wakes up, that it’d be cruel and unusual not to feed him. And he promptly pulls off, rolls over and is fast asleep after a feed. I keep figuring I should a) try and get more food into him during the day, and/or b) try and tucker him out with more active outdoor play (in mid-winter Ottawa, Canada ;> )…. Ah, well. It is what it is.

    In any case, so many people… our nurse-practitioner who I adore and agree with usually… friends, acquaintances, babycenter.ca… keep telling us that he *can* sleep through the night now. My husband’s bought into their saying this, and he thinks a crib is the magic bullet, or that there’s something we’re doing wrong.

    I just want to enjoy my baby, and our time together. I’m doing okay and managing to wake up with him to feed.

  27. I’m not working outside the home now, but I did when my oldest was a baby and she was reverse cycling. We co-slept while she nursed near constantly from 10 to 4 most nights. It was by far the most challenging time of my life. The best I could do was to have my husband take her at least one weekend morning so I could sleep in a little, and I took a mental health day every few months. I learned the hard way when I drove myself into exhaustion and ended up with mastitis and pink eye at the same time, so I had to take two days off. It was a good reminder that behind mommy and lawyer and wife, I was still *me* and needed to take care of myself at least a little. And if all else fails, deep breaths and remind yourself that this too shall pass.

  28. I also work full-time outside my home. I am raising my 2 grandchildren they are 3 years old just turned 2 last month. Because they are grandchildren, they are bottle-fed. The older started sleeping all night when we figured out that he was lactose-intolerant. The younger has slept all night maybe 3 times in her 2 year life. My son ( their fater) NEVER slept all night. He will be 20 years old this month & still does not sleep all night, which is why he is an only child. I have tried everything under the sun to get her to sleep. I have found that she sleeps more in her own room in her own bed. She wakes up more if she is in bed with us. Since I work, napping is not an option. I simply go to bed earlier than I would really like. I have found that she actually awakes more when she hasn’t had a nap & is overtired. Most nights I put them to bed between 7 and 7:30 and I am in bed by 8:30 when I have to work. Not very helpful info, but I know these days will not last forever.

  29. My co-sleeping exclusively breastfed baby was sleeping through the night by 5 or 6 weeks. Which I want to point out is defined by professionals as a five hour stretch. I think people misunderstand that that is the definition. I was super fortunate because I had a lot of support and being my first kid I could stay in bed a lot. So while it often took 12 hours to do it, I got 8 his of sleep a night. Now at 4 months she sleeps 7 to 9 hours straight but nurses 1 to 4 times during that period. She stays asleep but I feel her wiggle against me and I just roll over and she latches on in her sleep. Then she wakes for an hour and goes back to sleep with me for an hour and a half to two hours. She also naps a LOT. Having taken care of a lot of babies I truly believe that sleep begets sleep. But I also believe a lot of it is genetic or a personality thing. But I also think some things can help.

    -I haven’t worried about weight loss and I eat a lot of healthy fats. Olive oil, coconut oil and milk, avocado, nuts, fish oil, and seeds

    -She nurses a lot during the day. At four months she still nurses every hour or two and for most of her nap. So she gets a lot of calories during the day.

    -From the beginning I had lots of light during the day and kept only a dim night light on at night so I could change diapers and nurse.

    I realize this is totally unrealistic for many moms and definitely for working moms. But I hope to some it can be helpful.

    -Also though she didn’t wake she had disturbed sleep and wriggled all night when I ate cow dairy. Goat is fine.

    I was really interested in what the elimination communication expert said. I have been shocked that when my little lady wakes in the morning if I change get diaper right away it is dry! But is quickly soaked. She holds it for so long! I’d encourage her to empty hey bladder more often if I knew how! And I notice she always wakes before she poops. And she had earned the name fancy pants because she tends to only poop in a clean diaper. I’m constantly impressed by babies!

    Best of luck to every one. I knew how awful I feel without good sleep and I really empathize.

    PS. Clients of mine found that their previously good sleepers had a hard time when they changed to solids and found that feeding them beans and avocados and other “heavy” foods before bed made a big difference in how long they slept.

    I’m hungry when I wake in the night as a nursing mom, why wouldn’t a baby be, considering how much they grow?

  30. right on lily! my 2 daughters,both breastfed, slept through the night by 2 weeks old 11:00 P.M. – 6:00 A.M. they always had clean bills of health from their doctors. now one of those daughters just delivered my second grandson and is breast feeding exclusively and he also sleeps through the night. her first son, was a bottle fed- breastfed baby and he also slept through the night. i think it just depends on the kid! who knows why some sleep through! just luck i think!!

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