Your first baby. A grinding, seemingly never-ending schedule of sleep in 2-hour increments, breastfeeding, diaper-changing, and trying to remember when you last showered or brushed your teeth.
It’s during these exhausting months that you start thinking about putting baby on a sleep schedule. But according to baby and toddler sleep consultants such as The Happy Sleep Company, it’s an “awake schedule” that you should focus on instead.
What is an “awake schedule”?
An “awake schedule” is a loose guide to the amount of time that a baby comfortably stays awake between naps. For newborns and infants, who need a lot of sleep, these awake gaps are very short in the first few months.
Graphic courtesy of Meg Faure
What is my baby’s awake time?
Megan Faure, an occupational therapist and co-author of the bestselling books, Baby Sense, Sleep Sense and Feeding Sense, outlines her recommended age-appropriate awake times as:
0-6 weeks – 45 minutes of awake time between naps
6-16 weeks – 45-80 minutes of awake time between naps
4-7 months – 90-150 minutes of awake time between naps
7-12 months – 2-3 hours of awake time between naps
1-2 years – 3 hrs 25 mins-4 hrs 30 mins of awake time between naps
2-3 years – 4 hrs 30 mins-5 hours of awake time between naps
3-5 years – 5-7 hours of awake time between naps
Use this as your guide to an age-appropriate baby sleep schedule that is led by their needs.
How do I figure out my baby’s awake times?
Take note of when she awakes from her nap, and using the above as a guide, watch for the signals that she’s getting close to the end of her suggested awake time. Sleepy cues include rubbing her eyes or ears, scratching her head, yawning, or long blinks.
Graphic courtesy of @healthiest_baby
When you see these cues, settle her down for her next nap. If you wait too long, you may end up with an overtired baby who’ll be really difficult to get to sleep.
How can I get my baby ready for sleep?
Many moms benefit from creating a sensory environment for sleep. From around the time your baby is 4 to 6 months, you can set the stage for night-time sleep using sensory inputs, which babies are able to process at this age.
By following the steps below, your little one will begin to associate certain smells, touches and sounds with sleep, helping them adjust from being awake, to being drowsy, to then falling asleep.
Set your baby’s bedtime between 6 and 7pm, and begin this routine 45 minutes before then. Don’t leave the room during the routine, and make it a super-calm environment with little stimulation.
- Set up a warm bath for your baby in a bathtub in her room, and dim the lights.
- Bathe her using gentle baby bath products with a lavender scent.
- Lift your baby from the bath into a warm, soft towel.
- Give her a soothing massage before dressing her. (if your baby is colicky, a morning massage is better.)
- Feed her in your arms. Feed her as much she’ll take.
- Softly sing a lullaby until she’s drowsy (look for those sleepy cues), but not until she’s fast asleep.
- Put baby down to sleep when she’s awake but drowsy, say a gentle goodnight and leave the room.
How do babies fall asleep independently?
When your baby hits the 6-month mark, your may want to move on from breastfeeding or rocking her to sleep, helping her to fall asleep independently – so that even if she awakes in the middle of the night, she’ll able to go back to sleep without your help.
Here are some of the tips we followed in those early months.
Give her an independent sleep association:
As she approaches 6 months, give your baby an independent sleep association – one that you leave with her at sleep-time, such as a pacifier, soft blanket or teddy, and that she can use to self-soothe herself back to sleep should she awaken mid-sleep.
Let her self-soothe:
While it’s tempting to respond to your baby’s every sound at night (they’re pretty noisy sleepers, after all), give her a chance to settle herself if you hear a whimper. Listen to her fussing for 3-5 minutes before checking to see if she’s settled herself.
If she’s really crying though, go into the room, and, if it’s not time for a night feed, sit with her, and softly soothe her with your words. Stay with her for as long as it takes for her to re-settle. This way, your baby will not feel abandoned by you, but understands that while you are there, they must go to sleep independently.
My baby seems to mix up her day and night sleeps – what can I do?
Newborns (under 6 weeks) usually sleep for most of the day, sometimes even from one feed to the next. They wake around every 3 hours for a feed, but if your newborn wakes more often during the night, she may be mixing up her night and day.
The best way to fix this and get onto a an age-appropriate baby sleep schedule, is to make daytime more interactive and lively, and keep the night feeds quiet – try not to smile at or talk to her (difficult, we know!), keep the room semi-dark (use a nightlight or the light from the hallway), don’t change her diaper unless it’s soiled, and limit the time for burping.
Note that babies who are ill or going through a growth spurt are more likely to wake throughout the night. In the latter case, while growth spurts happen at different ages in different babies, they usually occur around 6 weeks and 4 months. Follow your baby’s lead, meet her increased demand for milk, and within a few nights, she’ll resume her usual sleep pattern.
Other night sleep disruptions will happen when your baby begins teething, or around 8-10 months, when they may begin to feel separation anxiety and will wake you for comfort.
How much should my baby/toddler be sleeping every day?
It’s good to know how many hours, on average, a child sleeps (or should sleep) in a day. Here’s what experts recommend:
Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hours a day
Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hours a day
Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hours a day
Pre-schoolers (3-5 years): 10-13 hours a day
Finally, you know your little one better than anyone else, so trust your instincts. And as exhausting as this time is, we reckon you may well end up just like us… Looking back on these late nights of feeding, burping, cuddling and rocking with a whole lotta longing.
If you’re looking for more info on parenting a newborn, baby or toddler, head to our popular Pinterest board, Parenting, a fantastically helpful toolbox of advice, tips and stories from our favorite sites and blogs.