Newborn Sleep Schedule: What to Expect Between Birth and 3 Months
Getting your newborn to sleep benefits the entire family. The key to making it happen? Knowing the changes they’re going through during their first few months of life. Here’s how to make the best sleep schedule for your 1-month-old, 2-month-old, or 3-month-old baby.
How Much Do Newborns Sleep?
For the first couple of months, newborns can’t decipher between day and night because they haven't developed their own circadian rhythms of melatonin production, says Kim West, aka "The Sleep Lady" and author of The Sleep Lady's Good Night, Sleep Tight.
Your baby will likely sleep a total of 16-18 hours during their first week—about half during the night and half spread out over four daytime naps. From 2 weeks to 2 months of age, they’ll sleep an average of 15.5 to 17 hours total, broken down by about 8.5 to 10 hours at night and six to seven hours during the day spread out over three to four naps. During the third month, babies need an average of 15 hours of sleep, with 10 hours at night and five hours spread out over three daytime naps.
Nighttime Feeding Schedule
Keep in mind that your baby's stomach is small, so they’ll digest breast milk or formula fairly quickly. This is why newborns need to be fed every two to three hours. Your little one should wake up regularly for nighttime feedings. But if they don’t, wake them every 3 to 4 hours to feed until they establish a pattern of weight gain (usually within their first couple of weeks). After that, "a full-term baby with no medical conditions does not need to be awakened for feedings," says Marc Weissbluth, M.D., a pediatrician and author of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child.
Create the Perfect Environment
Whether the baby is sleeping in your room or their own, make sure it's a relaxing and peaceful place. "I like room-darkening shades and calm, soothing colors in the baby's bedroom," West says. "And I don't like bright or stimulating mobiles in the crib. Let him enjoy the mobile somewhere else where he spends his awake time. At bedtime, the message to the brain is ‘Slow down,’ not ‘Stay up and watch your bright-color mobile spin.’" You also want to make sure your baby has a firm mattress, and the room isn't too hot or cold.
Keep Your Baby Safe
Babies sleeping on their stomachs have a greater tendency toward sleep obstruction and rebreathing their own carbon dioxide. They might also suffocate on softer bedding if they're lying face-down. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends always placing babies on their backs to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). In addition, don't place anything in the bassinet or crib that can hinder your baby's breathing: blankets, stuffed animals, or soft pillows are all dangerous.
Swaddle Your Newborn
"The pressure of swaddling, similar to what babies felt in utero, comforts babies and lengthens their sleep," West says. Wrap them snugly in a thin receiving blanket, making sure it's not near their face, and their ears and toes aren’t too hot. “Usually, babies like their hips to be slightly bent, and for the first three months, they usually like having their arms inside the blanket," West adds. If you're not a swaddling pro, you can buy special wraps and sleep sacks that make the process easier.
Avoid Sleep Crutches
Avoid introducing certain rituals to 1-month-old, 2-month-old, or 3-month old baby sleep schedules, warns Nadav Traeger, M.D., director of pediatric sleep medicine at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center. These rituals may include playing lullaby music, having a white noise machine in the room, letting the baby doze off with the bottle, and rocking your little one to sleep. While they might seem harmless, they can actually hinder sleeping patterns later on. "These actions become a crutch that makes it harder to get the baby to sleep on her own," Dr. Traeger says. "If you rock your baby to sleep every night, then whenever she wakes up, she's going to expect and need that to get back to sleep.”
“Drowsy, But Awake”
Once your baby is 4 weeks old, get in the habit of putting them down drowsy but awake at least once every 24-hour period, West says. "He doesn't have to be wide awake, but he shouldn't be out cold from being rocked, fed, or swung each time he goes to sleep.” Your baby might fuss a little, but give it a moment or two, and don't pick them up at the first squeak. Between 6 and 8 weeks, try to make this method your new bedtime norm.
Establish a Bedtime Routine
When your baby is between 2 and 3 months old, it's time to introduce a bedtime routine, Dr. Traeger says. Sticking to a schedule of events—a bath, feeding, reading a book, then bed—will signal to your baby that it's time to go to sleep. "Even though the baby's internal clock really doesn't kick in until about four months, it's a good idea to set a routine now for when that does happen. And this evening practice of relaxing and preparing for bed can really last your child a lifetime,” says Dr. Traeger.
Have Realistic Expectations
Many parents hope that their baby will be a champion sleeper right off the bat, but that's usually not the case, says Dr. Traeger. "Parents need to have patience and realize that it's going to take some time for their baby's internal clock to kick in. Sleep also varies dramatically from child to child, so you can't compare one baby's sleep habits to another. Just remember that over time, it does get better.”