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20th May 2015

Babies SHOULD be waking at night, says a new study. We knew it!

Sive O'Brien

A new study challenges the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night from an early age.

The research also proves that stopping breastfeeding or giving more solid food does NOT stop them from waking.

Led by the Department of Public Health, Policy and Social Sciences, the study asked 715 mothers with a baby aged between six and twelve months how often their child usually woke in the night and if they fed them when that happened. It also examined whether they were breastfeeding, how many milk feeds they gave their baby in the day and how often they gave their baby solid foods.

The findings showed that 78 per cent of babies at this age still regularly woke at least once in the night, with 61 per cent having at least one milk feed during the night.

The study also showed that although breastfeeding mums tended to feed their baby more at night, there was no difference in the number of times babies woke up dependent on whether they were breast or formula fed, how many feeds they had in the day or how many solid meals they ate.

Dr Amy Brown, programme director for the MSc Child Public Health who led the study, said that the findings “challenge the idea that babies should be sleeping through the night once they are past a few weeks old”.

She added, “We hope that our findings are of comfort to new mothers who have a baby who is still waking in the night, in showing them that many other babies are waking too.”

The research from Swansea University backs up a recent article written by our very own Resident Sleep Expert, Niamh O’Reilly. “Nobody sleeps through the night. Nobody,” she says. “Yes, it would be nice to have a peaceful twelve hours, but it’s not normal to actually get it.”

Niamh explains that overnight sleep is broken down into phases, which last for around 45-60 minutes in babies and young children, and it is how we react to these wakings that can create the sleep “problems”.

She says, “It’s not about getting a full 11-12 hours sleep in one go for little ones. In fact typically, a good stretch of about six-to-eight hours for a six-month-old would be pretty good. If they get to morning without having needed your help or assistance, it’s a bonus.”

In fact, according to Niamh, sleeping through the night has different meanings and relevance for each family, but there is a definition from the medical world that describes it as “sleeping for five hours without waking”.

Although this might not be what we (the sleep deprived) want to hear, I for one certainly take comfort in the fact that night wakings are not as unusual as some people might have led me to believe in the past.