Your newborn’s sleep schedule is an important part of both your and your baby’s health. In this article, Vitalxchange sleep expert Sabrina Stempel explains how your baby’s sleep schedule changes in the first year and how you can help your baby progress toward a good night’s sleep for both you and them.
0-4 Months Sleep Schedule
The most common fear or complaint from new parents is the drastic change in sleeping habits around four months old. Babies that started out as great sleepers can become terrible sleepers. This might involve your newborn baby’s sleep schedule changing to being up all night, taking short naps, or having difficulty soothing to sleep. There are luckier parents whose difficult or “colicky” newborn transforms into an amazing sleeper at four months, requiring little to no sleep training. This stage has donned the dramatic title, “The Four-Month Sleep Regression.” After you understand the science behind this regression, you will see that it is actually a progression. After all, babies are sweet innocent creatures that do not deserve such negative stereotyping.
From birth until the end of three months, newborns are easily overstimulated by their environment or even just from the effort of eating. Simply looking at a baby for too long makes them tired! Newborns can only handle being awake for about forty-five minutes at a time. During the first three months, newborns have not yet developed a circadian rhythm or the sleepy hormone; melatonin.
At four months, babies have a big leap in both brain and motor development. Your baby is transitioning from a newborn to an infant. They are developing a circadian rhythm and starting to produce melatonin. Babies at this age also start to handle being awake for an additional 15-45 minutes in between naps. Parents view this stage as a horrible experience because the only way their baby can communicate their need for a change is, of course, by crying!
Although the increase in crying and night waking is disturbing, it is actually a helpful signal. Your baby tells you, “I’m ready for a schedule! Teach me how to sleep!”. This is the perfect time to plan a newborn sleep schedule for your baby. It should include three naps and feeding times about three hours apart (discuss the appropriate feeding schedule with your pediatrician or lactation consultant). Focus on developing a schedule and routine during month four. By doing so, you will be ready to work on self-soothing techniques by the time your baby reaches five months old.
5-9 Months Sleep Schedule
During months five through nine, there is no dramatic change in sleep development or your newborn’s sleep schedule. The only change to expect is that your baby can stay awake for an extra thirty minutes or so. This is the most common and recommended age for parents to teach their baby to self-soothe, better known as “sleep training.” This is the ideal age because separation anxiety can kick in around eight months. The younger the baby, the easier it is to sleep train. However, parents should be comforted to know that it is never too late.
9-12 Months Sleep Schedule
Babies typically drop their third nap between nine and ten months, requiring some schedule shifting. A challenge some parents might run into during this stage is a few difficult days or weeks of sleep setbacks. This is due to a lot of motor skill development. During these few months, babies are working on standing up, crawling, and walking. Any time a motor skill develops, a sleep setback will likely follow. This can be discouraging, but remember that this is temporary and will end when your child has mastered that motor skill. The best thing to do is to stick to schedule and routine as best as possible and resist the urge to make things easier. For example, bringing your baby to your bed during the night will create a new sleep crutch. Time and patience will get you through this stage.
As babies grow and go through different stages, positive changes will be mixed with challenges. Very often, these challenges involve changes in your newborn’s sleep schedule or diet. The best thing to do is contact your pediatrician or professional in that area to guide you through that stage. It is better to reach out for help than to fall into a new crutch or habit which will be harder to fix as your baby gets older.