Personally, I think it’s a pretty serious design flaw that humans have to learn to sleep through the night. Eating, walking, talking, I can understand all of those being a learning curve… but sleeping? It just seems cruel to the loving (and inevitably exhausted) parents that sleep can be such a struggle.
Of course, some magical unicorn babies sleep through the night in just a few months and never experience a single sleep regression. To the incredibly blessed mothers of these rare and magical children, I just want you to know, the rest of us hate you just a little tiny bit. But it isn’t out of malice. It’s pure, unadulterated envy fueled by sheer exhaustion.
Some babies sleep through the night at just a few months old and then experience sleep regression around major milestones. Still, others don’t sleep through the night until after their second birthday. The point is, every baby is different. I’m guessing this isn’t the first time you’ve heard that.
Getting your little one on a sleep schedule is good for the whole family. It’s healthy for your baby and can really help save your sanity. It takes some work and determination but it’s well worth the effort.
Some factors in how babies sleep are biological and others are environmental/behavioral. No matter which type of baby you’ve got, one of the best things you can do as a parent is to establish a solid bedtime routine and stick to it.
A consistent, calming bedtime routine helps your baby develop healthy sleep habits. A good bedtime routine prevents your baby from getting over-tired, can be done consistently, and works with your family’s schedule. The predictability of a routine gives your little one time to wind down and lets them know it’s almost time to nod off.
Bedtime routines can have a lot of different ingredients. Bath time, brushing teeth, saying “goodnight” to the house and family, reading bedtime stories, singing special songs, snuggling, and electronic soothers with lights and music can all be pieces of a good bedtime routine. At first, you’ll want to keep it simple. As your baby gets older, you can add in more elements but don’t make it overly complicated or time-consuming.
The most important pieces of any bedtime routine are consistency and putting your baby down on the brink of sleep rather than waiting until they fall asleep in your arms. Putting them down drowsy but not fully asleep teaches your tiny human an invaluable life skill: How to fall asleep on their own.
When To Start A Sleep Schedule
There’s no reason to try to start a sleep schedule right away. In that first couple of weeks, the most important thing is just to get rest. Both of you. Being born is hard work, as is doing the birthing. Sleep when your baby sleeps and you should both sleep often.
When your baby is between six to eight weeks old, their eating and sleeping will likely start to fall into a somewhat predictable pattern. Around that time, you can start implementing a soothing, sleep-inducing bedtime routine.
Around three to six months old, you can start working on a true sleep schedule where bedtime, naptime, and wake-up time happen around the same time each day. Sleep training (if you decide to go that route) should ideally wait until they’re five to six months old.
What Does A Good Sleep Schedule Look Like?
There’s no one sleep schedule that will fit all babies. Some are early risers, and some are night owls. Plus, your little one’s schedule needs to fit in with your family’s day-to-day lives.
Start by learning and following your baby’s sleep and hunger cues. As they get older, you can start fitting their patterns into something that works with your family’s schedule.
Generally speaking, babies who are three to twelve months old need between two and three hours of sleep during the day. They’ll get the rest of their sleep at night. Sleep at this age should total 14 to 15 hours total in a twenty-four-hour period.
Most babies still wake up to eat at least once during the night until they’re around four months old. If you have an older baby who’s still wanting to wake up for snacks, try an extra feeding to top off their tummy tank before bed. This may help them sleep through the night.
Type of Schedules
There are several different methods for establishing a sleep/wake schedule. These fall into three basic categories:
Parent-led – This approach is the most rigid. Parent-led schedules may be based on your baby’s natural rhythms or may be one you impose based on your family’s needs or it may be a routine you get from an expert. A parent-led schedule will be very specific and is meant to be consistently followed to the minute once it’s set.
Baby-led – This approach is, unsurprisingly, the least structured of the bunch. In a baby-led routine, parents follow baby’s cues to determine what they need rather than imposing any kind of timetable. Most babies will fall into somewhat predictable patterns after a while but be prepared for significant variations depending on baby’s cues.
Combination – This approach is a hybrid of the two above. You create a basic timetable for eat, sleep, and play and stick to that pattern, for the most part. The difference between strictly parent-led and combination is that your timetable is flexible based on baby’s cues. Naps or bedtimes can be pushed up or back depending on baby’s mood, or if you’ve got lunch or dinner plans.
Mistakes And No-Nos To Avoid
- Never put your baby to bed with a bottle. This can create a dependency and the extra calories may stimulate their digestive system which will throw off their natural rhythms. It is also bad for their teeth and can be a choking hazard.
- Don’t bring your baby into your bed in the hope that it will solve their sleeping problems. If you’ve chosen to have a “Family Bed” that’s a conscious choice and that’s okay. But bringing baby into your bed just to try to solve a sleeping problem will likely just end with an even bigger sleeping problem: Getting baby back in their own bed!
- No matter what your Aunt Karen says, don’t put baby cereal in a bottle with breastmilk or formula in an attempt to fill up their tummy more before bed. This poses a choking hazard.
- Don’t wait until your baby is exhausted to put them to bed. For one thing, that’s asking for a meltdown that neither of you will enjoy. Plus, overtired babies don’t sleep well.
- Don’t try to make abrupt changes in your baby’s schedule. That’s just a recipe for disaster.
Creating A Schedule That Actually Works
How well scheduling works with your baby depends mostly on your baby’s unique personality. Some take to schedules like a fish to water, while others will resist with every fiber in their tiny being.
Building a schedule is best done in increments. That might mean pushing bedtime up by ten minutes every night. It might mean waking them up a little earlier each day or starting dinner earlier. Don’t starve your baby or force them to stay awake in pursuit of the perfect schedule. Baby steps (lol!) will get you there, I promise.