Infant Sleep - Birth to Six Months
Congratulations on your new baby. As your baby grows and develops, their sleep patterns will change. It's important to understand what to expect for the first six months of your baby's life, and what you can do to help your baby learn good sleep habits.
Did you know?
- One of the top reasons parents contact the Parent Talk Line is to ask a nurse questions related to infant sleep. You are not alone.
- There are many common infant sleep problems in the first six months
- The safest place for your baby to sleep is on their back, in a crib, cradle or bassinet. It's recommended that you share a room with your baby for the first six months of your baby's life. Learn more about safe sleep.
Sleep Patterns - What to Expect
You know your baby best. If you're concerned that your baby has an illness that might be interfering with their sleep, is not getting enough sleep or is sleeping too much, talk to your health care provider.
Babies younger than three months of age
- Sleep 14 - 17 hours during 24-hour period
- Sleep patterns are irregular
- Spend a lot of time in "light sleep" cycle (may twitch, make small movements and sounds, and may startle easily)
- Cannot tell the difference between day and night
Babies three to six months of age
- Sleep 14 - 17 hours during a 24-hour period
- Sleep patterns become more predictable
- Your baby will begin to stay awake longer during the day and sleep for longer stretches at night
- Nap times are more consistent. Most babies need three naps a day. Daytime sleep is important for nighttime sleep.
Most babies younger than six months of age do not sleep through the night
- Babies are programmed to feed often during a 24-hour period. Expect your baby to have about eight feeds during a 24-hour period, including overnight feeds.
- A baby's sleep cycle is about half the time of an adult's sleep cycle. This means it is natural for babies to wake up frequently during the night.
Ways to Help your Baby Learn Good Sleep Habits
Good sleep habits start right from birth. Helping your baby establish good sleep habits can help stop common sleep problems before they start.
For babies right from birth
- Have realistic expectations. Babies are all unique. Your baby's sleep patterns will change as they grow and develop.
- Get to know when your baby is tired. Look for cues (e.g., rubs eyes, yawns) and then prepare your baby for sleep. Responding to your baby's cues promptly will make it easier for your baby to fall asleep and prevent your baby from becoming overtired.
- When your baby is sleeping, let natural sunlight in the home during the day and keep the lights low at night. This will help your baby learn the difference between day and night.
For babies two months of age and older
- Place your baby in their crib to sleep every time. If you always put your baby in their crib to sleep (day and night), your baby will learn that this is the place where they sleep.
- Wait a minute to see if your baby is trying to settle to sleep in their crib or needs you. Some babies may move around, put their hands in their mouth, cry a little or make noises as they try to settle to sleep on their own (self-soothe). Before you respond, listen for about one minute to see if your baby can settle to sleep. If after a minute your baby isn't settled or is crying more, it's important to tend to your baby's needs and comfort them.
For babies three months of age and older
- Have the same daytime routines, such as regular feeding, play times, and sleep times. You can use a shorter version of your bedtime routine for putting your baby down for a nap.
- Have the same bedtime routine. Choose relaxing activities that your baby enjoys (e.g., bath, reading a book, gentle massage). A bedtime routine should last about 20 - 30 minutes.
- When possible, try to put your baby down to sleep in their crib when they are drowsy
Having a new baby in the house can make you feel exhausted. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps. Ask for help. If you feel depressed, tell your partner / support person and call your health care provider.
Common Infant Sleep Problems
My baby will only sleep in my arms. What can I do?
If your baby falls asleep in your arms and wakes up when they are moved to their crib, they will need and want the same condition they had before to fall asleep again - your arms.
It takes patience and consistency to have your baby get used to a new way of falling asleep. You can try putting your baby down in their crib when they are drowsy, and try to settle them in their crib by patting, stroking or shushing.
When will my baby sleep through the night?
All babies are different. Babies under six months of age need frequent feedings in 24 hours, and that will likely include feedings at night.
As your baby's brain matures, your baby will be able to string together longer periods of sleep. By six months of age, about 65 per cent of babies have the ability to sleep for about an eight hour stretch at night.
What time should I put my baby to bed?
Newborn babies don't have a predictable schedule because they need to feed frequently. As your baby grows, their sleeping and feeding patterns become more predictable.
There is no one time that works for every family. Studies show that putting your baby to bed before 9 p.m. can help prevent babies from becoming overtired.
Try to stay consistent with the time you put your baby to bed and start with a positive bedtime routine that's the same every night.
Why does my baby wake up as soon as I put them in the crib?
Babies under six months of age spend more time in a "light sleep" stage than older babies and adults.
Light sleep occurs at the beginning of your baby's sleep cycle. During light sleep, your baby may startle easily, make sounds, and wake easily. As your baby grows, your baby's sleep cycle will mature and they will spend less time in light sleep.
It can be helpful to try and have your baby fall asleep in their crib, drowsy but awake, so you don't have to transfer them while they are still in light sleep.
What does drowsy but awake look like?
A baby who is "drowsy but awake" will begin to have more regular respirations, be in a calm state, and may begin to close their eyes. This is the stage right before your baby falls asleep, but they are not yet sleeping.
Why does my baby wake up at night?
All babies cycle through different stages of sleep at night. At the end of each sleep cycle, it is a normal stage that your baby will briefly wake and then drift back into the sleep stages again.
An infant sleep cycle is about 45-60 minutes in length, which is about half the length of an adult's sleep cycle. This means that all babies will wake up naturally in their sleep cycle. Sometimes they will settle back to sleep on their own, and sometimes they will require a feeding or your attention.
My baby cries every time I put her down for a nap. What can I do?
Your baby might need some gentle help to learn to fall asleep for nap. Make sure that their sleep environment is quiet, dark and free of any distractions or toys. Watch for signs during the day that your baby is tired and try putting them down for a nap at those times.
It can be helpful to try quiet play before a nap, like reading a book or a quiet song, to help calm your baby before nap time.
It's important to include frequent naps during the day because babies who don't get enough sleep during the day might become overtired. An overtired baby may have a more difficult time falling asleep and staying asleep.
Most importantly, staying consistent with nap times will help your baby get used to napping and may help your baby fall asleep more easily.