Baby Sleep – An Art & A Science

I never realized how passionate I was about sleep until I had a baby. Nine months later I feel like a sleep guru who could solve any sleep problem on the planet. However, even though I think I would love to be a pediatric sleep consultant in my spare time (haha… what spare time?), I am not a professional – just a new mom who has gone through the journey that is creating healthy sleep habits for a tiny new human creature. Who knew that sleep was so tricky?!

Before I get into it, I just want to say that every parent has their own ideas and philosophies when it comes to baby sleep, and every family has to decide what works best for them! No judgement here… just me sharing my story of how we got to where we are now and where we started. More than anything, I want to share because as much as I tried to prepare for Olivia’s arrival, I really wish I would have had more honest stories out there to guide me, to tell me that I wasn’t alone, and that it would get better.

Here goes… well, actually, I’ll come back to this later as I need to go wake Olivia up from her nap… yes, you read that correctly – and it wasn’t always like this.

Okay, I’m back (one day later… life of a full-time volunteer & parent!)

In the early days, Olivia was a terrible sleeper. We were bouncing on an exercise ball at every naptime and bedtime to try to get her to sleep, and then tiptoe-ing to the bedroom and try to lay her in the bassinet without waking her. We tried the pacifier (actually, we tried about six different types of pacifiers) for weeks on end to no avail, until a close friend was kindly taking care of her one morning around 6 weeks old, and actually got her to take one.  We thought it was a heavenly miracle until a few months later when it was causing her to wake up ten times a night (yes, we actually counted) and we had to stumble out of bed in the dark, desperately searching the bassinet for the paci and put it back in her mouth without really waking her – but I’ll come back to that another time.

The point is, before every nap and bedtime, I was anxious about how long she would sleep, and how long it would take to get her to sleep. Whenever she was asleep, I was online or reading a book about strategies to get a baby to sleep well. Anyone else?

So, before she was born, we had asked some fellow parent friends (thanks Drew & Jen!) their best advice for before Olivia’s arrival, and both of them told us to read Babywise. I had never heard of it but I am so glad we listened to their advice. Later on, I heard that it was a bit controversial in the parenting world, but I still don’t understand why. For us, it just made sense that the best thing we could do to assure our baby grew to be healthy and well-developed was to implement healthy sleep habits from a young age. The guidelines offered in the book are based off of years of thorough research in the areas of baby sleep, eating, and playing needs, natural rhythms, physical developmental milestones, SIDS prevention, and so on. The basic philosophy is that if a baby has a full-feeding (which requires they be fully awake), they will then be able to have the nutrients and energy they need to play well, and fully fed babies who play well, will then sleep soundly for a good amount of time without the issues of under- or over-tiredness, or hunger, interrupting their sleep. It seemed easy enough: Eat, Play, Sleep and repeat. For me, this simply made sense. Why would I want anything else than to make sure my little one was eating enough, playing well, and sleeping enough and doing it well?

We made the plan and I printed out guidelines for the first weeks (did you know that newborn babies need 16-17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period?) of Olivia’s life, according to the samples offered in the book. I also read lots of other research-based articles written by pediatricians who were saying the same things – start baby out on a routine right away. I also read the Baby Whisperer book by Tracy Hogg, which is basically the same philosophy using different words, and giving a little more wiggle room in regards to scheduling. All this to say, I was convinced that starting out with a routine and introducing healthy sleep habits early had to be a priority for us, and I would do my best to make it happen!

We took all that we read, and as we went along learning and getting to know Olivia’s needs, we found out what worked best and we made great effort to keep things consistent. In the beginning, we sometimes made sacrifices to accommodate, and it was beyond worth it. Even in the early weeks and months, because we had a routine, she would easily nap in the car or in the sling while we hiked or went to the farmer’s market for groceries. Just ask the people who took us around Costa Rica in the first six weeks of her life! For me, making sure Olivia got the sleep she needed was a priority because I knew that the sleep habits she formed early on would be the ones she carries with her for the rest of her life.

Nine and a half months later, Olivia puts herself to sleep for every nap and bedtime without any sleep props. She will sleep anywhere. She takes a 1.5 hour nap in the morning and a 1.5 hour nap in the afternoon, and sleeps 11.5-12 hours straight every night. We often have to wake her from her naps, and she is happy all the time. She is a very healthy weight, and has been a bit ahead of her peers with most developmental milestones. It’s easy for close friends and family to take care of her, because she is so consistent. I am a really big believer in sleep for the well-being of all people, and especially for babies as they are learning and growing so rapidly.

