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The Quest for A Good Night's Rest... Understanding and Optimizing Your Baby's Sleep

Updated: May 15, 2021

Nothing makes you more exhausted than having a new baby in the home... understanding your baby's sleep needs and helping to establish good sleep habits early on will pay off in the long run for the entire family.

Newborn Period (0-2 months)

  • Average nighttime sleep: Variable

  • Average naps: Variable

  • Total hours: Variable

  • It's normal for newborns to have their day and night reversed - sleeping soundly during the day and being more alert and active during the night. This can understandably cause a lot of distress for parents seeking some rest but please be reassured that it is temporary. Most will "flip" to a normal schedule around 4-6 weeks of age.

  • Try to behave differently during the daytime from the nighttime to expedite the transition to a normal sleep schedule. Have your baby sleep in a bright room during the day with people around her and speak in a normal voice. Get you baby up every 2-3 hours and feed, change diapers, and play. She may fall back asleep fairly quickly but you will break up the long stretches of sleep during the day. At night, keep the room darkened, relatively quiet (except white noise if using), and try to be as "boring" as possible. Do the necessary tasks (feeding, diaper change) as quickly and quietly as possible and try to put your baby back down into the bassinet or crib soon. Hopefully she will take the hint and start adjusting a bit quicker! Once the transition has been made, you can put your baby down in a quiet, darkened place for daytime naps as well.

  • Most newborns are able to stay awake comfortably for 1-2 hours at a time. They can certainly stay awake longer but will become overly tired and tense. This makes it more difficult for them to fall asleep or stay asleep. Most new parents make the mistake of waiting too long to start the process of putting their babies down to sleep. If you are waiting until your baby is yawning frequently, rubbing her face, and/or crying, then it might already be too late. Aim for about 15-20 minutes prior to that happening and watch for signs of "natural drowsiness" in your baby. These include zoning out, not making much eye contact, and not moving her body as much. Swaddling and rocking your baby at this time will help her drift off to sleep more comfortably.

  • Usually after 2 weeks of age when your newborn has gained back her birthweight and has proven that she can gain weight steadily, you can allow your baby to sleep as long as she is willing to during the night without waking her up to feed. If your baby is having a harder time gaining weight, we recommend still feeding the baby more regularly during the night, at least every 3-4 hours.

  • Naps will be variable in frequency and duration which makes making any plans difficult. However, most newborns tend to sleep well "on the go" at this stage so you can still be out and about as needed.

  • If you choose to co-sleep with your baby, we strongly recommend using a co-sleeper that attaches to the side of the bed instead of having your baby in bed with you. Co-sleeping with your baby in the same bed is a significant risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  • Always put your baby down to sleep on her back - that is the safest position!

  • We recommend that you do not use any loose blankets, pillows, or crib bumpers as these pose a potential suffocation risk to the baby.

Early Infancy (2-4 months)

  • Average nighttime sleep: 11-12 hours (at least one 3-4 hour stretch)

  • Average naps: 3-4 hours (made up in 3-5 naps)

  • Total hours: 14-16 hours

  • Most babies are still feeding at least 2-3 times a night during this age so parents often find it easier to keep their baby in their bedroom at this age. However, you are welcome to move your baby into her own room if the option is available and your baby is already sleeping longer stretches.

  • Start to establish a consistent bedtime which should ideally be between 6:30-8:30 pm. Most babies are going to bed at a later time at this stage so we recommend starting to pull your baby's bedtime forward by small increments (10-15 minutes). Avoid having your baby take an evening nap (no naps after 5 pm) - otherwise, she'll get her second wind and will want to stay up. If she has been taking an evening nap so far, start to cut it short (no more than 20 minutes) and get her up after that time.

  • Establish a consistent bedtime routine - something you do in the exact same order every single night before bed. Your baby will eventually come to anticipate her bedtime and it will not be a "surprise" every night of what's going to happen. The routine should not be a huge production (no more than 30-40 minutes) and may include washing up (bath, wipe down), changing into PJs, feeding, rocking, singing, etc, and then lights off. Take turns with your partner in putting the baby down so that she will not become dependent on only one parent to put her down every night. You may not always be available for bedtime so it is a good idea to get her used to either parent putting her to bed.

