The first few months with a baby are tough. There are diapers everywhere, you’re not sure if your shirt (or hair) has been washed recently and you don’t remember the last time you slept through the night. You’re dealing with a whole new level of exhaustion, healing from childbirth, figuring out how to get your stroller to fold, and wondering how to keep those tiny baby socks from getting lost in the wash (pro tip: wash them in a lingerie bag!).
Never fear, we’re here to give you some sleep tips for the fourth trimester, so grab your coffee and read on.
Top Tips How to Get Your Baby On A Healthy Sleep Schedule
The awake window for newborns is around 30-45 minutes: super short in adult time but plenty of time to be awake for a newbie. Any more awake time than this and baby will be getting into overtired territory. These short awake windows will be just enough time for a diaper/outfit change, a feed and some quick cuddles before it’s time to go back to sleep.
Birth - 6 Weeks
What to expect: Those first weeks are a magical blur. Your baby will likely eat every 2 to 3 hours and sleep most of the time in between.
Sleep is disorganized: There is nothing you can do to predict how long or how often baby will sleep. Just go with the flow and let them sleep when they want. Remember, wake time is 30-45 minutes between naps.
Most babies are born with what’s called day/night confusion. Don’t worry, it will sort itself out by 6-8 weeks. Above all, don’t try to keep baby up during the day thinking they’ll sleep more at night!
Ask for help from your partner, especially at night. Even if you’re breastfeeding, they can do diaper duty. Teach them how to swaddle and they can put baby back down while you go back to sleep.
6 - 8 Weeks
What to expect: Hooray! You’ve made it to your first sleep milestone! Your baby is likely sleeping for longer stretches.
Day/night confusion gets better and baby could start sleeping longer (4-6 hours) at night.
Awake windows between naps are about 45-60 minutes at this age.
Start a sleep routine for every nap and nighttime. Keep it short, sweet and simple so you (and other caretakers) can do it for every sleep period.
An example of a good routine is diaper change, read a short book (you can add more books as they get older) and then a song. Keep the room as dim as you can during this routine.
Aim to do at least one nap per day in their bassinet or crib instead of in the stroller/carrier/car. A safe, cool, dark and quiet environment will foster good sleeping habits.
8 - 12 weeks
What to expect: As the newborn stage comes to an end, you can start to expect more consistent sleeping patterns.
Bedtime typically moves up to 6-8 pm. If baby isn’t sleeping for long stretches during the day yet, an early bedtime will help them catch up at night.
Awake windows between naps start to stretch to 1-1.5 hours.
A good time to start the day is around 6:30 am. Get some sunlight in the morning to regulate those circadian rhythms and look for the first nap to start around 8 am.
Depending on how long baby naps, you can try to follow an 8 am/10:30 am/1 pm/4 pm schedule. The eat, play, sleep pattern is a good way to provide some structure to your days at this age.
Talk to your pediatrician about how many overnight feeds your baby needs.
Start letting your baby have short periods of self-soothing practice. Putting baby in their crib or bassinet sleepy but awake is a great way to do this. Self-soothing is the best sleeping skill you can teach!
Above all, don’t stress. Worrying about long-term sleep habits during the first few months isn’t necessary--this is just the first of many phases. It’s never too early to teach healthy sleep habits but it’s also never too late. A good foundation early on is a great gift to baby and yourself!
About the author:
Leigh McMahon is a certified sleep consultant with Bonne Nuit Baby. Based in Denver, Colorado, she helps babies and children learn how to be champion sleepers so their parents can function/stay sane/cut down on the double espressos. Follow her @bonnenuitdenver and her partner in crime, Hadley Seward, Founder of Bonne Nuit Baby @_bonnenuitbaby.