I must say, at first, all of it seemed a bit overwhelming when it came to solving sleep issues and adjusting her routine. But now, after combining what I learned with my everyday experiences, it started to become quite instinctual. Like I said at the beginning, at this point I feel like I could solve the sleep problems of any baby, ha!

I hope that what I share here and in my following baby sleep posts will be help to many fellow parents out there. It’s not an easy role, but it’s one of the most important in the world, and I am passionate about seeing parents who are well-rested (babies aren’t the only ones who need sleep to thrive!) and able to care for their little ones with confidence.

I will go into more detail (such as when and how to drop feedings & naps, how we progressively helped Olivia get to sleep on her own, and how to make it so the schedule works for your entire family) about the journey of forming healthy sleep habits in some upcoming posts, so be sure to subscribe if you’re interested!

Below, I am posting Olivia’s tentative schedules from her first month of life. Feel free to leave your questions in the comments and I will try my best to help!

____________
Olivia’s Tentative Schedule Weeks 1-2
Waketime is approximately 30 minutes and naps are 1.5-2hrs

Early Morning
6:30-7:00AM Feeding
7:00-7:15AM Waketime (minimal, includes diaper change and hygiene care)
7:15AM Down for a nap

Mid-morning
9:15AM Feeding
Waketime (minimal, includes diaper change and hygiene care)
10AM Down for a nap

Afternoon
12:00PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
12:45PM Down for a nap

Mid-afternoon
2:45PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
3:30PM Down for a nap

Late Afternoon
5:30PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
6:15PM Down for a nap

Evening
8:15PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
9PM Down for a nap

Late Evening
11:00PM Feeding, diaper change, back to sleep
Allow baby to wake up naturally, but do not let sleep longer than 4 hours continuously at night for the first four weeks.

Middle of the Night
1:00AM Feeding, diaper change, and right back to sleep (could be 1:30AM)

Pre-morning
4:00AM Feeding, diaper change, and right back to sleep (5AM at the latest)

Olivia’s Tentative Schedule Weeks 3-6
Waketimes extend (up to 30 mins. beyond feeding), naps are still 1.5-2 hrs

Early Morning
6:30AM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
7:15AM Down for a nap

Mid-morning
9:15AM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
10AM Down for a nap

Afternoon
12:00PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
12:45PM Down for a nap

Mid-afternoon
2:45PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
3:30PM Down for a nap

Late Afternoon
5:30PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
6:15PM Down for a nap

Evening
8:15PM Feeding, diaper change and hygiene care
Waketime (minimal)
9PM Down for a nap

Late Evening
11:00PM Feeding, diaper change if necessary, right back down for sleep
Allow her to wake up naturally, but do not let her sleep longer than 4 hours continuously at night for the first four weeks.

Middle of the Night
3:00AM Feeding, diaper change, and right back to sleep

*You can start the morning feed anytime between 6-8am, just adjust all other times to fit.  

*At this age, baby’s waketime basically consists of eating and getting a diaper change. Watch for sleep cues like yawning, rubbing eyes, and start the nap routine as soon as you see a sleep cue!

*The late night, middle of the night and pre-morning feedings should be as quiet and as dark as possible so that baby can go right back to sleep. Don’t talk to baby during these feedings.
________________

For you parents-to-be, or already-parents who are expecting again, here are some notes I found helpful when embarking on the sleep journey with Olivia:

-Sleep props to avoid: nursing to sleep, motion/vibration props, sleeping with baby
-Hunger cue always trumps clock. No matter what the schedule says, feed baby if they are giving you a hunger cue.
-To measure healthy growth: 7 wet diapers per day after first week, 3-5 yellow stools per day for first month
-Growth spurts likely occur 10 days after birth followed by three weeks six weeks three months and six months (baby eats more and wakes up 40 to 50 minutes early from naps)
-The first and last feedings of the day are most important and need to stay consistent
-By 5 weeks, most babies can extend their sleep time (at night) by 1 hour each week
-When baby first starts sleeping through the night, there should be 7 feedings during the day
-In the first month, DO NOT let baby sleep more than 4 hours without eating
-Newborns routinely cry 1 to 4 hours per day
-Abnormal cry – during feeding, immediately after feeding and in the middle of a sound nap 
-Normal cry – before feeding, during late afternoon/early evening, and when put down to nap/sleep
-If nursing is the only form of comfort, other real needs will be missed

Soon I’ll be posting more sample schedules and hopefully helpful tips from our experiences!

