Sleeping Through the Night

by Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC

It's so common for mothers to worry when their babies don't sleep through the night. After all, everyone knows they're "supposed to." Some doctors recommend nighttime weaning and "cry it out" methods if your baby is not sleeping through the night by 6 months or even earlier. Even when the mom herself has no problems with baby nursing at night, she still worries that this is a problem, since American society seem to consider it one. There are books all over the bookstores with advice on solving so-called "sleep problems."

First, please ignore what everyone else says about your baby's sleep habits and what is "normal." These people are not living with you or your baby. Unless your doctor sleeps in the next room and your baby is keeping him awake every night, he has no reason to question a healthy baby's sleep habits. If you and your baby enjoy nighttime feedings, then why not continue? It's a great way to have time with her, particularly if you are apart during the day.

Every baby is different, and some sleep through the night earlier than others (schedules or food usually have nothing to do with this). Your baby may be hungry (keep in mind that breastmilk digests in less than 2 hours) or she may just want time with you. Babies whose mothers work during the week often nurse more at night and on weekends, perhaps to reconnect with Mom.

This period of time will be a very tiny part of your child's years with you.

Doctors tend to look at night nursing only from a nutritional standpoint, but this is only part of the story. After the first few months, your baby will begin to associate the breast with far more than just a way to satisfy hunger and thirst. It becomes a place of comfort, security, warmth, closeness, and familiarity. The act of nursing is not just nourishing; it is nurturing. Keep in mind that these needs are every bit as real as baby's physical ones, and having them met is every bit as needful to baby's overall development.

If the amount that your child sleeps and nurses at night isn't a major problem for you, then there's no reason to try to change anything. You are not doing a bad thing by nursing on demand; you are doing a wonderful thing for your baby. When you comfort baby at night, you are not teaching her a bad habit: you are teaching her that you are there for her when she needs you. Is security a bad habit?

What is normal when it comes to baby's sleep?

It is common for breastfed babies to not sleep through the night for a long period of time. On the other hand, some breastfed babies start sleeping through the night when a few months old.

Both of my children nursed once (occasionally more) at night through their second year. Since this doesn't bother me, I did doing nothing to change it. We co-sleep, and neither my baby nor I generally wake up completely when she nurses. Both started sleeping through the night on their own, when they were ready.

Your baby will begin to comfort herself and to sleep for longer stretches at her own developmental pace. If your baby wants to nurse at night, it is because she does need this, whether it's because she is hungry or because she wants to be close to Mom. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone - like walking or toilet training - that your baby will reach when she is ready to. Trying to force or coax baby to reach this before her time may result in other problems later on.

If you can try to take a more relaxed approach and trust that it will come in time, you'll see your baby eventually become a good sleeper. You'll be able to rest peacefully in your heart and mind knowing that she reached this in her own time when she felt secure enough to do so, not because she had no other choice but to quiet herself because no one would come.

Probably one of the main reasons that night-waking babies are such a big issue is that parents don't have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies. We are bombarded with magazine articles and books that perpetuate the myth that babies should not have nighttime needs. Babies were designed to wake up often at night to feed and cuddle, and keep in mind that many adults wake during the night, too. If our expectations for babies were not so different from our babies' expectations for themselves, much of this "problem" might disappear.

Why do babies wake at night?

Babies wake at night for many reasons, and they often start waking at night after sleeping through for a few months. Some of the reasons for night waking (in no particular order) are:

  • baby wants more time with mom

  • teething

  • developmental advances (for example: waking more often right before or after learning to turn over, crawl or talk)

  • illness, allergy, diaper rash, eczema

  • hunger (including growth spurts)

  • reverse cycling: Some babies whose moms are away during the day prefer to reject most/all supplements while mom is away, and nurse often during the evening and night. If mom is very busy during the day or if baby is very distracted, this can also lead to reverse cycling.

When your child nurses more often at night, go through this checklist to see if you can figure out what might be going on. Sometimes there may be more than one thing causing the night waking.

Remember that night waking in babies and young children is normal and temporary!

