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Mothering › Baby Articles › When Do Babies Sleep Through the Night?

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 

Comments (33)

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!
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!
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
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
That last paragraph made the whole article worth reading. Needed to hear that! Thanks! Going in search of grace!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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...
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
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.
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!
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. :)
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.
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.
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!
Wonderful article, Peggy! I would just add one (very important, often overlooked) thing to your list of possible night-waking culprits: •Does your baby need to pee? Because I am an Elimination Communication educator/author, I've done a lot of research on the topic, and have personal experience with my 18 month old. :) And...part of the night-waking mystery stems from this hygiene-related instinct. Babies are born with an instinct to not soil themselves, their beds, or their caregivers. So, they have the sensation to wake and seek help with this (mom, remove my diaper and help me put this somewhere else!), starting from day one of birth. Again, personal experience (with my son and my readers' children) has shown that this is true. Granted, not all parents wish to go through the work of pottying a baby at night, but for those who do want to help a baby rest better (and for those babies who indeed sleep *better* when given a potty break at night - of which there are overwhelmingly many), EC or Infant Potty Training is a wonderful solution. Just my 3 cents! :) Andrea
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! :)
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!
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