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11 thoughts on “Baby Sleep – An Art & A Science

  1. This is great! Thank you for taking the time to post.

    I have two boys, a very energetic 23 month old and a very content 6 month old. I’m currently struggling with my 6 month old andsleep. For night time he is good but I have gotten into this habit where I nurse him to sleep and he will sleep in his crib till about 2am. I then feed him and put him back and he sleeps till sometimes 4am and sometimes 6am. I feed him again and then he is awake by 7am. I really wish he would sleep through the night because I’m so tired. My almost 2 year old, Eliot has a ton of energy that I need to be well rested for 😁

    For naps I find myself nursing him and then putting him down but I can’t nurse him to sleep because Eliot is running around and I can’t leave alone for to long, because he would destroy the house I end up putting summit (my 6 month) old in the crib and he cries till he falls asleep. I hate to let him do that, but I don’t have another choice.

    We did the Ferber method with my older son and he sleeps great now. I’m just wondering if you have any other tips on how to get a baby to learn to self sooth without too much crying.
    I love reading your blog’ thanks for all the amazing advice!

    1. Hey Meghan!

      I’m glad you stumbled across my post, and I hope that I can be of some help! First of all, you are awesome simply for being a mom to your two boys! I can imagine you must be exhausted having to wake up several times in the middle of the night, and then caring for not just one baby, but also a toddler during your day.

      A have a few questions that will help us hopefully get little Summit sleeping better at night. How many naps is he taking each day, and how long is each one lasting? Does he use a pacifier or a swaddle? Where is he taking his naps and nighttime sleep, and what is the room like – dark, quiet, etc.? How is he doing health-wise – is he at a good weight and growing on pace? How many feedings does he have each day and how often is he taking a milk-feeding? Is he eating solid foods yet?

      For a 6 month old who is growing steadily and at a healthy weight, there is no need for middle of the night feedings, so he is most likely waking out of habit. In order to make sure he is getting enough milk during the day, we need to make sure he is getting full feedings at each nursing session (or bottle). Each baby is different, so you will be the best person for measuring this. Some babies will take thirty minutes for a full feeding, while others at this age will only take 6-10 minutes. The key with getting full feedings is making sure baby is wide awake during nursing sessions. I would suggest implementing a set wake up time, if you don’t already have one. Choose a time that works for your family, and that you can work around with Eliot as well. For us, we wake Olivia at 6:45AM. Anywhere between 6-8AM is a good time to start the day. As soon as you wake him, change his diaper, and then nurse him right away. This is the most important feeding of the day, and he will likely take the most milk at this feeding. For most 6-month olds, a wake time of about two hours is best. Waketime starts when baby wakes, until they fall asleep for the next nap. Average wake times for a 6 month old are 2-2.5 hours, and you want to watch for his sleep cues to figure his ideal wake time. Another good indicator of this is if he is waking early from naps and fussy, that likely means he is overtired and having too much wake time between naps. If he is waking early from naps and happy, he might be underwired and either not getting enough wake time, or not getting enough stimulation during wake time.

      When it comes to nap time, it is important to have a short routine that signals nap. Babies recognize consistent routines and catch on very quickly. For Olivia’s nap routine, we simply go into her room with lights down low, close the curtains, put her in her sleep sack, sing one line of “Goodnight Olivia, goodnight Olivia, goodnight Olivia, it’s time to go to sleep,” then we lay her in the crib and give her her lovey, and turn on her sound machine as we walk out the door. It takes about two minutes total, so you can do something similar with your little guy, and maybe Eliot could even help you. Our bedtime routine is the same as nap routine, with the addition of a bath beforehand. Based off of your comment, we might have to work through a few other things in order to get to this point, so your answers to my above questions will really help with that. The big thing here is not nursing him to sleep. In order for him to learn how to self-soothe and fall asleep on his own, he can’t rely on any sleep props such as nursing. Once he has no sleep props, he will start sleeping through the night without waking. I think that your first goal should be to work on this during the day, and then tackle nighttime sleep. We want to shoot for 1.5-2hrs for the first nap and 1.5-2hrs for the second nap, and possibly a 30-45 minute catnap if he still needs one. Six months is an age between 3 and 2 naps, and every baby is different! You’ll be the best person to figure out if he needs the catnap or not. We dropped the catnap around 6.5 months old, but some babies don’t drop it until 8 months. Below I will post four different schedules (from when Olivia was 6-7 months old) with slight differences that you can adjust a little bit based on Summit’s sleep needs. Like I said, work on full feedings, no more nursing to sleep, and setting a consistent wake up for the day time, and go to bed time. I’m here to help so please don’t hesitate to write with any questions! I want to see you and Summit both sleeping through the night and getting the good rest you both need!

