Babies should be sleeping through the night by 6-8 weeks, and if they aren't they can be taught to sleep through the night by letting them cry when they wake up at night instead of going in and helping them.
This is one of the most pervasive myths around. If so many people believe it and say it worked for them it has got to be true, right? That's exactly what I thought until my husband I became traveling supervisors of missionary families on the field. As we traveled from family to family, sometimes staying as long as two weeks, we were astounded by the number of parents, and siblings too, that slept through the regular patterns of night crying of their babies.
The babies usually cried 15-45 minutes before returning to sleep. One baby, who was sick at the time, woke up over 15 times. We assumed the parents were attempting to comfort him at first, but in the morning they were both surprised at our sympathy over their baby's crying because neither of them had heard anything, nor had their older daughters.
Adults are even more adept than children or babies at sleeping through noises they have determined not to respond to while still being able to wake with a jolt if the floor board creaks.
One day, I was expressing my amazement to my own parents at all the families that were sleeping through the crying of their babies (peacefully sure that their babies had been ``taught" to sleep through the night). ``We are not surprised," my father said. ``When you girls were babies [my older sister and I are only 11 months apart in age], we decided that Mommie would get up with you and I would get up with Beth, when you cried at night. In a couple weeks, I would only wake up when Beth cried and your mother would only wake up when you cried. The human mind's sound screening ability when asleep is truly amazing!" No wonder an adult can sleep through a crying baby (or snoring partner or passing train) and yet wake up with a jolt if the doorknob turns!
One study, done with time-lapse video tape, established that most babies wake up twice a night (between the times of 10 pm and 5 am (which was the only time period they filmed), until around the age of six months, and once during this time period, between the ages of 6 months and a year. Whether the parents responded to the child or not did not appear to change the number of times the child woke up, and those babies who were comforted returned to sleep much more quickly than those who were not. Breast-fed babies woke up slightly more frequently than bottlefed, though bottle-fed babies had a higher incidence of colic which sometimes resulted in multiple night wakings or restlessness.
Some parents have found that they cannot quickly learn to sleep through their babies cries (or, from their perspective, that their baby is not learning quickly or consistently not to wake up and cry at night). Some of these parents, to save themselves sleep and to have freedom from grief or guilt feelings, will put the baby where they have no chance of hearing him if he cries: in the attic, basement, or kitchen. One family I know which followed this procedure, had two out of their three children die of SIDS as babies - in the basement! I consider it nothing short of abusive for even a well-meaning parent to save their own feelings at the expense of their helpless baby's feelings. Matthew 9: 36 says that when Jesus saw the crowds ``he had compassion on them for they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd." How much more should we have compassion on a ``harassed and helpless" infant, who, for whatever reason, is having trouble sleeping.
Objection: My baby wakes up so much at night it is driving us all crazy and ruining my marriage! I have no alternative. Besides, what other way is there to get a baby to sleep better?
If you happen to have a baby that is a poor night sleeper, I would recommend that you try to solve the problem that is causing the waking instead of ignoring the baby's distress, or merely accepting the multiple and ruining your health, the family's health and ending up with a cranky baby during the day. Try the following:
1)Make sure that your baby is healthy (have the doctor check him for diaper rash, yeast infection, pin worms, earache, teething, constipation, urinary tract infection, hernia, etc.) A sick baby can not be expected to sleep well. One especially fussy baby I know turned out to have diabetes. Poor weight gain is one good indicator that something may be wrong healthwise.
2) Make sure that the place your baby sleeps is conducive to sleep. Some babies, like some adults, are much more sensitive to light and sound while asleep. As much as possible make sure the place is dark, quiet, and warm. Running a vaporizor or humidifier can create low level background noise that helps some babies sleep better. Wrapping a baby securely in a blanket also can be helpful, especially if you nurse the baby sitting up then try to put it down in bed. Some babies are helped by putting them swaddled to sleep on their side with their back and top of their head firmly wedged into the padded corner of their bed.
2)Make sure that he is not eating anything that is giving him an upset stomach... Even if you only nurse, many things pass through to the milk and cause sleep disturbances.
My doctor laughed at this ``old wives tale" but I was sold after I was able to ``cure" my first baby of colic, and constant crying or whimpering, merely by removing milk from MY diet (I was nursing him). Each time I reintroduced milk products to my diet, the colic would return. When I tried him on yogurt, after weaning him, he would soon throw-up everything.
