As a Certified Sleep Consultant, I hear that single sentence more times than any other question. If you have been on the other side of this question, I am sure you have received an overwhelming amount of advice - "have you tried this?" "well this worked for my baby." While all that advice means well, it isn't always helpful for an already overwhelmed Mother/Father. The reason your baby is not sleeping can be summed up into 4 different categories.
Your baby is too young
Society has given us parents unrealistic expectations when it comes to newborn sleep. Is it impossible for your newborn to sleep through the night? No it's not, but it is also not common. Every child is different, but as a Sleep Consultant, I have found the most common ages to start sleeping in more consolidated stretches happens between 4-6 months. It is very normal for a 4/5 month old to still need 1-2 night feedings, but they are also capable of doing 8-12hr stretches. Most babies by 6 months, are capable of sleeping completely through the night, with no feedings.
Your baby is overtired/undertired
Never underestimate the importance of an age appropriate schedule. Contrary to popular belief, keeping a baby up later/longer does NOT help your baby sleep better. A baby who is overtired will have a much more restless less, with frequent night wakings that result in tears. A baby who is under-tired, will fight bedtime/naps, which typically results in parents giving in, and assisting the child to sleep. An age appropriate schedule will ensure you child is getting the correct amount of day sleep during naps, along with age appropriate wake times between naps, and bed.
The sleep environment is incorrect
Many parents place items in babies room, thinking it may help with sleep. Remember DAWN when thinking of your child's sleep environment.
Keeping your child's room dark is essential to restful sleep. The room should remain at a level 10 darkness for all naps, and bedtime. This means double curtains if needed, towels under doors, and any monitor lights covered. I like to tell clients "you shouldn't be able to see your hand in front of your face." Darkness helps the production of melatonin, which is the natural hormone in our body that makes us tired!
The crib should be free of any distractions. This means mobiles, aquariums, toys, etc should all be removed from your child's crib. To ensure you have a safe environment, visit the AAP website for safe sleep tips.
White noise is a BIG factor in children's sleep habits. A true white noise machine helps trick your child's brain into focusing on the consistent sound rather than the sounds around him/her. Your white noise machine should not loop (there should be no break in the repeat cycle), and should play for the duration of naps and night sleep. It is important to have White Noise at an appropriate level of 50-65 decibels.
Your baby relies on help for sleeping:
This is the number 1 reason most children are unable to sleep, or complete good naps. Simply put - A baby who falls asleep by rocking, feeding, etc, will expect the same thing when they wake between sleep cycles. This results in many night wakings with parents needing to intervene. No one sleeps through the night, not even us adults. However - adults have independent sleeping skills so therefore, we do not notice that we have woken, because our skills lure us back into lalaland without us really noticing! This is the same for babies who possess independent sleeping skills. They don't necessarily sleep through the night but are able to transition into their next sleep cycles without help or intervention.
This is the toughest part of trying to get your little one to sleep through the night. Sleep training is a controversial topic in today's society. Learning independent sleeping skills is so important for children, and is something that will follow them for their entire life. Teaching independent sleeping skills, is just the same as teaching your little one how to roll over, how to walk, how to read or ride a bike. It can be difficult, but it is essential for a happier/healthier life.