Newborn Sleep Patterns- The First Year

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To the first-time parent or the person without kids, it may seem like babies and sleep don’t work well together. It may be difficult in the early stages, but if you know what to expect, particularly during the first year, it can be manageable.

Sleep Patterns

It may seem like your baby’s sleep pattern is unpredictable, especially within the first few months, but this is only partially true. While your baby may not have a set schedule until they are at least 6 months old, there is a general pattern they follow regarding the number of hours they sleep per day.

Babies sleep differently than adults do. Adult sleep cycles typically last around 90 minutes while babies’, depending on their age, can range between 20-50 minutes. These are the cycles between light and deep sleep.

While we all have a tendency to wake between sleep cycles, babies have a hard time putting themselves back to sleep, making it difficult for them to sleep through the night for the first several months of their lives.

To make it a bit easier to understand and track, here is a basic month-by-month sleep timeline for your baby’s first year:

  • Newborn: about 17 hours total. It may seem like a lot, but there is absolutely no pattern to it, so you can expect little spurts of a few minutes to possibly a couple of hours.
  • 1 month: about the same amount, but they can now tell the difference between night and day. Most sleeping time will start to transition to nighttime, but there will still be several naps throughout the day.
  • 2-5 months: about 15-17 hours total. You still may not see a definite schedule, but your little one will be a bit more social and will take slightly fewer naps during the day, transitioning more of their sleep time to night.
  • 6 months: about 10 hours at night and 3 daytime naps. Around this age, babies will start some solid foods and should be able to go the entire night without a feeding, allowing them to keep a better schedule and start sleeping through the night.
  • 9 months: about 11 hours at night with 3-4 hours of daytime sleep. About 80% of babies are sleeping through the night at this age, but you may also notice a bit of a sleep regression as separation anxiety arises.
  • 12 months: you’ve made it through the first year! At this age, most babies sleep about 11 hours at night and take 2 naps during the day (about 2 hours each). Your baby’s schedule is likely highly predictable at this point and they are sleeping much more soundly on their own.

Of course, this timeline is just based on the average child. You may have a child that is easier or more difficult. It may be hard at times, but they will eventually grow out of it and sleep normally. You just have to keep consistent with bedtime routines and rules.

Your Baby’s Bedtime Routine

The best way to help your baby get a good night’s sleep is to prepare them for sleep. We all need some time to wind down after a long day. Our bodies, babies’ included, need to know that sleep is coming. It can be very hard for us to settle down if we jump right into bed without preparing ourselves.

Creating a bedtime routine for your little one is crucial when helping them to settle down for the night. You want to make sure your baby is relaxed comfortable when getting ready for bed. This can include a relaxing bath, clean diaper, lotion massage (something with lavender is especially good), changing into pajamas (changing out of daytime clothes signifies a change in activity), and possible a feeding.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make when putting their baby to bed is feeding their baby until they fall asleep. The problem with this is that it creates a sleep association – something that the baby ends up “needing” in order to sleep.

The best thing to do, especially if you feed your baby before bed, is to put them down while they are slightly drowsy but still awake. This teaches them to fall asleep on their own, which can be especially helpful when they wake up in the middle of the night.

Creating an Ideal Sleep Environment

In addition to a good bedtime routine, you also need to create an ideal sleep environment for your little one. Just imagine if you tried to sleep in a room that was too hot or too bright or too loud. If you were able to get to sleep at all, you would likely wake up frequently uncomfortable and unable to sleep well.

It’s the same for your baby. You want to make sure the room is completely dark so your baby knows it’s nighttime and time for sleep. You also want to keep the room at a comfortable temperature. This means your baby is not sweating while their torso remains warm and their lips pink.

The trickiest part of a good sleep environment for your baby is the noise level. It’s easy to feel like you need to walk on eggshells once your baby is finally asleep, but a certain level is noise is actually better for your baby for a couple of reasons.

First, your baby is actually used to a lot of noise when they sleep. Rocking around in your belly for 9 months was not a silent time. They grew used to the sound of your breathing, digestive system, blood circulation, and so on. It’s actually quite noisy.

Second, getting your baby used to noise when they sleep will likely help them sleep better in the future. Babies who sleep in silent environments are more sensitive to noise, which means they will wake up easier and more frequently.

You can solve the noise issue by playing some white noise like crashing waves or falling rain. It can simulate the sounds they heard in the womb while not being too loud to keep them awake.

Safety First

The number of babies who die from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) every year is alarming, especially for a new parent. However, it is important to know that most cases can be avoided if you keep safety in mind when you put your baby to sleep.

You should never put your baby to sleep on their stomach. For the first several months after birth, your baby’s neck will not be strong enough to lift their head if their face is buried in the mattress. You should always put your baby to sleep on their back.

In addition, your baby’s sleep spot – whether that’s in a co-sleeper or crib – should be free from suffocation hazards like pillows, blankets, and stuffed animals. If you are worried about your baby getting cold without a blanket, simply dress them a little warmer.

Most importantly, you and your partner need to be on the same page regarding your baby’s sleep. Keep each other informed of any changes to your baby’s sleep environment and your baby’s location at all times.

As a first time parent, you may be prepared to lose countless hours of sleep, but you can also rest assured knowing that your baby’s sleep cycles are somewhat predictable. Just know what to expect and how to set yourself and your baby up for success to get through the rough nights and make them a little bit easier.

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