Sleeping like a baby: what is normal?

Research indicates that parents often fear their child has a serious sleep problem when the child does not conform to the parents’ expectations of sleep. If you feel your child’s sleep is in some way problematic, it may be helpful to consider what evidence there is around what is “normal” in the context of sleep.

Anecdotal evidence

Lots of parents will find friends and family a source of anecdotal evidence about how other people’s babies slept through from a young age. This may lead to unsolicited advice (often related to feeding) about why your baby isn’t doing likewise. Whilst many of us may know to take advice like this with a pinch of salt, of more concern is research that indicates both parents and professionals do not understand normal infant behaviour. If a health professional is telling you your baby should be acting a certain way when it comes to sleep, you may take this more seriously and feel anxious if your baby is not meeting those expectations.

Night waking

A recent piece of research looked at the number of times 6 – 12 month old babies woke overnight. Over 700 babies were included in the study; of these around 70% woke between once and three times per night. Only 20% did not wake at all overnight.

The sample of babies included breast and formula-fed babies and interestingly, did not find that one group woke more than the other. The study also did not look at toddlers of 12 months old plus, but it is reasonable to expect that babies who wake regularly before 12 months of age will continue to do so for some time after their first birthday.

You’re the expert

If you are reading this as a parent who is concerned about their child’s sleep, hopefully you will be reassured by this research and what is tells us about “normal” baby sleep. This research shows us that those young babies who sleep through the night are very much in the minority, even if everyone we speak to seems to know one!

Ultimately, if you are coping well with your family’s sleep, whether that be in terms of sleeping arrangements or frequency of night wakings, then there is no problem: you are the expert on your own child. However, if you are dealing with a situation that does not work for you and your family, don’t be afraid to seek professional support.

StarBright Sleep will start offering sleep consultancy services in early 2020. Follow us @starbrightsleep on Instagram for more information and introductory offers.

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