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Baby’s sleep needs

October 19, 2020 • read

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Baby’s sleep needs

The importance of sleep in child development isn’t a question. Figuring out how to make your baby sleep, however, is a different story. Wondering how to get your baby to sleep in their bassinet instead of your arms, or when (oh, when?!) do babies sleep through the night? You’ve come to the right place. Grab your (probably cold) coffee and your very awake baby, and let us walk you through the basics of baby sleep.

How to get your newborn to sleep without being held

Some babies are born sleepers. Others make you wait two and a half years to get a proper night’s sleep (or longer). Luckily, nothing is constant where babies are concerned. Baby sleep patterns vary by age, so the way your two-week-old is sleeping (or not) is going to look quite different than how they sleep at six months.

Most newborns have to eat every two to three hours, so they’re not likely to sleep for longer than that at a stretch. The good news is they’ll pretty much pass out no matter what is going on around them at this stage. Figuring out how to put a newborn baby to sleep usually just involves nursing them. If they tend to wake up when you transfer them to their bed, try swaddling them. You can also keep your hand on their tummy as you put them down and remove it little by little once they’re settled. This should make the absence of your warmth less noticeable and less likely to wake them up. No matter how they get to sleep though, once they are the safest sleep position for newborn babies is on their back. Once they’re able to roll over they can decide how they prefer to sleep, but until then, the back is always the best sleeping position for a baby, even after feeding

How to make your baby sleep

Trying to figure out how to get your baby sleeping fast? Make sure they have a predictable schedule. Bedtime, wake time and most naps should happen at about the same every day and in the same place as much as possible. Some babies can nap on the go, but many find it dysregulating to sleep anywhere other than their crib.

Many parents choose to sleep train their little ones, while others prefer nursing or rocking their baby to sleep. Either is fine as long as it’s right for your family. And if all else fails, a car ride or a walk in the stroller or carrier can help. 

Baby sleep problems

From teething to developmental milestones to separation anxiety, many things can affect your baby’s sleep. Luckily most won’t disrupt it for more than a couple of weeks. If your child’s sleep trouble lasts longer than a month, or if they snore or complain of itchy legs, it’s a good idea to take them to the doctor. It could be a sign of a sleep disorder like sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome.

A common baby sleep problem that you’ll likely encounter at some point, however, is the dreaded overtired baby. When grownups get overtired, our urge to sleep increases. But in babies, the more overtired they are, the harder it can be to get them to sleep. Sometimes they’re so tired that they pass out quite easily, but their sleep is likely to be shorter and more interrupted than if they are properly rested. To keep them from getting overtired, keep your baby on an age appropriate sleep schedule — which brings us to our next topic.

Baby sleep schedules

Putting your baby on a sleep schedule around the four month mark is a great way to establish good sleep habits. Their sleep pattern changes around this point, and they start to need more support falling and staying asleep. Successful baby sleep is really a matter of routine. A short pre-bed routine of bath, books and bed cues baby that it’s time to sleep.

Baby’s sleep time should happen at roughly the same times each day. Many parents find success using the “wake windows” system, which involves putting your baby to sleep a set period of time after their last wakeup (see our baby sleep chart below for more info). But be warned — most sleep schedules are for babies who can have more than a 40 minute nap. If your baby can’t extend their naps yet, most schedules won’t work for you. In this case you can either try adding an extra nap each day or push your baby into an early bedtime (hello 5:30). You can also try to help them extend their nap by sleeping with them or putting them in the carrier to nap (if those help). It’s not a good idea to sleep train a baby who can’t extend their naps yet because they’ll probably be too overtired to get it successfully.

Baby sleep chart by age

Age Total sleep needs a day Wake window (time awake between naps) Number of naps
0-3 months Up to 18 hours 45 min-1.5 hours A whole bunch!
4-6 months 12-16 hours 1.25-2.5 hours 3-4 naps
7-8 months 12-16 hours 2.25-3 hours 2-3 naps
9-12 months 12-16 hours 2.5-4 hours 2 naps
13-17 months 11-14 hours 3-4 hours 1-2 naps
18-24 months 11-14 hours 4.5-6 hours 1 nap

It can take a while, but kids do get the hang of sleeping eventually. One day you’ll wake up and realize both you and your baby slept through the night. It happens with older kids too — your toddler suddenly starts sleeping more and you’re not going in every few hours to fix their pillow or find their teddy. Until that happens though, every night can feel like a struggle. Lack of sleep is a risk factor for depression (postpartum or otherwise) and it only takes a few nights of missed sleep to make you feel terrible. If you’re little one isn’t sleeping, speak with their pediatrician for help.

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