Children grow out of night waking, even when we do nothing to discourage it. This period of time will be a very tiny part of your child's years with you.

Your goal is to maximize sleep for everyone in the family, while respecting the needs of your child. If you're meeting this goal, then ignore anyone who suggests that you do things differently. All parents find that they change the way they do things as their child grows older and reaches different developmental stages - sleep is just another thing that changes as your child grows.

© Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, Reprinted with permission.

For more on 'sleep training,' 'crying it out' (CIO) and 'controlled crying', see:


*The No-Cry Sleep Solution
*The Baby Sleep Book
*Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering
*The Baby Bond
*Natural Family Living
*The Baby Book
*The Continuum Concept: In Search of Happiness Lost
*Baby Matters
*Attachment Parenting: A Commonsense Guide to Understanding & Nurturing Your Baby
*Primal Health: Understanding the Critical Period Between Conception and the First Birthday
*The Attachment Connection: Parenting A Secure & Confident Child
*Attachment Parenting: Instinctive Care for Your Baby & Young Child
*Mothering Magazine


Excessive Crying Harmful to Babies

Being Wise to Babywise [advocates for CIO, 'controlled crying' and 'sleep training']

The Dangers of Leaving Baby to Cry It Out (CIO)

Crying It Out Causes Brain Damage

Dangers of Your Baby 'Crying It Out'

The Cons of Controlled Crying

Ask the Experts: Sleep Training

The No-Cry Sleep Solution

Should Baby Soothe Himself to Sleep?

Biological Imperatives: Why Babies Do Not and Should Not Sleep Alone

Where Should Babies Sleep at Night? A Review of Evidence

Sleeping Like a Baby

10 Reasons to Sleep by Your Baby

Breastfeeding, Nightwaking: Protection from SIDS

Solitary or Shared Sleep: What is Safe?

Babies Not Designed to Sleep Alone

Baby Sleep: A Review of Research [with links to articles]

Train Up a Child in the Way He Should Go

Primal Love & Mothering

Night Time Parenting: A Practical Approach for the Reduction of Attachment Disorders and the Promotion of Emotionally Secure Children


Co-Sleeping vs. Crib Fact & Statistic Sheet

Baby Sleep Institute and McKenna Library of Research

To connect with other parents and get in on Sleep Forums:


  1. This post couldn't have come at a better time.... My five month old suddenly has decided that night time is for nursing... all night. Funny thing is I know all of this... but it helps when you are in the pattern to have it reiterated for you. I know that she is reverse cycling.. and ready to go into a growth spurt, but hearing it helps to remind me to have patience with it. Thanks... I LOVE this blog. We are on the same path with so many different parts of child rearing... and in a world where co-sleeping, breastfeeding, attachment style parenting can get you strange looks it is nice to know there is a community on the web of similar minded mothers. Thanks for what you do!

  2. It is nice to see this, both my girls would occasionally wake and want to nurse well past 2. With my second daughter I would just lie to her pediatrician when he started asking around 6 months if she was sleeping through the night "Sure she sleeps great" :)

  3. Yes. My 6mo wakes every 2 hours...but I have to go to work in the morning and I'm zonked! I haven't searched the archives of this blog but I'd love to see some pro-co-sleeping resources for mamas who need to be conscious/cannot nap during the day. The Environment of Evolutionary Adaptiveness did not include my 9-5 desk job! So while I remain committed to meeting my baby's needs, I'd love some support/acknowledgement of the challenges working moms face.

  4. Our 10 month old sleeps for a max of 3hrs when he goes down at night then is up every hour wanting to breast feed. This has been going on for 10 months! He probably only gets 4 - 5 hours of sleep every night. He has destroyed Mama & Papa. He naps ok during the day and is a healthy and happy boy. Mama has tried to ween him off the breastfeeding but he tends to get hysterical and I'm unable to soothe him nor does he know how to soothe himself to sleep. It is not uncommon for us to just throw in the towel and wake up with him from 1am -3am or whatever ungodly time he chooses to be awake.......which is most of the night/early morning. Luckily Mama is not working nor is she capable of working due to our boys sleep/awake schedule.



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