You tiptoe around the house. You shush anyone who walks through the door. And you’ve mastered the death glare when your spouse drops the spoon into the sink.
Like many new parents, you may have found that it’s often difficult to find sleep for you or your new addition. And you’re probably wondering: When will my baby start sleeping through the night?
Babies learn to sleep through the night as part of their development – and every baby is different. But as your baby gets older, they’ll start to sleep through the night for longer and longer stretches. Read on to learn how much babies typically sleep, what to expect at different ages, tips to help your baby sleep and more.
How much do babies sleep?
For the first few months, there isn’t a “normal” amount of time or time of day that babies usually sleep. They might be a sound and consistent sleeper during the first couple weeks of life and you’ll be thrilled. But your baby’s sleeping patterns will likely change as they become more awake and aware. Even so, it will be awhile before your baby is awake more than they’re asleep.
When do babies sleep through the night?
While this probably isn’t the news you want to hear right now, most babies don’t have a regular sleep cycle until they’re about 3-6 months old. Before that point, it’s important to let baby set their own sleep schedule, including how often they get up to nurse – younger babies need to eat during the night.
What to expect: Baby sleep schedule by age
Every baby is different, but here are some basic guidelines about how much sleep babies need, and how much they sleep at night and during the day.
- Newborn. There’s a reason why the first months seem the hardest. Your little one may be sleeping 15-18 hours a day, but they don’t sleep for long periods at a time. At night, you can expect them to sleep 2-4 hours between meals. During the day, your babe will nap whenever they want for however long they want – it could be a few minutes or a few hours. So why do babies sleep so much? It’s because they’re growing substantially right now – both physically and mentally.
- 2-4 months old. Your baby may sleep for 3-6 hours at a stretch during the night, getting up twice to eat. During the day, they usually take three or four naps that are anywhere between 30 minutes and three hours in length. In total, they will sleep about 14-16 hours a day.
- 4-6 months old. At this point, baby may be sleeping 6-8 hours during the night, getting up to feed only once. This may also be when some babies noticeably start staying awake more, nearly as much as they’re asleep. Most babies this age need 12-15 hours of sleep, which they split between nighttime sleep and three naps.
- 6-8 months old. Around the half-year mark is often when babies start sleeping through the night, 9-12 hours at a stretch. Babies this age still need 12-15 hours of sleep. But, because they’re sleeping so much at night, they’ll likely only need one or two naps to get the sleep they need.
- 8 months to 1 year old. At this point, babies will get most of their necessary sleep at night. They’ll sleep 10-12 hours a night and take one or two shorter naps during the day, for a total of 11-15 hours of sleep.
Why are newborn babies fussy at night?
During the first months of life, babies lack the ability to calm themselves, but you can help them. The first step is figuring out what’s bothering your baby. They may just be tired, but here are some specific things to look for:
- Sleep position. Check that baby isn’t lying in an awkward position. If baby is lying on their arm or if their sleep sack is bunched up weird, that could be making them uncomfortable.
- Food issues. If your little one has just eaten, it’s possible that they may have reflux and keeping them upright afterward may help. Or if you’re trying to transition from breast to bottle, and your baby won’t take a bottle for their midnight snack, they may be hungry.
- Diaper troubles. If the diaper is dirty, that’s a clear issue. But even if it’s dry, the diaper can still be the cause of baby’s fussiness. If your little one has redness or bumps on their little bottom, just being in the diaper can be uncomfortable, especially when it’s severe diaper rash. If baby’s rash has lasted more than three days, contact your baby’s doctor.
- They’re too hot. Check baby’s skin. If your babe is hot or sweaty, they may be wearing too many clothes. Even though babies can’t have blankets in their crib (see the ABCs of safe sleep), they don’t need that many layers to stay warm. Just add one more than an adult might need.
- Baby has a fever. Baby may also be fussy and hot if they have a fever. So, take their temperature if nothing else seems to work. What do you do if baby has a fever? For babies who are less than 3 months old, call the doctor or nurse line if the temp is above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or less than 97 degrees. For babies that are older, call when the temp is above 102 degrees.
- No reason at all. While there’s usually a reason for baby’s tears, sometimes babies can cry for no apparent reason. If you can’t figure out what’s bothering baby, continue to offer them comfort. Chances are they will be back to their normal self soon.
How to calm a fussy baby at night and help them go to sleep
Even when there’s no obvious cause for fussiness, there are still ways to comfort baby. Try some of these tips to help your baby, and you, find the rest you need.
Try the five S’s to help your baby sleep
- Swaddling. Newborns have a startle reflex that they can’t control. If your baby has this reflex in the middle of the night, they may have a hard time going back to sleep. Swaddling your baby by wrapping their arms close to their sides may help, especially in the first couple months. There are swaddle sacks you can buy that do the work for you, or you can ask your baby’s doctor or clinician for tips on swaddling with blankets.
