One of the most common concerns that parents have is how to help your baby (and you) sleep through the night. Your 6-month-old baby is probably not waking up at night because she is hungry, although it might seem that way because she’ll drink then for comfort. Newborns in the first few months need to feed every few hours, including at night, but most 6-month-old babies have the stomach capacity to hold them through the night. This means that if your baby eats enough during the day, she should not wake up at night because of hunger.
How do you make sure she eats enough during the day? By 6 months old, she can eat solid foods several times a day including cereals and pureed fruits and vegetables. She should also have 16-24 oz. of milk per day. Make sure she has a good meal of solid food and milk before bedtime. If you think she may need to eat more, it’s better to try to increase the amount of solid food—which is more dense with calories—rather than increasing the amount of milk.
If she’s not hungry, then why is she waking up at night? Babies, like adults, may awaken several times in the night as they move through the different sleep states. There are several things you can do to help your baby learn how to settle herself back to sleep. Experts advise to put your baby to sleep when she’s just drowsy, not sound-asleep, so she learns how to fall asleep in her cot. When your baby wakes up at night, give her a few minutes to see if she’s just fussing a little and can put herself back to sleep. If she continues to cry, check on her—it can be helpful to have your husband do it rather than you, because she might want you more—but don’t turn on the light, pick her up, or feed her. Reassure her in a soft voice or pat her gently, then leave again. You can continue this pattern of waiting and checking on your baby until she falls asleep. It can be heartbreaking to listen to your baby cry, but if you’ve ensured that she’s okay, try to stick to the plan because your consistency will pay off for you and for her. Each night, extend the amount of time you wait a little more, until she finally learns to settle herself back to sleep. For many babies it takes only three days of consistent waiting and checking; for some it takes a little more.
You will be able to enjoy your uninterrupted sleep! But even once she learns to sleep through the night, she might experience set-backs with illnesses, changes in child care, traveling, a new baby sibling, etc. When that happens, try the same technique again.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.