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Why is my Baby Awake in the Middle of the Night?

As sleep experts, we get asked all the time whether we think a baby is waking from hunger or habit, especially with frequent middle of the night wake ups.

The truth is, babies need as much help and guidance when it comes to sleep as they do with anything else. Our babies need extensive care and help in their development, and their sleep cycles can be unbelievably erratic if left unregulated. This can result in LOTS of night wakings (often every 45 minutes or so, at the end of each sleep cycle), especially after the sleep cycle changes that happen around 4 months.

The 4 Month Sleep Regression

The neurological sleep changes that happen just before 4 months old are a big deal. In fact, so big that we’ve written a separate blog topic on it which you can find here. The basic premise is that sleep changes between 12 and 16 weeks when sleep cycles biologically re-sort as babies mature from newborn sleepers to sleeping like the rest of us. This change can disrupt a once snoozy newborn and make parents think they’ve gone crazy!

After the 4 month changes, it is definitely worth determining if your babe is waking every hour or two because they are hungry (unlikely) or because they have become used to feeding as a way to get comfortable and fall asleep.

Mom feeding baby in the middle of the nighr

So is My Baby Waking from Hunger or Habit?

To give you an understanding of what may be realistic, a recent study published in the Journey of Natural Science and Sleep found that 50%–75% of infants sleep through the night at 12 weeks of age, and 90% sleep through at 6 months of age.

At the Sleeper Teachers we typically recommend keeping a night feed if your baby wakes up for one until they reach 15 pounds and/or 6 months. Before then, their tummies aren’t always large enough to sustain through a full night without a feed. But after that point, fasting at night is biologically reasonable (and beneficial).

If your babe is under 15 pounds or younger than 6 months, it is likely that they are waking at night because they are hungry and need the calories! Of course, if they have the skill of sleeping independently, they may drop their night feeds on their own (YAHOOOOOO!) which means that you can let them sleep as long as they need, as long as pediatrician has given you the green light.

Now, if your little one is over 15 pounds or older than 6 months, it is unlikely that they need the caloric intake from their middle of the night feeds. Of course, we always like to get pediatrician’s approval before we eliminate night feeds, but it is common for feeding to sleep (or back to sleep) to become habitual once passing these age and size milestones.  

As much as we wish babies could just fall right to sleep when they’re tired and stay asleep through the night as long as long as they are full, it simply doesn’t work that way. Babies become easily reliant on sleep props such as feeding, rocking, patting, pacifiers, etc, and until they learn how to fall asleep on their own without them, it is unrealistic for us to expect that they will get through the connection of sleep cycles on their own.

So, if you are feeding or rocking your babe to sleep at bedtime, it is most likely that they are waking up between sleep cycles (which is totally normal, we all do) and looking for that same method, a feed or more rocking, to be able to fall back to sleep. This is when waking in the middle of the night turns from hunger to habit.

Teach Your Baby to Be An Independent Sleeper

The good news is that independent sleep is no different than all the other things you have been teaching your little one. You can learn more about what it means for your baby to be an independent sleeper here.

Sleep is a learned skill, and teaching sleep is what the Sleeper Teachers™ do best. We’d love nothing more than to be the newest member on your family’s sleep team. We have accompanied over a thousand families on their journeys to teach their little ones to become great sleepers. It has been truly life changing for so many families, and we’d be honored to guide you on your independent sleep teaching journey as well. Head over to this link to book a free sleep evaluation call with one of our pediatric sleep consultants so we can get to know your family and chat about how we might be able to help you.

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