1-6 months: What to expect & What to do

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Your baby's sleep development is racing. There is no other moment in life when sleep evolves this drastically. That is both good and bad: the big milestones mean progress but the constant changes also bring along the typical baby sleep problems of this age.

Let's have a look at the typical issues you may experience at this age and how to handle them. We also explain why it all happens: understanding that helps you do the right things at the right moments.

That's your guarantee for the best possible sleep in any situation.

Sleeping through the night ... or not?

4 month old on tummy

Between 1 and 6 months old your baby may gradually start sleeping for longer stretches at night. But it's important to have realistic expectations.

Contrary to what many (try to make us) believe, before the age of 4-6 months, sleeping through the night on average is an uninterrupted sleep stretch of about 4-5 hours, not much more.

If your baby is sleeping through gloriously for 8 hours or more - and is old enough to be without re-hydration for that long - that is of course great.

Count your blessings and enjoy … But do also read on, because it doesn't always last. Definitely check out the “4 months sleep dip” part, because you can prevent the retrogression.

For most babies though, 1, 2 or 3 night feedings are still quite normal and simply necessary, definitely between 1 and 4 months old. That is both for healthy digestion (by allowing regular not-too-large portions) and for hydration.

Towards 4 months old, baby's digestive system has matured a lot. This means she'll be able to cope with slightly larger portions. And so she can be without food for longer … and sleep longer stretches.

With further maturing towards 6 months old, a decrease to 0 feedings in a stretch of 8 hours is common. But for many babies 1 or 2 still remain, also beyond the 6 months baby milestone.

Hunger or the need for food are not the only reasons to wake up during the night. The short sleep cycles still rule meaning baby half-wakes up at least once every hour (and needs self soothing . Any physical discomfort like early teething, a blocked nose, stuck nerves or an illness easily causes extra awakenings.

What to do
  • The first thing to help your baby sleep through as much as she physically can is a healthy sleep environment, with all the very basics in place. There's no magic in that, but it's the absolute minimum: without the basics in place, it's just not realistic to expect good sleep.

    Read the sleeping through the night pages and ensure that you have those basics set up. At the very least install a regular schedule (timed or flexible pattern are both fine at this age), a not-too late bedtime and a good bedtime routine.
  • Regular naps, or at least nap opportunities and for many babies not-too-much agitation during the day, have an important influence on the night.
  • Crib safety guidelines remain just as important as when baby was newborn. To keep baby safe and secure indeed, but just as much to help her sleep well. A child in a safe environment truly feels safe, and that makes her sleep most restfully. This is an often underestimated factor, but it is powerful.
  • Settling all alone after a night waking is difficult for many if not most babies under 6 months old. Holding, rocking or nursing to sleep is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as you keep self soothing practice in mind.
  • Finally, keep an eye on the night feeds. Don't worry about them as long as your baby shows a need. There is plenty of time in the second half year to wean from them if needed.

    But still, especially once 4 months old and if you feel your baby can handle it: experiment with not feeding more than absolutely necessary.

    Try to leave at least 3 hours between two night feeds. Try to soothe and settle your baby with words (always the same ...), holding or rocking in stead of feeding. Share this task with your partner for better results, this will also help towards self soothing later on.

A lot of course also depends on your baby's personality, her overall health and your particular family situation. Don't hesitate to ask me if you'd like to discuss sleeping through in your case.