A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a sleep experiment I had conducted on Alfie (don’t worry, no babies were harmed in the process of this experiment!). I wanted to see if he had any kind of sleeping habits, as the nights soon all blur into one, and I couldn’t tell if he was waking twice a night or 10 times a night! I found it interesting to see that although he was still waking up, he did pretty much have a set routine of certain times to wake, and would be up for mostly no longer than 5 minutes. Interestingly, he was ill halfway through the experiment, so I was able to show how illness can have a big effect on sleep! You can a read of my full experiment here.
As a part two of my experiment, I wanted to see how other babies sleep compared to Alfie. Sometimes I would feel like every other person’s baby except mine slept through, so I was interested to find out if this was indeed the case!
Now, I’d like to point out that I’m no scientist, or expert on sleep. There is no amazing expertise behind this “study”, I am simply a first time mum asking other mums how their baby’s sleep. I asked mums from various parenting groups I am part of on facebook, as well as a few friends. I probably didn’t “study” enough children to get a real scientific view, but it gives an idea as to how sleep can vary from child to child, and what different aspects can affect a child’s sleep.
I gathered answers from 31 mums, and asked the following questions:
Is your baby sleeping through?
If yes, what age did they start sleeping through and how long do they sleep for?
If no, how many times do they wake up and how do you settle them?
Are you breastfeeding, formula feeding or combi-feeding?
What age did you start weaning?
Did weaning affect your baby’s sleep?
What age did your baby start moving (crawling or walking)?
Did this affect their sleep?
This is what I found:
The children in the study were aged from 12 weeks to 4 years old. 31 children were studied. This included two sets of twins and three sets of siblings.
68% of the children in the study were sleeping through at the time the questions were answered.
Of those that were sleeping through, the average age they started to sleep through was 4 months.
On average, the children sleeping through were sleeping from anything between 7 and 13 hours, although average amount of sleep was 10 hours solid.
This means that 32% of the babies weren’t sleeping through when their mum’s answered the questions. The average amount of wake ups for these babies was 3. The most common way to settle them back to sleep was to feed them, although sometimes just a cuddle or giving back the dummy/teddy was all that was needed.
The youngest baby who slept through was 3 months old. The oldest child who didn’t sleep through was 23 months.
So, you can see from the above questions, babies sleep patterns vary wildly from baby to baby. There are often lots of “myths” or advice given for ways to help your baby sleep through. I included a number of questions that I thought would help dispel some of these myths and show that they don’t necessarily help with sleep.
It is often thought that your method of giving milk to your baby will affect the way they sleep, primarily that formula fed babies sleep through, and breastfed babies don’t. This is often because formula milk tends to be heavier on a baby’s stomach so fills them up for longer, whereas breastmilk is easier to digest, so the baby’s stomach is emptier more quickly, and therefore they wake for more milk. As a breastfeeding mum, I have often been advised to give a bottle of formula before bed to help Alfie sleep for longer, and I often see it given as advise on forums I am on. However, it is not a given that formula will make a baby sleep through.
32% of the mum’s questioned were exclusively breastfeeding and out of these, 40% of the babies slept through, which is quite a high number! 55% of the mum’s questioned were formula feeding and 13% were combi-feeding. Of these babies, 20% didn’t sleep through.
From these statistics, it might seem that a formula fed baby is more likely to sleep through. But it isn’t a guarantee, just like it isn’t a guarantee that a breastfed baby won’t sleep through.
Next, I had a look at the weaning stage. Again, you will often hear people advise that once a baby is on solid food, their baby will start sleeping better at night. The average age of weaning amongst these babies was 6 months.
67% said that weaning didn’t affect sleep at all, and 26% said their baby slept better once they had started weaning. 2 people said weaning made their baby sleep worse! So this suggests that weaning doesn’t have much affect on sleep.
Similarly, it is often thought that once a baby starts moving, they will be exhausted and therefore start sleeping for longer. Out of the mums I spoke to, the average age of crawling or walking (ie some kind of movement) was 8 months. 35% of mums said that this affected their baby’s sleep and helped them sleep for longer, but on the whole, babies being on the move didn’t seem to affect their sleep. In our case, since Alfie has started crawling, his sleep has been worse and he’s been going to bed much later because he’s too excited about his new skill to go to sleep!
So, you can clearly see that every child is different. Some sleep through, some don’t. Some people cope well with the sleep deprivation, but unfortunately some don’t. I’m not saying that it’s easy having a child that wakes frequently, because it isn’t. I’ve always found it difficult to nap during the day, so I’m very lucky that I seem to have gotten used to the night feeds, and generally they don’t bother me. As you can see from my previous post, on the whole Alfie wakes two or three times for around 5 minutes – I have got a pretty good routine in that I can get up, feed him, and be back to bed asleep within a few minutes, so it doesn’t interrupt my sleep too much. Of course we do get nights where I have to sit with him for two hours because he thinks it’s playtime, but you just deal with it. Occasionally I get days when all I want to do is sleep, and I have to ask my husband to help me and let me rest, but we’re a parenting team, so he’s happy to do this.
Having said all that, things might need to change when I go back to work. I’ll be working five days a week, and will be out of the house for nearly 11 hours a day. I will be doing a busy job, so I really do need my sleep. In preparation for this, I have bought “The Gentle Sleep” book by Sarah Ockwell-Smith. It is a book that has been recommended on a lot of gentle parenting sites I am on, and lots of people swear by it. I have yet to get round to reading it properly, but the great thing about it, is that it is split into sections, so I can just read the age appropriate section if I don’t have time to read the whole book. I hope to have a read of it soon, so I can start to implement some changes and see if I can gently encourage Alfie to sleep for a bit longer at night. Once I’ve tried a few techniques, I’ll do an updated post to see how things have changed.
I hope this post has done a little to reassure any new mums out there that their baby’s sleep pattern is normal – and by that I mean there is no normal, you just have to follow your baby’s lead, and do what you need to do to cope with the situation you are in. Whilst it is good to listen to other people’s advice, especially those who have been in the same situation as you, it doesn’t mean you have to take it. And if the constant questioning of how your baby sleeps DOES bother you – just lie! Tell them what they want to hear, and then you don’t need to deal with the questions if it is something that stresses you out. I know that what I do works for me and Alfie, so I will continue to do that for as long as it suits us.
Happy sleeping (or not…) 🙂
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