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Baby Sleep: What's Normal and Safe

Baby Sleep: What's Normal and Safe

Posted by Krystal Duhaney, RN, BSN, IBCLC on Jan 7th 2021

Sleep is a hot topic for most parents. Once your baby is born you might feel bombarded with questions like, “Is baby sleeping through the night?” or “Does your baby sleep on their own yet?”

It seems like everyone has their own horror stories about their babies who didn’t sleep for years or mountains of advice on how, when, or where your baby should sleep. Getting sleep is important for you and your child, but it is also something that can differ greatly for each family. If you have more than one baby, you may have had wildly different experiences between each of them!

What’s considered normal sleep for a baby?

This is a loaded question because like I just mentioned, sleep patterns vary for each baby. It helps to realize that it’s actually more common for babies to wake during the night than not. There are numerous reasons your baby might be waking such as for comfort, teething pains, hunger, illness, or developmental stages.

Breast milk digests in less than two hours, so don’t be surprised if you are getting woken up every couple of hours to nurse a hungry baby. This may increase around growth spurts or decrease as your baby gets older and can go longer between feedings.

According to this study, a baby’s circadian rhythm is not well established until around 4 months old. They also found that many babies still experienced frequent night waking from 4-12 months old, and was still common all the way up until 24 months.

So if you are the parent of a frequent waker, rest assured that you are in the majority and there is nothing wrong with that. In a few months your baby may have found a new normal and wake less often.

What sleep practices are safe?

This can be a divisive topic in the parenting community. For a long time there has been a lot of talk about the risks of cosleeping and bedsharing, but new research and guidelines have opened up options for safe sleep practices.

Although cosleeping and bedsharing are used interchangeably, they are very different. Cosleeping is when a baby or child sleep in close proximity to their parents, most often in their own bassinet or bed in the same room. Bedsharing is when one or both parents sleep together with their child in the adult bed.

Cosleeping (also referred to as room sharing) has been linked to decreased risks of SIDS by as much as 50% according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Their recommendations for infant sleep are that a baby should always be placed on their back, to use a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet, and have a separate sleep surface such as a crib, bassinet, or portable play yard near the bed. These recommendations are for all infants in their first year of life. You can read more about the AAP’s safe sleep guidelines here.

In the AAP’s safe sleep recommendations they do advise against bedsharing, but they acknowledge that most parents will eventually end up falling asleep with their baby in bed with them. Whether you only bring baby into bed to nurse or comfort them or you are a deliberate bedsharing family, you should always follow the Safe Sleep Seven.

Safe Sleep Seven

If you think bedsharing might be right for you, see if you fit these seven criteria outlined by Le Leche League International to keep your baby safe:

1. You do not smoke

2. You have not been consuming alcohol or drugs

3. You are a breastfeeding mother

4. Baby is healthy and full-term

5. Baby is laying on their back

6. You and baby are lightly dressed

7. You and baby are on a safe sleeping surface

Le Leche League International states that if you follow these guidelines your baby’s risk of SIDS is no greater than if they were sleeping on a separate surface in the same room as you. The dynamics of a breastfeeding mother and baby differ than those who are not breastfeeding. A nursing mother instinctively pulls her baby into what they call a “cuddle curl” position during sleep where baby is cradled between the mother’s knees and arms, safely protected from others and also from rolling over onto the baby herself.

How can I stay awake during night feeds?

Some families prefer not to cosleep or bedshare and have baby in their own nursery. Or some might room share but choose to only feed sitting upright in a rocker or other chair. When you are getting up every few hours to nurse it can be difficult to stay awake, especially when those love hormones kick in and make you drowsy!

Falling asleep while nursing in a chair or on a sofa can result in a risky situation for baby, so here are a few of our favorite tricks for fighting the urge to nod off:

Netflix and Nurse

Putting on your favorite show while feeding the baby can keep you relaxed and engaged at the same time. Keep the volume low and try not to turn on any other lights so you can baby calm and sleepy to put them back to bed.

Play A Game

Has the Candy Crush app on your phone been neglected lately? Night feedings are a great time to play! A mobile game that requires focus is a perfect way to keep you up until baby is full and ready to snuggle up in bed again.

Read A Book

Just like playing games, grabbing a good book to keep next to your nursing spot can keep you awake during the late night hours. Have a low lit lamp and side table set up so you are ready to jump back in while baby eats.

Drink Cold Water

Sipping on cold water while you breastfeed can trigger your body to stay up. This will also help you stay hydrated throughout the night. Win-win!

Many parents suffer from sleep deprivation and the effects can feel brutal. If your baby is a finicky sleeper I promise you are not alone! Your baby spent close to 10 months cozied up in your womb, always hearing your voice, and being rocked to sleep by your movements. It’s normal that they need time and a bit of help to adjust to sleep in the outside world. Know that this is just a phase and you will come out of it.


What does sleep look like in your house? Are you a bedsharing advocate or prefer to have your own space while sleeping? Have any tips and tricks you swear by to get better sleep? A funny story of what you did while in the throes of sleep deprivation? Come let us know in The Official Milky Mama Lactation Support Group. We’re your go-to online community for all things related to breastfeeding. Talk to you soon, mama!