Baby Sleep Schedule

My Baby Won't Sleep!

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Chances are, you are reading this with tired eyes. I know what it’s like, being up most of the night, trying to get your baby to sleep.

So you might ask yourself, "do I need a sleep schedule for my baby?"

Those first few weeks are especially exhausting. There are ways of making it easier though; and your baby could be sleeping longer stretches of time, by incorporating a few techniques mentioned below.

On average a baby will sleep about 16 hours per 24 hours, but it is perfectly normal for a newborn baby to sleep 10 hours or 23 hours per day.

Babies sleep a lot. For the first three months, they spend more time asleep than awake and with good reason, their brains need to absorb and process so much information.  

From the time in the womb, babies are pre-exposed to a more or less fixed sleeping pattern – times of being awake, and times of rest. 

What is the Relationship between Breastfeeding and a baby’s sleep Patterns?

Breastfed babies are known to have a slightly different sleeping pattern to formula fed babies.

If you didn’t know, breastmilk contains an amino acid that is used by the body to manufacture Melatonin – the sleep hormone. Babies who breastfeed (at night especially), tend to fall asleep faster at bedtime and also get more overall nighttime sleep.

For the breastfeeding mom of a newborn baby, it is essential to know that the nutrients in her milk are very easily and quickly absorbed and directly available to the infant to maximize his/her development. 

Your baby’s risk of illness is at its highest during the first year of life. Your breast milk is designed to maximize protection against this onslaught, ultimately affecting your baby's sleep patterns.

The nutrients found in breast milk have a definite effect on your baby’s health and well-being and influence the quality of sleep your baby gets. It is believed that babies who are exclusively breastfed during this time have a lower incidence of hereditary diseases, and tend to have a more restful sleep (providing other sleep requirements are met successfully) and tend to have healthier sleep patterns in general when compared to formula-fed babies.

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Interesting Fact

The nutrients that are found in breast milk have a particular effect on gene expression in your baby. If your baby receives breast milk instead of formula milk during these crucial years of development, their genes will be expressed differently; this means that breast milk has the potential to “switch on" or “switch off" genes. 

Things that Determine the Amount of Time Spent Awake and the Amount of Time Spent Asleep:

  • Too much stimulation during times of needed sleep can cause over-tiredness. Too little stimulation during times of wakefulness could produce the opposite.
  • The Environment. If your baby is too hot, too cold or has a wet nappy.
  • The age of your infant.
  • The health and well-being of your infant. ( fevers, aches and pains, vomiting, diarrhea, Colds and flu, Coughs can all interfere with sleep)
  • Nursing & eating habits of your infant.
  • Colic. Usually has to do with acid reflux or excessive gas
  • Hunger (if the previous feed was delayed, or insufficient (too short). Hunger cues explained here. 
  • The emotional health and well-being of the mother, especially during breastfeeding.
  • Immunisations.

I’d like to delve deeper now into the sleeping patterns that most breastfed babies are prone to.

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The New-born Infant’s Sleeping Patterns

Day one:    

Babies often have a good feed after birth and fall asleep almost immediately afterward; this could be classified as the infant’s first sleep since birth. 

Your baby will be sleeping every 2-3 hours, and only waking for 30-45 minutes in between. Sleep will come again shortly after a wakeful period – after a period in which you will feed and change your baby.

Day two:    

Day two is quite an intense day because all of a sudden your infant will realize that he/she is not in the tummy anymore. Hunger pains, different voices, noises, uncomfortable clothing, a different atmosphere are only some of the drastic changes your baby will be met with; all of these unexpected changes will affect your baby’s sleep pattern. 

The first week:

At three weeks of age, your infant will gradually fall into a more “fixed" sleeping habit/feeding habit. Before this time (3 weeks) your baby will spend less time awake in between feeds (providing they get adequate feeds from the breast) and shorter times asleep, because of all the stimuli causing the brain the respond, and delay sleep a bit longer.

You will know your baby is getting enough milk when they are drinking at least 8-12 times in a 24-hour period; this, in turn, will give you at least six wet nappies within the same space of time. Normal urine and stool output discussed here. There is, however, no set routine for a baby’s sleep and awake times during this stage. 

Newborns need plenty of sleep from birth to the first two-week mark – approximately 16-18 hours a day. The brain consolidates knowledge during sleep, and for your newborn baby, everything is new. Your baby needs to sleep to process all this new information, waking every 2-3 hours for feeding (which includes nights) and only stay awake for roughly 45 – 60 minutes before needing to sleep again. 

Week 2:

By this age, there will be six stages of being awake through which your baby will cycle several times a day. The baby’s sleeping times will be varied, with sleep every 4 hours average, the length ranging from 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours depending on how long a baby stays in each stage below. 

  • Deep sleep (Baby is unresponsive)
  • Lighter sleep (baby will react and awaken at the slightest noise). 
  • Drowsiness. (baby’s eyelids drooping, he may also yawn, stretch or jerk his limbs as signs that your baby is ready to fall asleep)
  • Quiet alert stage (The eyes are wide open, and the body is relaxed)
  • The active alert stage (your baby’s face and body movements become more active)
  • Restless stage (crying, body movements in a disorganized manner).

Week 6:

From about six weeks you should be able to notice that your infant’s days and nights begin to follow a pattern. A consistent schedule will help cue your baby’s brain as to when it’s time to wake, and when it’s time to sleep. Interaction should be kept at a minimum during the night so that your baby comes to expect quiet and calm during this time as a time to sleep, and active interaction during the day for baby to recognize times of wakefulness.

