How Many Hours Can A Baby Sleep Without Feeding?

Expert advice from a leading pediatrician and pediatric sleep consultant on when it is safe for babies to miss a night feed.
How Long Can a Baby Go Without Feeding
My two-and-a-half-month-old recently has been sleeping for progressively longer each night. Last night she slept for nine or ten hours straight and wasn't even crying when I woke her up. She breastfed well when I woke her; she seems happy and alert during the day and is very playful and curious. Is it okay to go so long without a feeding at night?

It is likely that your baby is fine and you can let them sleep! New parents are so often worried about whether their baby is getting enough sleep, but some worry if their baby could be getting too much sleep.

Babies do need up to 12 hours of nighttime sleep, but many take longer for them to consolidate their sleep patterns into longer stretches. If your baby is already doing this, the main thing you need to worry about is whether they are getting enough milk throughout the time that they are awake. “It sounds as though your baby is one of those content, early sleepers, and it is okay for her to go that long without eating, as long as she is otherwise well and growing normally,” says Shari Nethersole, MD, a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School.

More: Recommended Sleep Needs By Age Chart

How Much Sleep Do Babies Need?

Infant sleep needs play a vital role in development. Newborn sleep patterns are more erratic and they will slowly develop into a sleep schedule. The National Sleep Foundation says that newborn babies (aged 0-3 months) need 14 to 17 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period and young babies (aged 3-11 months) need 12 to 15 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.

The total sleep includes overnight sleep and daytime naps. During the early weeks of life, babies wake frequently for feedings and they may sleep two to three hours at a time between feedings. Over the first year, the amount of sleep they need lessens some, and they will begin to consolidate their nighttime sleep. “The timing of when this happens is quite variable,” notes Dr. Nethersole. “Most babies can sleep six or hour hours at night at about 3 months of age, but some learn to do this much sooner, some as early as 6 to 8 weeks.”

When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

Baby Sleeping Through the Night

Your infant will sleep a full night 10 to 12 hours (depending upon their individual needs) when they can do two things. They need to be able to make it that long without waking from hunger and needing to breastfeed or take a bottle, and they need to develop good sleep habits and sleep routines.

“By 6 months of age many babies will sleep 9 to 12 hours at night, and this is perfectly normal -- since the infant is bigger, her stomach holds more, and she can go longer without eating at night,” explains Dr. Nethersole. “Additionally, as babies grow and mature their sleep cycle matures and they learn how to sleep soundly, and not respond to every outside stimulus.”

At birth, your baby needs to have a liquid feeding roughly every three hours or even more often if they show signs of hunger. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises mothers to wake their babies for a feed if they haven’t eaten for two and a half to three hours during the day or four hours during the night. You should continue to do this until your pediatrician gives you the OK, which is generally once your baby gains back their birth weight.

As your little one grows, they will take in more milk at each feeding, so they can go longer stretches between feeds. You can also try to make sure they feed frequently during the day so that they are less likely to be hungry at night, causing awakenings.

Helping your baby learn to fall asleep without your help will help them sleep all night in their bassinet without disruptions as well. This is a gradual process, and you can help kick start it by having a predictable bedtime routine and a solid sleep schedule based on age-appropriate baby sleep patterns. Pacifiers or swaddling may help some babies while they may hinder others.

How Long Can My Baby Go Without a Feed?

Feeding Baby

Newborns can generally go about two and a half hours between feeds. This time slowly extends until about six months when babies can go about four hours between daytime feeds and sleep all night without a feed. But, some smaller babies may need an extra night feed for longer.

After your pediatrician gives you the green light, you can let your baby wake you when they are hungry at night. In general, you can expect your baby to sleep an hour per week old they are, starting about 5 weeks old. So, a 5-week-old may be able to go 5 hours, a 6-week-old may be able to go 6 hours, and so on. This will vary from baby to baby, but what you should see is a gradual increase in how long your baby goes between feeds. If you don’t see this happening naturally, it is most likely OK to nudge your baby along.

Is It Safe for My Baby to Sleep All Night?

It’s important to talk with your pediatrician about when you should let your baby sleep all night. With many babies, you can stop waking them to feed every 4 hours after they gain back their birth weight. But some babies will benefit from an extra feeding for a longer time. “Infants who have medical problems or who are underweight may need to be fed on a more consistent basis, even if they have the ability to sleep longer,” notes Dr. Nethersole.

If your baby wakes and shows signs of hunger, you should always feed them. You can work on getting more milk into their daytime schedule to help eliminate or reduce future nighttime wakings, but the rule of thumb is to always feed a hungry baby. According to Pediatric Sleep Consultant, Heather Wallace, the key to helping babies sleep safely for longer stretches of time is to immediately put the baby to sleep at a set time without any sleep props such as rocking or a pacifier. Therefore, nursing mothers adding a pumping session before bed or at the start of sleep will lower the number of feedings needed in the middle of the night. 

Always follow the safe sleep guidelines during both naps and nighttime sleep. Your little one should sleep in a crib, bassinet, or play yard, without anything other than a pacifier in their sleep space, to prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). 

Shari Nethersole is a physician at Children's Hospital, Boston, and an instructor in Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. She graduated from Yale University and Harvard Medical School, and did her internship and residency at Children's Hospital, Boston. As a pediatrician, she tries to work with parents to identify and address their concerns.

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