This is a question many parents ask and one I feel I never answer fully out of fear of making parents feel as though they are doing something wrong if their baby doesn't or isn't doing the same but I don't want to lie. So I'm going to answer this question through my experiences of when I was a night nanny rather than with an answer that will make you feel this what you should aim for or for what should be expected from your little one.
When I first worked with a baby sleeping through the night I was a new night nanny taking over from a maternity nurse who had been with the family for 6 weeks, meaning my first experience of a baby sleeping through was as young as that, 6 weeks. I had several other night nanny positions following this set up, so for me a baby sleeping through at 6 weeks was pretty much the norm and one of the reasons I wanted to become a sleep specialist.
When I started to do jobs as a specialist, still night nannying but going into homes to get these babies sleeping through the earliest I did this was 8 weeks old and had been there for 3 weeks with parents working on the routine during the day.
I know you're probably thinking whattt! That is so young, how is it even possible, and some may even be like what a load of 'poop'. So below I have pointed out a few of the factors that have perhaps made a baby 'sleeping through the night' at these ages my experience.
1) Setting the foundations early on. This was something I picked up from taking over from maternity nurses and the reason why I try not to discourage parents for wanting to make those routine moves early on in that 4th trimester because it can be done, It's just down to parenting styles.
2) It was part of my job role. There is a big difference between someone coming to help with the nights who is full of energy compared to parents who do whatever they can just to get through those days and nights. After a night shift I would be able to go home and catch up on lost sleep meaning that by the time I was back I had that gusto to do things differently during the night to that of a sleep deprived parent.
The main situation that my energy bank helped me would be...
A stirring baby. If I had a baby that would begin to stir during the night I would first allow them the opportunity to try and go back to sleep, I would perhaps spend time watching the little one really focusing on whether these little noises are perhaps wind, or them going through a cycle vs needing a feed. If they just needed a bit of help to settle back down I would give them a little cuddle or do some shush and patting, whereas I find a lot of parents fall into the feeding to sleep cycle very quickly and therefore so does their baby.
Of course you would, you're exhausted, you're half asleep, you've been told to feed on demand so why would you then think to sit and watch your baby when you know a quick time at the breast or bottle feed would get your baby right back to sleep.
3) Confidence in feeding. A point to carry on from above is that is I find many parents don't perhaps feel confident in their feeding so are unsure if that is why their baby is stirring and will feed them regardless. I had a family once who's midwife said every-time the baby wakes in the night to feed them, this ultimately led to a baby waking every cycle to be fed back to sleep and the mum feeling very unsure on knowing her baby's cues. Now by no means am I telling you not to feed your baby, but sometimes those night stirs are for other reasons and being a night nanny I had the knowledge and energy to find out why.
If you are feel you are unsure about your feeds and wether your baby is getting enough to sleep through then it would be a good idea to speak to an IBCLC (breastfeeding) consultant who can advise. Both bottle and breast-fed babies are capable of sleeping through and many of those maternity positions I took over from were breast fed babies.
4) Being a sleep specialist, having that brushed up knowledge of different reasons why babies wake during the night (such as the different phases) and being able to encourage the day routine we were able to work on it together early on. It also gave parents the confidence that I was able to help lead them on this rather than trying to figure it out for themselves because let's face it no baby comes with a manual and all the stuff you read online might not apply to your little one.
5) Setting those expectations. Even a baby who may have begun to sleep through at 6 weeks is of course going to go through the same notions of growth spurts, sleep regressions, developmental changes and teething so as a night nanny I was able to help prepare parents before hand and would help see them through it.
Also to note
There are lots of variants on how long a baby sleeping for is classed as sleeping through. For me personally, as it was younger babies it would be be those who had a dream feed approx 11pm then slept to-6/7am. Of course there were nights this wasn't solid sleep but would happen more often than not. From 12 weeks was when I first had a baby sleeping through 7 til 7 without a dream feed.
When babies do begin to sleep through the night it's good to remind yourself that this won't always be the case every night. Parents can often get comfortable in a baby sleeping through then when they don't can think something drastic is happening and worry about everything unravelling but don't worry it's okay to have off nights. If a couple of off nights turn into more like a week, then revisit the 5 point nighttime wake checklist which you can download for free here.
ALL babies are different, even the babies that I was night nannying would not sleep through at the same age, everyone takes life at a different pace.
So in short the answer is, when it's right for you and your baby! There is a lot of work that goes into getting a baby sleeping through that early on and as a new parent you shouldn't have to feel a pressure to do that. Just because that's when they can doesn't mean that's when they should. Take the time to get to know your little one, enjoy that early phase, enjoy the on-demand feeding if that's you. Any age a baby sleeping though is the right one when that's it's works for you.
If you would like to learn some more on how to get your little bean sleeping through, why not book in a free 20 minute sleep solution call via the contact form?