3 Months:

At the three month mark your baby can be awake for an hour to 90 minutes at a time during the day and sleep through from 6/7pm – 10 pm and then on until 1 or 2 am before waking for her next feed. After that, she will wake every 3-4 hours to feed again. Try to recognize your baby’s sleep cues and have her in a cot by the time these cues start. 

Try to put your baby in the cot while drowsy, but not asleep and allow her to drift off to sleep in a quiet, dark, calm atmosphere. 

From 3 months onward:

Your baby’s body should have adapted to their unique sleeping pattern. From now until a year old, your baby will sleep for more extended periods, and be awake for more extended periods in between. Averaging from 3-4 hours of sleep at night, with short periods of wakefulness, and 2-4 hours of sleep (naps) one, or twice a day with them being awake the remainder of the time.

By the time your baby reaches a place where he/she is sleeping through at night, you will have plenty time to rest. So, let’s discuss a few tips that will get you there faster.

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Baby sleep training methods
Healthy Sleep Habits

  • A warm bath helps to relax your baby and helps her to feel drowsy. Try to keep to a specific bathtime/bedtime routine. Ensure that there is calm and quiet after about 6 pm in the evening, from there you can bath your baby, read a story, breastfeed her/him and put them to bed; this routine should occur in the same order and time, every evening so that your baby knows what to expect. Implementing these steps will help your baby sleep. Babies love consistency.
  • Keep your baby sleep schedule routine to a maximum of 20 minutes, longer than this, and it might become too stimulating.
  • For older babies, sticking to a nap time routine during the day will ensure better sleep at night. Keeping your baby from sleeping during the day will not help him/her sleep longer at night. Keeping your baby from daytime naps will hamper sleep at night, due to your baby being overtired.
  • Co-sleeping for the first few weeks can mean the difference between a few hours of sleep and a full night's sleep.
  • An overtired baby will struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. Try putting your baby to sleep a little earlier in the evenings, if you think this is the case.
  • A baby (4 months and older) that wakes up in the middle of the night is not necessarily hungry; they might just have had a dream. Sleep disturbances, usually occur during developmental milestones and growth spurts; like when your baby is learning to sit and crawl.
  • You don’t need to change your baby’s diaper every time you enter the room at night. Try to do this, only if the diaper is full, or if your baby has had a stool. A diaper change is a sure way to wake your baby! Also, if you have to do a diaper change, use a warm cloth instead of a cold wet-wipe. For those middle of the night feedings, if you need to change your baby’s diaper, it's best to change it before the feeding.
  • Wake your baby at a specific time every morning. Your baby will be more likely to keep to a particular baby sleep schedule if you do this.
  • Getting Baby to sleep alone: Let your baby fall asleep by him/herself. If your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, allow some time to see if your baby will fall asleep again, without going into the room. Also, during the day, make a habit of letting your baby (when drowsy) fall asleep on their own, without always being held; this will teach your baby to self-soothe.
  • Avoid looking into your baby’s eyes, when putting your baby to sleep. Your baby might interpret your eye contact as an invitation to play, which is not what you want. You want your baby to sleep. 
  • If your baby sleeps more during the day than at night, it's best to keep the room full of light during daytime naps.
  • Only return to your baby’s room at night, if you are sure that your baby is fully awake, sometimes a mother will go into the room too soon with just a peep sound. Baby might fall asleep on his/her own, immediately after making the sound. Also, don’t go into the room too late; if your baby is screaming,  he/she will be wide awake, making it more difficult to get your baby settled down again.
  • Try to refrain from rocking your baby to sleep; your baby needs to learn to fall asleep without this. Putting and leaving your baby to sleep in a moving swing is not recommended, as this prevents your baby from falling into a deep sleep. 
  • Some believe that swaddling can help babies sleep faster and for more extended periods of time.
  • Making soothing sounds are beneficial in helping your infant calm down. Soft, gentle music or white noise can work wonders. You can purchase special Baby audio for this, or play some soft, relaxing music of your own. 
  • Baby cannot sleep with a blocked nose: This can keep him/her awake. A blocked nose is not always a symptom of a cold or flu; many newborns suffer from blocked noses caused by other irritants. Also, make sure the room is dust free. Clear a blocked nose with breast milk; express a few drops of breast milk into your baby's nose and suction out gently with a suction bulb. 
  • Getting your baby to sleep, via the use of a pacifier? 
  • Baby massage is a great way to calm your baby before bedtime, especially with relaxing essential oils before bedtime. 
  • Keep the room as dark as possible for night time (and night time feeding), as well as daytime feeding to help the body ease into a state of calm, sleepiness. The darker the room, the better; as soon as the lights go out, the brain starts to release the sleep hormone Melatonin. Expose your baby to as much natural light as possible from the moment they are awake in the morning, and in between naps. 

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A Bedtime Routine is Important

Giving your Baby Solids 

Giving a baby solid food, including cereals mixed into milk feeds, will not help them sleep through at night.

Giving your baby any solids before four months can interrupt the breastfeeding relationship, and at that age, your baby’s digestive system is not ready for solids.

When is it safe for my baby to sleep with a blanket?

In Conclusion

I hope you’ve found this information helpful. The period from birth to 12 months is usually the most challenging time for a new parent. 

In helping you understand the importance of sleep and breastfeeding I hope you and baby will get as much rest as possible. I hope that you will enjoy the experience together, in good health, always!

Did you know that the way you change your baby's diaper could be causing his/her colic symptoms?

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If your baby is sleeping less than 14 hours/24 hours, you should see your pediatrician, to rule out any medical baby sleep disorders.

Want to share your baby sleep system? Need more baby sleep help? Ask your questions here...


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