      Olivia’s Schedule (With catnap)
      7:00 Up for day, nurse
      9:00/9:15 Down for nap
      11:00 Up from nap, nurse
      1:00/1:15 Down for nap
      2:30/2:45 Up from nap, nurse
      4:30 Catnap
      5:00 Up from catnap, nurse
      7:00 (7:30 at the latest) Nurse, bedtime routine, straight to bed

      Olivia’s Schedule (While adjusting to dropped catnap, bedtime is earlier. Adjusting could take 2-4 weeks, and you can extend bedtime 10-15 minutes each week)
      7:00 Up for day, nurse
      9:00/9:30 Down for nap
      11:00/11:30 Up from nap, nurse
      1:00/1:30 Down for nap
      3:00/3:45 Up from nap (since dropping the cat nap, let her sleep late for this nap if she wants), nurse
      5:45 Bath
      6:15 Nurse, bedtime routine, straight to bed

      Olivia’s Schedule (once adjusted to no catnap)
      7:00/7:30 Up for day, nurse
      9:00/9:30 Down for nap
      11:00/11:30 Up from nap, nurse
      1:00/1:30 Down for nap
      3:00/3:45 Up from nap (let her sleep late for this nap if she wants), nurse
      6:25 Bath
      6:40 Nurse, bedtime routine, straight to bed

      Olivia’s Schedule (once on solids)
      7:00/7:30 Up for day, nurse, solids during breakfast with mom and/or dad
      9:00/9:30 Down for nap
      11:00/11:30 Up from nap, nurse, solids at lunch with us
      1:00/1:30 Down for nap
      3:00/3:45 Up from nap (let her sleep late for this nap if she wants), nurse
      5:30-6:00 Solids during family dinner
      6:25 Nurse
      6:40 Bedtime routine, straight to bed

      1. Oh, also, here are some sleep averages by age that you might find helpful. I use them as a reference often, and I found them on the following site: http://www.mybabysleepguide.com/2013/02/average-sleep-charts-by-age.html

        For 6 month olds:

        Waketime: 2-2.5 hours
        Total sleep per 24 hours: 14-15.5
        Total night sleep: 11-12 hours
        Total daily sleep: 3-5 hours
        Number of naps: 2-3
        Max daily sleep*: 3.5 hours
        Naps dropped? 3 to 2 naps by 6-9 months
        End naps (to preserve night sleep) by: 4:30-5PM
        Ideal bedtime: 6-8PM
        Longest stretch of night sleep: 8-12 hours
        Number of night feeds: 0-1

        Max Daily Sleep – Don’t worry too much about this unless you have a newborn of if you suspect too much day sleep is a cause of night issues.

        End naps by – To preserve night sleep and allow for an early bedtime hour, you don’t want naps to go too late. With all things sleep, these averages are just a guideline. You’ll need to use some trial and error. If your child is struggling falling asleep at bed or is having night wakings—the timing of this last nap might be an issue.

        Bedtime – Most young children sleep best if they are on a routine like 7am-7 pm (give or take a bit, of course). Some children will be OK with a shift in their entire routine—say 8 am-8 pm. Most (like 90%) will either be overtired with this, have extra night wakings or wake extra early in the morning.

  2. Thank you so much for all this incite!

    Summit takes about 3 naps a day. They are always at different times and he will sleep anywhere between 30mins-1hour he doesn’t use a paci and I had to stop the swaddle at 3 months because he started rolling over. He takes his naps in his crib for the most part unless we are out he will fall asleep in a ring slig when we are on our motorcycle. For nighttime I transitioned him to his crib a few weeks ago. He was in bed with us up to that point. He sleeps in his crib all night except when he wakes at 5:45-6am then I bring him in bed and nurse him because I’m so exhausted. The room is dark at night and we use a noise machine and during the day it’s still dark it’s but not as dark as night. The sun peeps through the curtains a little. He’s growing great. I haven’t been keeping track of his feedings but he nurses about ever 3 hours or so. We started him on solids at 5 months and he eats breakfast,lunch and dinner with us.

    He’s a very content baby. And I think a routine with him would help. With Eliot we kind of had a routine because I could give him whatever he needed. With summit I can’t do that so I need so get something In place!

