Six months is the pivotal age where many families feel their baby ‘should’ be sleeping through the night. Everyone tells you that the first six months are the hardest and once they get on solids they’ll sleep through. This is not always the case and there are a few factors that come into play when looking to achieve a sleep through at six months.
“How do I get my 6-month-old to sleep through the night?”
Good days mean good nights, so the very first thing to look at is your daytime routine. It is expected that most babies of this age are still taking three naps. Wake time is approximately 2.5–3 hours between sleeps, but may be less if you have a cat napper on your hands. At this age, sleep windows really do come into play. This is not the duration of wake time but rather the time on the clock. These windows are between 9–10am and 12–2pm, and emerge from about four months old. As long as bub is napping within these windows and getting approximately three hours sleep across two or three naps, your nights should not be negatively affected. There is a need for a nap around 4–5pm but there is no sleep window here so I recommend doing this one in the pram, car or carrier for only 20 minutes to see bub through and prevent overtiredness.
Once you have got your day routine in place, then look at settling and self-settling. A baby that can self-settle is more likely to sleep through the night. You can do this without leaving your baby to cry alone and can work as slowly and gently as you feel necessary for your baby’s personality and your comfort level. For example, if you are currently feeding to sleep and bub is waking six times a night to feed and you know they are not hungry, work from there. Stop feeding to sleep on a feed when you are certain they aren’t hungry and instead try holding to sleep, settling on the bed next to you, or getting your partner to settle in arms. From there into the cot to stroke, pat or hold hands to sleep, then just using your voice, and so on. This process can take a week or five weeks depending on how slow you go. The most important thing is being consistent each time you change the level of intervention you use.
Another method is pick up bub each time they get upset, calm down then replace in the cot. This method works well for a four- or five-month old, but the up/down motion can get overstimulating for a bub from seven months old and you are better off settling in the cot. Of course, a dark room for melatonin production, sunlight between naps during playtime, white noise, introducing a comforter and a nice wind down before bed and nap times are always part of the process.
“How many feeds should I be doing at night?”
Some babies that are not well established on solids may still take two feeds overnight. Some bigger babies at six months may need three feeds overnight if they have not started solids at all. Do not force the process before they are ready! Often parents notice a big increase in feeding (and night feeds) when bub is ready for solids and milk may not satisfy alone. Once bub is well established on solids (over 4–6 tablespoons worth of food per meal) with productive daytime feeds, and they are gaining weight and meeting developmental milestones, you can look at dropping to one feed overnight, which often happens naturally with the solid increase. It is important to balance your meals for bub and include some protein (small amounts) starting about 6–7 months with lunch to help stabilise blood sugar at night. Often once the protein is added, the second night feed can be dropped. Go slow, don’t want bub getting constipated do we! Don’t give protein at dinner, their digestion isn’t ready and this can actually cause night wakes from a sore tummy.
Please remember that babies are not robots and they all have different personalities! They will all ‘catch on’ to self-settling differently, will have a slightly different routine, meet milestones at different times, have varying interest for solids, and please please try not to compare.
“Can developmental milestones such as rolling, sitting and starting to crawl affect my babies sleep?”
Absolutely! However, it does not mean that you go back to the start if you have been working on self-settling. Just recognise that sleep is a little harder at this time. Give them some extra comfort, or an extra nap or an earlier bedtime rather than going back to feeding to sleep, if you have been working to eliminate this as part of your sleep goals.