  • Start putting her down to sleep when she is drowsy but still awake. Yes - this is definitely easier said than done! If she starts crying, try not to pick her up right away. Instead try patting, rubbing, singing, or talking (pretty much whatever else besides picking her up) to try to soothe her. It may take a few minutes but do try. If she becomes very agitated, you can pick her up and soothe her but when calmer, try to put her down again. It will be helpful to start giving her opportunities to "practice" falling asleep on her own - it is unfair for us to expect her to soothe herself to sleep if she is never given a chance. Yes, you will likely fail most of the time - it helps to have low expectations going in but keep trying!

  • Naps are still unpredictable and inconsistent at this age. However, continue to try to put her down every 1.5-2 hours, watching for signs of drowsiness.

  • Around 3 months, start putting your baby down to nap in a predictable stationary place (as opposed to in the swing, stroller, car) like her bassinet, crib.

  • Continue swaddling your baby for sleep as her easy startle response (the Moro reflex) is still present and can interfere with her sleep.

Middle Infancy (4-9 months)

  • Average nighttime sleep: 11-12 hours (at least one 4-6 hour stretch)

  • Average naps: 2-3.5 hours (made up in 3-4 naps)

  • Total hours: 13-15.5 hours

  • Most babies have outgrown the swaddle and the bassinet by 4 months. Luckily, her Moro reflex will be disappearing around this age making swaddling less necessary. This usually is a good time to move your baby into her own room if you have the option to do so as she is likely feeding less during the night.

  • Consider a sleep sack for your baby as loose blankets still pose a potential suffocation risk for your baby.

  • If your baby is still having a difficult time falling asleep on her own by age 4 months, this is the right time to consider sleep training (Please check out the "How to Sleep Train Your Infant...Yes You Can" post)

  • Sleep regression may occur around 4 months of age among some babies. Babies become more aware of their surroundings at this stage and may resist going down to sleep away from "all the fun." Try spending some time playing in her room and crib when awake. Continue to stick to your baby's bedtime and consistent routine. This set-back will usually pass within 2-3 weeks if you remain consistent.

  • Naps start to become more predictable starting at age 6-7 months.

Late Infancy (9-12 months)

  • Average nighttime sleep: 11-12 hours (at least 8-12 hour stretch)

  • Average naps: 2-3 hours (made up in 2 naps)

  • Total hours: 13-15 hours

  • Most babies do NOT need to feed during the night at this age. If you have been dream-feeding your baby up this point, you can start to wean it off gradually by offering less and less milk each time (ex. fewer minutes on the breast, less volume in the bottle).

  • Separation anxiety starts around 9 months of age which can make sleep training difficult if you have waited until then. But it is not impossible so do continue to try once you notice some improvement in her anxiety. Spend lots of time playing together in her room so that it becomes a familiar, safe place.

  • If your baby is pulling up to a stand in the crib, lower it to the lowest level to avoid having your baby fall over the side or attempt to climb out. Switch from a sleep sack to a sleep suit (with separate legs) to avoid having her trip over the sack when standing up.

  • Naps are well established by this age with at least 2 predictable naps. Your baby may squeeze in a short third nap occasionally.

Late Infancy to Toddler (12-24 months)

  • Average nighttime sleep: 11-12 hours

  • Average naps: 1.5-3 hours (made up in 1-2 naps)

  • Total hours: 12.5-15 hours

  • It is important to continue with a consistent bedtime and routine as your child will start to push more boundaries at this age.

  • You can start to use pillows and blankets and introduce a "lovey" such as a small doll or blanket to use for comfort. Get multiples of whatever becomes your child's lovey! It will become well worn from all the love it is given and may need to be discretely replaced.

  • If your baby is repeatedly climbing out of the crib or attempting to, you may need to consider moving her to a mattress on the floor for safety.

  • Most babies will continue to nap until age 3 although some will start to lose it beforehand, especially if there is an older sibling around who is no longer napping.

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