One of the biggest challenges a lot of new parents face is sleep. You wonder if your baby is getting enough, and you wonder how you’re going to make it through the day with hardly any sleep yourself! The good news is, as baby gets older, she’ll be able to sleep longer. In the meantime, it’s good to know how many hours you can expect your baby to sleep and to go ahead and get her started on a bedtime routine that can help establish healthy sleeping habits into childhood.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, during the first 3 months of life, newborns typically sleep around 16 to 17 hours per day. If you’re as sleep-deprived as the average new parent, that might be hard to believe, but that’s because your baby is only sleeping for 1 to 2 hours at a time. While that sleep pattern can be hard on you, it’s completely normal and healthy for baby. That’s why a lot of experts (and seasoned parents) recommend sleeping when baby sleeps.
Myth Buster: If anyone has encouraged you to put cereal in the bottle to help your baby sleep longer, know that research shows it does not help baby to sleep longer and may actually be harmful.
By the time your baby is 3 to 4 months old, the AAP recommends infants this age (and up to 12 months) get 12 to 16 hours per day, including naps. That is similar to how much sleep your baby was getting in the first 3 months, but by now she’s probably starting to sleep for longer stretches at a time. The main reason your baby can sleep for longer is because her tummy has grown. Her bigger tummy can hold more food than before, and that helps her stay fuller longer. You may read that and think you should aim to feed her as much as possible before bed, but that doesn’t work. She won’t sleep any longer, and it can cause bigger problems down the road, such as reflux.
You may be wondering if there’s anything you can do to help baby become a better sleeper, and there is! Babies are comforted by consistency, so starting a short and simple routine to help baby know it’s time for bed can go a long way. The best bedtime routine is one that works for you and baby, but here is a sample routine to give you an idea of what yours could look like:
- Wash up (you can skip soap every other night to avoid drying out baby’s skin)
- Fresh diaper
- Lay down
Pro Tip: Lay your baby down to sleep when he is sleepy (not sleeping). This way, he learns to fall asleep on his own.
Recent AAP recommendations encourage parents to have baby sleep in the same room, on a separate surface, for at least the first 6 months of life. Some studies show that it’s best to keep your baby in the same room as you for the first year, but contradicting reports show that when babies sleep in a separate room after 6 months, both baby and parents get more sleep. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide what works best for your family.
The most important thing is that you—and anyone caring for your baby—follow the ABCs of safe sleep (alone, on their backs, in a crib) to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).