Through the process of eliminating some foods and reintroducing them one by one you can see how they affect your child. Allow a 24 hr. period for any reaction and a three day minimum period to clear your system of any commonly eaten food before expecting to see noticeable improvement in the baby.
Foods that are most likely to be causing problems are: milk products (including yogurt, cheese etc. and in severe cases, butter); spicy foods, gas producing foods (beans, brocolli, cabbage, onions, green peppers, etc.), highly allergenic foods (including tomatoes, citrus fruits, strawberries, corn, eggs, wheat, chocolate, nuts- especially peanuts.), and foods or medicines containing caffeine or other anti-drowsiness drugs. [Note: when eliminating a food, you must also eliminate any products with that food as an ingredient: for example, milk products occur in many baked goods. Sometimes these combination foods may be reintroduced when the baby still cannot tolerate you eating the food straight.]
Using this process I was able to determine that my second son's night restlessness (he had no colic, and napped well) was due to my eating of apples, and my daughter was kept awake by my eating catsup distress and tomato products. Happy by-products of the process (in addition to cheerful babies and more sleep) was that I was able to clear up my daughter's horrible infant acne by eliminating peanuts and butter from my diet, and discover that my own lifelong problem with heartburn was due to milk intolerance! Over the years I have seen many babies helped by this process, so it is worth a try.
4) Put your baby to sleep either right next to your bed or with you, if your bed is big enough and your mate is willing. You don't have to worry that sleeping with or close to your baby will cause him any harm or is a weird outgrowth of the hippie/New Age/Back-to-Nature movements. Close to 80% of the population of the world still sleeps together, as did most Americans until the Industrial Revolution. [This can be easily seen in books like the Little House on the Prairie series, where baby Grace sleeps with the parents until she is over two years old, at which time her father makes her a little trundle box to sleep in beside their bed.] Even in highly educated and industrialized countries like Japan, where there is not room for every baby to have his own room, the babies sleep with or by the mother with no negative effect on their intelligence, obedience or sexual orientation.
The idea is to have the baby close enough so that you do not have to get up to comfort it at night, or nurse it if it is hungry. Patting the baby, swinging its cradle, or nursing can often calm even a sick baby before it gets into a full cry. Just having the baby close can help you gain understanding as to what his problem may be, and what his waking pattern is. Unless he has problems with diaper rash, or has soiled his diaper, do not change the baby's diaper at night or do anything else that would significantly wake him to establish a night waking pattern. Some women have found that the little extra expense of using a paper diaper at night (which are more absorbent than cloth) is well worth it, because they keep the baby's skin dry all night even when not changed.
5)Some babies are born ``jet lagged"... sleeping all day, awake all night. These babies can be helped by getting sunshine, light and air during the day-don't let them sleep it away - and keeping them in the dark and quiet even when they are awake at night. Put them in bed with you if they wake up a night, but don't get up and turn on the lights/TV or anything else that will make it seem like morning. This method also helps get rid of real baby jet-lag when you are traveling long distances.
6)Help your baby to get ready for the night by establishing a fairly long recognizable bedtime routine: a warm bath, rocking and nursing in a dark place, even humming or singing a soothing lullaby or having your own ``quiet time" by reading the Bible out loud while you rock the baby. As your child gets older, this time develops naturally into the time when you read stories and pray with the child - so no need to fear starting something you won't wish to continue!
7)Poor sleepers are usually babies that have a low pain/sound threshold and a hard time blocking out sensory stimulation. Not surprisingly, the same processes that adults use to block out pain or noise work with babies. Rocking is one of the most helpful, and automatic baby swings, baby back packs, and cradles all make use of the mind-dulling effect of rocking. Colicky babies also benefit from pressure to the tummy area - by carrying them slung over the shoulder (with the pressure of the shoulder on the tummy area), putting them face down on your knees and jostling them as the knee puts pressure on their abdomen, or putting a warmish (not hot) water bottle under their tummy. ``White noise" makers, like the previously mentioned vaporizors or fans pointed away from the baby, are also good for helping them tune out their environment.
8)Pray together as parents for the Lord to give you discernment into the needs and problems of your child.
The most important thing to remember is that your baby is not waking up at night on purpose, any more than adults with insomnia wake up on purpose. Your goal needs to be to help him sleep, not wash your hands of his problem. Most babies will not sleep through the night on a consistent basis until they are more active physically during the day (i.e. they can walk) and they are eating solid foods, especially proteins.