    For Olivia’s sleep sack, what do you use? Summit loved his swaddle and had a hard time sleeping without it. When He was using it he would fall asleep right away On His own when I put him in it. It was a sad day when we had to stop!

      1. It’s normal for a 6 month old to have 4 or 5 feedings a day. If you think he needs more than 4, you can work another small feeding into the schedule in between lunch and second nap. If you think he’s fine with 4, go with that!

  3. It sounds like he’s a pretty easygoing baby who has fallen into somewhat of a rhythm pretty naturally, so you’re in a great place! Feedings every three hours is pretty common at this age, and as he extends his wake times, and starts sleeping longer for naps, the time between feedings will naturally extend as well. You can adjust the sample schedule I posted above if needed. I also think it’s a plus that isn’t using a paci, as that can often quickly become a sleep prop. Babies go through sleep cycles of 30-45 minutes, and until they learn how to fall asleep on their own, many babies struggle to make the transition from one sleep cycle to the next, which is why he probably has a lot of 30 minute naps. Olivia struggled with this for the first 4 months of her life, and would literally wake up exactly 45 minutes into every single nap. It was something we had to work through, and now she naps like a champ! Summit is old enough to self soothe and he needs to be getting at least 3 hours of sleep per day at this age, especially because over-tiredness can cause him to have middle of the night and/or early morning wakings – and then that just becomes a vicious cycle. To get him taking long, full naps of at least 1.5 hours (besides the early evening catnap which is fine at 30-45mins), try waiting 10-20 minutes (whatever you’re comfortable with) when he wakes early from a nap, and see if he settles himself back to sleep. This is where we as parents need to make sure our babies are getting full feedings (immediately upon waking from the previous sleep cycle) and that they have a clean diaper before going down for nap – so that we know they aren’t waking out of hunger or discomfort!

    I also definitely recommend getting him into a sleep sack as it helps indicate sleep time and also seems to help babies sleep better – I guess it’s the coziness factor! When Olivia started rolling, we transitioned her into a homemade version (I was desperate so I sewed something up in between nap and bedtime) of the zippadee zip, which parents really seem to love. It’s a bit pricey, though. Since then, she has been gifted a halo sleep sack with arm holes, and an ergoPouch sleep suit. Both are fantastic, and the Halo sleep sack is reasonably priced around $20 with plenty of room for a growing baby to wear it for 6+ months. It’s the one she’s wearing in the photo at the top of the blog.

    If it’s at all possible, try to make sure he’s getting all of his naps at home, in his crib for at least the next two weeks while you’re helping him learn to fall asleep on his own. If you must go out at a nap time, try to do it during the catnap, or if you have to go somewhere and be there for a long time, plan to arrive before his nap time so that he can still have the routine and get a full nap. Once he is able to consistently fall asleep on his own, you’ll have more flexibility because he will most likely be able to sleep anywhere as long as he has his routine. Do you have a portable crib? It’s amazing that Olivia is such a good sleeper now, that going to different places for naps or even nighttime sleep doesn’t effect the quality of her sleep, because we just keep her on the routine that she expects. She takes her morning, and most afternoon naps, on the YWAM base every day in one of the empty rooms in a pack & play, and sleeps great!

    Here’s an article that you might find helpful in regards to early morning wakings: http://www.babywisemom.com/2013/07/5-6-am-night-wakings.html

    Good, quality sleep is in your near future 🙂

  4. Yes we do have a pack and play so that is for sure an option. I will have to get a sleep sack. I think he would benefit from one. The Kyle so much for all this information. I started his routine this morning so I’m hoping it goes well. When you put them down for their naps do you let them cry till they fall asleep? How does that work? Or do I go in every few minutes to calm him down? For his morning nap he cried for about 10 mins then fell asleep and slept for 45 mins. He’s now on his second nap and is crying in his crib right now 😔

    Thank you again so much for all your help!

    1. Also for the sleep sack that you have is it the one where her feet stick out? Or are they in the sack? Halo looks like they have a few different options.

    2. I think he’ll definitely benefit from a routine. I hope it’s going well! Olivia doesn’t usually cry when we put her down, but she has at times fussed a little, and if we know she is fed, dry, and not in pain, we feel comfortable letting her cry for a few minutes before falling asleep. I know some people will do checks at 5, 10, 15 minutes, etc., but we’ve never had to do that because she falls asleep easily and quickly. Decide what you are comfortable with, and just make sure he’s dry and not in pain when you put him down! He may cry a little bit each time for a few days as he gets used to not relying on nursing to fall asleep.

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