What is Actually Normal for Infant Sleep Habits?
No issue more universally stresses and worries new parents than getting a baby to sleep. Where babies are concerned, there’s a wide range of what is considered “normal” behaviors. That’s certainly true where baby sleep habits–if we can even use that word–are concerned. Let’s start by understanding what is considered normal infant sleep.
How Many Hours do Newborn Babies Sleep?
In the first day or two, babies sleep A LOT. After that, sleep is typically very erratic through the fourth trimester. If you get a baby that seems to sleep regular hours on a predictable schedule, you’re luckily unusual.
A newborn doesn’t know his nights from his days. His circadian rhythm and biological clock begins ticking somewhere between 6-9 months and doesn’t really work steadily and regularly until four months. Typical newborns take many naps, day and night, and never really “go to bed” for the night. Sometime after the one month mark, babies begin to get the idea and sleep more hours at night. They still wake in the night to eat and be comforted back to sleep, but average 8-10 hours total nighttime sleep. They take three naps. The third daytime nap is given up by around six months as nighttime sleep hours increase. Here’s a general idea of the first few months of life with a newborn sleep schedule.
Newborn through infant nap and nighttime hours of sleep:
Is it Normal for Baby to Wake up at Night?
Yes. Babies spend much more time in light sleep than adults do. Their amount of REM sleep is different than ours. This is part of nature’s protection against SIDS and failure to thrive. Babies who wake easily are more likely to get fed.
Younger babies need to eat and do not sleep for long. Often when older babies wake at night, it’s not because they are hungry but because they are going through a period of very light sleep and have realized they are not with their caregiver. These babies need help feeling safe enough to fall back asleep.
They’re crying because they are tired and desperate to fall back asleep.
When will Baby Sleep Through the Night?
The idea that babies should sleep through the night early on is a product of formula feeding and a culture of independence. Breastfed babies and formula fed babies need nighttime feedings. It’s biologically normal for babies to wake and want reassurance and maybe a snack, especially if they are sleeping alone.
While it sounds like a absolute dream come true–and some mystical babies do–it’s not normal for babies to sleep from when you put them down until you’re ready for them to wake in the morning. For infants, sleeping five consecutive hours is considered sleeping through the night.
Babies wake at least 2-3 times each night until around six months. Even at six months, most babies wake 1-2x a week. The rest of them wake more often.
It’s typical for babies to continue to wake at night until a year old. It’s also usual for them to start waking up at night even though they formerly slept well. Babies and toddlers go through periods of development that impact their sleep and separation anxiety.
It may help to look at night time parenting as just another part of the family life. Waking in the middle of the night and needing comfort to fall asleep are not sleep problems. It doesn’t mean something is wrong with your child if they need you at night. In fact, it means they are normal.
Having to lay down with or hold your baby until he falls asleep and then do the same again in the middle of the night can be stressful, but it is not a sleep problem. You are designed to respond to, hold and soothe your baby. Don’t expect too much too soon with a newborn.
Can’t I Teach a Baby to Go to Sleep on His Own?
Sure, you can. Generations of parents have used established bedtime routines.
A sample bedtime routine for a newborn or toddler might include dimming the lights, playing soft music (lullaby, jazz or other soothing sounds), a bath, changing into pajamas, reading a story, singing songs, turning on white noise, milk feeding, prayers or special goodnight words. The repetitive nature of doing these actions in the same order every night can be very helpful. A bedtime routine works to cue the mind and body that it’s time to go to bed.
It helps to remember that this time with a newborn is only temporary! In 6-8 weeks, your baby typically will sleep on a better schedule.
In some cases, some amount of sleep training may be necessary (it’s advised to wait until baby is at least 6 months old) for the health of the family as a whole. Over-stressed and sleep deprived parents are not at maximum efficiency or lovingness. Your stress level matters.
Talk to your provider or a professional immediately if you are fearful that you are sleep deprived to the point that you fear you will harm yourself or your baby.
How Do I get My Baby to Fall Asleep?
However you can. Babies very often fall asleep at the breast. They like to be held. They need the presence of a caregiver to feel safe enough to fall asleep. Babies who are overtired have a harder time falling asleep, so letting them get their naps in is key.
Having a long and predictable bedtime routine can also help baby’s brain expect and prep for sleep as that time approaches. The trick, as you’ve no doubt discovered, is to transfer them to a sleeping surface without waking them up.
Wait until she is floppy to set her down. Pick up an arm and see if it just drops without any flinching. Then, you have to hope that when your baby goes through a cycle of light sleep/wakefulness, she is not scared or upset that she’s been moved since the last time she was aware of her surroundings.
Be easy on yourself the first few months. New babies need a lot of sleep and you can’t worry about bad habits the first few months. Your job as a new parent is to maximize sleep in a safe manner as well as to focus on establishing full feeds.
Be encouraged; it is a rite of passage to comfort a baby and get them to sleep (here is a post on soothing a crying baby) . Before long you will get a good night’s sleep!
***If your baby doesn’t ever sleep and cries continually or non-stop please consult a doctor.***
Disclaimer: Pregnancy by Design’s information is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always ask your healthcare provider about any health concerns you may have.
Pantley, Elizabeth (2002). The No-Cry Sleep Solution.
Your Baby’s Sleep in the First Year (2016). Ed. W. Middlemiss and K. Kendall-Tackett. Praeclarus Press.
Free Video Guide on Creating Your Birth Plan!
The Complete Guide to Writing Your Birth Plan is a step by step walk-through of the most important aspects of creating an effective birth plan. The guide covers everything you need to know from interviewing a provider, comfort measures and additional 1-page birth plan to talk over with your provider. Get free access today!