- Side or Stomach. Some babies have a hard time digesting milk if they are lying on their backs. After feeding, try rocking or holding your baby on their left side or stomach. Just make sure you put your baby on their back when you lay them down to sleep.
- Shushing. Loud shushing, white noise or even music can help calm a baby. If you played music for your baby in the womb, try playing that same music again. It has been shown to be recognizable and comforting for your baby.
- Swinging. By swinging a baby gently, you are helping mimic what they felt in the womb. This may be enough to help calm your baby and help them get to sleep.
- Sucking. Most babies relax when they start sucking, so try a pacifier to help your baby drift into sleep. If you are nursing, it’s best to wait until your baby is a breastfeeding pro (which usually takes 1-2 weeks) before introducing a pacifier.
Put your baby down to sleep when they’re drowsy
Try to put your baby into their crib while they’re still drowsy but not completely asleep. This way, your baby learns to fall asleep on their own and, when they awake in the middle of the night, they have a better chance of falling back asleep.
How do you put a baby to bed when they’re drowsy but still awake? For starters, keep an eye on baby’s sleep patterns early on – including naps.
Remember, from birth to 3 months, your baby is spending anywhere from 14-18 hours sleeping each day. So, by keep tracking of their typical sleep cycle, you can anticipate when they’ll be ready for sleep. You can also watch for classic sleep cues like yawning, eye rubbing or fussiness.
I’ll admit, as a new dad myself, this is easier said than done. But consistency does pay off and routines like this will help your baby fall asleep faster and easier.
Teach your baby the difference between day and night
As previously mentioned, your newborn will sleep whenever and wherever they want – and that’s the way it should be. How else are they going to get all the sleep they need?
But when your baby is about 2 months old, you can use daytime and nighttime behaviors to gently nudge your baby toward a more normal sleep schedule. That’s because most babies start to develop sleep patterns when they are 2 months old. By the time babies are 3-6 months old, their naps, bedtime and wakeup times are pretty consistent.
Helping your baby distinguish between night and day goes a long way in establishing good sleep patterns. Daytime is therefore playtime – be as active as possible during the day. Open up the shades, let the sunshine pour in and make some noise while your baby is sleeping. Make noise around a sleeping baby? I know, it sounds crazy. But this is a good way to help your baby realize that it is daytime.
Then at night, be as quiet as possible. When you’re up for middle-of-the-night feedings it should be all business. Change your baby without cooing, playing or chatting. Your focus is to get them back to sleep quickly rather than playing with them.
What are some energy boosters for new moms?
Taking care of a new baby around the clock is a big job! That can often mean your own self-care falls behind. Just like a baby, parents can benefit from routines, too. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Keep up on your fluids and try to make healthier food choices. Science shows that our food choices greatly affect how we feel.
- Try to get some physical activity. Exercise can go a long way. Even a little walk can help clear your mind and get you reenergized.
- Get sleep whenever you can. We can’t say it enough – you need sleep, too. This can be hard because there are always things to do after you finally get your baby to sleep. But, sleep train yourself right alongside them. This means if you are excessively tired, sleep while your baby sleeps. Chores around the house can wait.
- Avoid excessive caffeine as an artificial energy boost. Caffeine impacts your ability to sleep and, if you’re breastfeeding, can contribute to your baby’s fussiness.
Talk to your partner about helping around the house
Parenting is meant to be a team sport. Like any successful team that means practice and planning are critical. Although birth moms often carry a large burden when it comes to feeding and caring for a newborn, partners want to be useful, too. Plus, having father-baby bonding time is magical and important.
You and your partner should discuss ways to share the work before you’re both exhausted. Ask your partner what their expectations are and let them know how you see duties being shared. Here are some ideas:
- Divide and conquer – one parent feeds the baby and the other changes the diaper.
- Perhaps on some nights, mom pumps and passes off nighttime bottle duties.
- If baby takes a bottle, maybe there’s a schedule so both parents can each get at least half a night’s sleep. One of you could take the late shift and the other can take the early shift.
- Maybe one of you is responsible for feeding baby and the other is responsible for feeding the rest of the family. If someone is responsible for planning and making (or ordering) meals, you could avoid the dreaded question, “What do you want to do for dinner?”
As a dad, I know we want to be a helping and comforting presence, not an additional burden or stress to be managed. Talking through new roles early on will give us the ability to help you the most.
Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have questions about your baby’s sleep patterns
Learning how to sleep through the night is something your baby will learn as they grow. But if you’re concerned about their sleep schedule or you’re feeling frazzled, we’re just a phone call away.
HealthPartners patients can call 800-551-0859. Park Nicollet patients can call their clinic directly during regular business hours, or 952-993-4665 if it’s after hours. For questions and advice on new baby care, you can also call our 24/7 BabyLine at 612-333-2229.
If you’d like to talk with your child’s doctor, you can make an appointment for a convenient video visit or an in-person visit.