This is one of my favourite questions to answer because it really allows me to share my philosophy on sleep which is to follow your baby’s cues.
Whilst we know that babies sleep through the night at various ages, research suggests it is very ‘normal’ for a baby to hold onto one night feed until 12 months of age. Just as an example of the ‘realm of normal’, my own kids were 5months and 9 months when they consistently weaned and slept through.
The short answer here is yes = normal!
In saying that, I encourage parents to look at a couple of things to help determine whether a baby is waking from hunger OR if they are looking for assistance to get back to sleep.
Which brings me to the long answer???
In a nutshell it comes down to:
- The quality of the feed
- How your little one gets back to sleep
Quality of the feed:
If your little one is waking due to hunger, then they are going to polish off a good feed when offered. This is easy to identify if you are bottle feeding. Breastfeeding can be a little trickier, so watch for swallowing as well as sucking.
Swallowing can be a bit harder to spot, but it’s your biggest clue to identify whether your baby is sucking for calories or comfort. Once your baby’s sucking has triggered the milk ‘let down’, you should hear a swallow after every suck or two. If you notice your little one is sucking with very few swallows, they are likely comfort sucking. This suggests your little one is sucking as a means of unwinding and settling off to sleep.
How your little one settles to sleep:
Let’s touch on sleep associations. In a nutshell a sleep association is something external that a baby relies on to get to sleep. One of the most common sleep associations is feeding to sleep. Followed closely by rocking or sucking on a dummy.
If you aren’t sure whether your little one is relying on a sleep association to get to sleep, think about the moment before they drift off and answer these questions:
- Are they in their cot?
- Are you in the room?
- Are you touching them (patting, rocking)?
There is absolutely nothing wrong with settling your little one off to sleep. I ask because it gives you a really good indication of what your little one expects or thinks they need to get to sleep.
Why is this important?
The science behind sleep suggests we all (babies, children, and adults alike) cycle through various stages of sleep. We are in our lightest stages of sleep when one sleep cycle ends, and another begins. An average sleep cycle for a baby 6 months or older is between 45-60minutes in length.
If your little one drifts off to sleep feeding, they will rouse between sleep cycles and realise they are no longer sucking / feeding. As this is the soothing strategy they use to unwind and settle to sleep, they would expect to be provided with the opportunity to suck / feed again to return to sleep. This can then continue happening at the end of every sleep cycle.
I have written another blog post with more information on whether your little one is ready to wean from feeds. You can read that here.
Otherwise, I hope this has been helpful.
Remember, I’m inviting you to ask all your burning ‘is it normal’ sleep questions. Please pop your questions in the comments section or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org