In the first few months of an infant's life, two things are very important and very much intertwined. Those two things are feeding and sleeping. A lot of parents spend a lot of time focusing on getting their baby sleeping through the night, which I understand...sleep deprivation is real. However, these following things need to be emphasized and remembered regarding infants and sleep.
Feeding and sleeping are dependent on each other
During the first few months there is rapid growth in a baby, in particular brain growth and development. Babies require alot of calories to fuel this brain growth and development. Babies will wake at least twice nightly to refuel. Typically, most infants under 1 may not be able to sleep through the night and in my personal opinion, it shouldn't be forced.
Babies need sleep, both day time sleep and night sleep.
There is a misguided notion that if baby doesn't sleep much in the day time they will sleep longer at night. This is incorrect, sleep begets sleep. The more rested a baby is during the day, the better they sleep at night. This can be due to the fact that a baby kept awake all day produces more of the stress hormone called Cortisol. This hormone makes them agitated and grumpy and this will carry forward to the night. The same way adults feel when deprived of sleep is the same way infants feel when deprived of their sleep.
Babies need to receive the majority of their energy needs during the day to facilitate less waking at night.
Babies typically should be eating 80% of their food during the day. What happens if they don't? Their body will prioritize feeding over sleeping and they will wake frequently at night to compensate for the food they missed during the day. How do we support this? By not letting babies sleep too long without eating. It doesn't necessarily mean waking them fully up...if baby is sleeping close to 3 hours, we want to pick baby up and initiate feeding. A hungry baby will open their mouths to feed even if their eyes are closed.
Sleeping through the night for infants under 1 year old is scientifically defined as a stretch of sleep between 5-6 hours. Longer stretches of sleep will be seen much later on in infancy..but for those earlier months, babies need to eat several times during the night, as they follow their natural rhythms.
A baby's weight has little influence on their ability to sleep longer stretches.
I know this sounds crazy given there are books saying that by 12 pounds babies can sleep 12 hour stretches...but should they really?
A newborn baby can be born weighing 12 pounds, does it mean that the baby is by default ready to sleep 12 hours? No it doesn't. The evidence suggests infant sleep and longer stretches of sleep, are influenced by where they are in their brain development. Evidence suggests it is harmful to ignore where baby is developmentally in order to have that baby sleeping beyond what's developmentally appropriate for them.
In another post I will talk about how we can help babies fall into a healthy sleep pattern by the use of sleep hygiene versus sleep training, so parents can enjoy more sleep.
Have a great day everyone!
Certified Birth & Postpartum Doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, Certified New Parent Educator & Advanced Certified Newborn Care Specialist