Sleep patterns change as the baby grows.
1) Birth to six months
Nighttime feeds are normal for babies up to five months of age and beyond. Newborns tend to wake up to breastfeed every two to three hours through the night.
Many babies have a fussy period in the evening followed by a five-hour sleep (the evening fussies). These can start as early as the second evening after birth or as late as three weeks after birth.
During the evening fussies, babies feed frequently and take in a lot of milk to prepare for a longer sleep. They also need more sleep after being cranky for a few hours. Without the fussies, they generally wake to feed every two to three hours through the night.
Between the ages of 1 and 6 months, 64% of babies breastfeed one to three times a night and take in about 20% of their daily milk intake during this time (Kent 2006).
2) Six to 12 months
a) Night-time waking is normal
At this age, many parents expect babies to sleep through the night. However, most still wake and need to feed.
One study (Brown 2015) looked at 715 mothers and their babies between 6 and 12 months of age. Some were breastfed and some were fed infant formula. The study found that:
- There was no difference in how often breast- and infant formula-fed babies woke up.
- 78% of all babies at this age regularly woke at least once during the night.
- 61% of all babies who woke at night had one or more feedings.
- Babies who received more milk or solid foods during the day were less likely to feed at night but not less likely to wake. This suggests that increasing the baby’s caloric intake during the day may reduce the need to feed the baby at night but will not reduce the need to attend to the baby.
- The incidence of night awakenings and night feeds decreased with age.
b) Infant formula use and starting solid foods do not have a significant effect on night waking
One study (Pennestri 2018a) showed that the overall amount of sleep that babies get at six months was the same for breastfed and infant formula-fed babies and that the sleep patterns of both groups were the same by two years of age.
One study (Perkin 2018) showed that starting solid foods at three months instead of six, had only a minimal effect on decreasing night wakings (from 2.01 to 1.74) and on increasing the amount of sleep (16 minutes longer) at six months of age.
Even at 12 months, one-third of both breast- and infant formula-fed infants will wake before 6 hours (Pennestri 2018a).
c) Increased waking up after six months of age
Some babies wake up more in the second six months of life than during the first six. The evening fussies, when babies take in a lot of milk and tire themselves out, stop when the baby is between four and six months of age. Without the evening fussies, the five-hour sleep can disappear. This pattern can be frustrating but is normal.
The more frequent waking in the second six months is sometimes called sleep regression, a word that means returning to a former or less developed state. It is not an ideal label as these babies are developing normally.
A baby’s sleep pattern may not be consistent, with nightly shifts between shorter and longer sleeps.
3) After one year
Many babies generally don’t sleep for more than five hours in a row during the first year. After that, their sleep pattern starts to mirror the adult pattern. They wake up less and less during the night.
Waking up with a baby can be tiring, but it is normal for babies to wake in the night and they eventually grow out of it. Human babies share this behaviour with other primates (Nishida 2012).
One study showed that babies who were breastfed during the first six months were less likely to feed after midnight at one year of age (Wee 2017). Another showed that babies who were breastfed were better sleepers at three to five years of age (Herring 2020).