One of the most common questions parents have for their pediatricians is how to get their children to sleep through the night. Unfortunately, this is a developmental milestone. There is no way to predict when your baby might walk or say “Dada.” Equally true is the fact that there is no way to predict when your baby might sleep through the night. It is also important to remember that there is no particular age when your baby should sleep through the night. He will reach that development milestone when his body is ready to handle it.
Remember that in the early weeks of feeding, your breastfed infant will need a nursing session every two to three hours. If he sleeps through the night, he will not be getting the nourishment his body needs. A baby’s stomach is only the size of his fist. It generally empties within ninety minutes of any given feeding. As a result, he will wake to feed often, and this is quite normal behavior. Expecting him to sleep at this early stage of development is simply too much to ask. You will need to continue to nurse your baby at night for many months. He may go for longer stretches between feedings as he gets older, but allow him to feed as long as you and your pediatrician feel it is necessary.
Many well meaning relatives and friends will lead you to believe that giving a young baby cereal will help him sleep better at night. However, giving your breastfed baby cereal at less than six months of age is bad for his digestive system. It can actually upset his stomach, making your nights much worse than they were before. Try to hold off on solids until six months of age.
The early weeks of continual night waking can exhaust everyone in your family. The best strategy to deal with these early weeks is to sleep when your baby does. You might try to have friends or relatives pitch in with the housework so you can use your baby’s nap time for a nap of your own, not chores you feel like you must accomplish. You might also try co-sleeping with your baby so that both of you can get some extra rest. There are some pretty serious dangers associated with co-sleeping, so be sure to research carefully before you begin the process, but if you are able to nurse in the side lying position while the two of you rest, it may actually help you both feel more rested and comfortable with the entire nursing process.
Many people will tell you that your baby should learn to comfort themselves when they wake up at night. They may even tell you to let your child cry him self to sleep. This works for some people, however, most parents find it is best to trust their instincts. Respond to your child’s cries if you feel it appropriate. Your bundle of joy will eventually sleep through the night when he is ready to hit that milestone. Until then, don’t worry.