Pediatricians share how to help your baby sleep—so you can too.
When you’re a brand-new parent, it may seem like you’ll never get a good night’s rest again. And while it may take months or years (or many years) of being able to conk out and wake up 8 uninterrupted hours later, the truth is your baby will learn to sleep through the night (and you will too). Here, pediatricians share how to raise your baby to sleep like a pro—and how you can get some Zzzs in too.
Understanding a Baby’s Sleep Timeline
They call it “sleeping like a baby” for good reason: Babies need a lot of sleep throughout a 24-hour period. But unfortunately for new moms and dads, it’s not always at night. Here’s how much a baby usually sleeps in the first year of life:
- Newborn to 3 months: Newbies tend to wake up every couple hours to feed, since their little stomachs don’t hold enough milk to stay satisfied for long. They’ll cat nap throughout the day, and sometimes get longer four to five-hour stretches of sleep.
- 3 to 6 months: The start of a sleep schedule may develop, where you may see three to four naps throughout the day, and five to six-hour stretches at night.
- 6 to 9 months: You’ll likely still see three to four naps per day, but longer nighttime stretches of eight to nine hours.
- 9 to 12 months: Naptimes go down to two naps per day, and at bedtime they may sleep for 10 to 12 hours (hallelujah!).
Tricks to Help Baby Sleep
- Get them accustomed to the crib. When your baby is showing signs of sleepiness (crying, yawning, or rubbing the eyes are the main ones) put him or her down in the crib so they get used to sleeping alone. Try not to rock them to sleep on your lap or shoulder. “When your baby learns to only fall asleep on you and then they wake up and they’re not on a parent any longer, that wasn’t the deal that baby made,” says Dyan Hes, MD, a pediatrician in New York City.
- Put baby to sleep on their back, not on their stomach or side—until they roll over. “Once baby rolls over it’s very hard to stop [them] from rolling over,” says Dr. Hes.
- Keep the crib or bassinet clear of plush toys, blankets or pillows, and be sure the sheets are taught so there’s no loose fabric that can put baby in danger.
- Make sure the room isn’t too hot or cold for baby. Be sure to dress your infant for the room temperature. Don’t over-bundle.
- Put baby bed with a pacifier. The latest research shows this may actually help reduce the risk of SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome. But if they reject the paci, don’t force it.
Sleep Tips for Moms and Dads
- Sleep when baby sleeps. Turn off the tech and leave the chores for later. Getting as much sleep as possible is just as important for you as it is for baby.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your friends, family, and partner to help. Split baby care duties with your partner, and ask family and friends to watch the baby from time to time so you can fit in some shut-eye.
- Don’t share the bed with baby. It’s OK to have baby with you in bed while you’re nursing or comforting, but when it’s time to sleep, put them down in their own crib or bassinet. Experts now recommend letting your baby sleep in your room with you, but in their own crib or bassinet and NOT in your bed.
- Make sure your environment is fit for sleep, too. If you’re having trouble sleeping, make sure you nix these sleep-sabotaging habits.
Every baby and family is different. If it seems like you’ve tried everything and you’re still having trouble getting baby (or you) to sleep well, talk to your pediatrician.
Preeti Parikh, MD serves as the Chief Medical Officer of HealthiNation. She is a board-certified pediatrician practicing at Westside Pediatrics, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, and is an American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and has completed post-graduate training at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.Dyan Hes
Dr. Hes is a pediatrician and medical director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City. She is double board certified in pediatrics and obesity medicine.
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One of the most common things parents
ask me about is when will my baby sleep
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through the night?
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So the first three months of life,
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every two hours will be going down for
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They may get stretches at night for
up to four to five hours.
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But then, around four months really
when you start seeing a change.
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You're actually starting to
see a nap schedule develop,
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where you may see three to
four naps during the day.
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And then actually, you may start
developing a nighttime routine.
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And they will do a five to
six hour stretch, at least.
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Around six months,
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they may actually do even more of
a stretch up to like eight to nine hours.
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At nine months to twelve months,
it goes down to two naps a day.
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And you'll have your bed time routine,
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where they'll start going
to bed around 6:30, 7, and
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which means they could probably sleep 10
to 12 hours stretches, which is amazing.
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Some signs that your child may be getting
sleepy are they may be starting to cry.
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You'll see them more often yawning.
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They'll also start blinking their
eyes more, and as they get older,
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they'll also start rubbing their eyes.
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Once you start seeing signs, then I would
highly recommend to put the baby down in
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the crib and not rock the baby to sleep.
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When your baby learns to only fall
asleep on you and then they wake up and
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they're not on a parent any longer.
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That wasn't the deal that baby made.
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Normally, babies wake up 5 to 7 times a
night as newborns could wake up even more.
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Some babies, as they get older, when
they're 5 or 6 months, might wake up 3 or
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4 times a night, look around and
they fall back to sleep.
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Naps are very important and
the reason is twofold.
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One is it's a time when the baby
can actually consolidate a lot of
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the information that they've
been gathering during the day.
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Also, sleep begets more sleep.
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So if they're not sleeping well through
the day then they get overtired.
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And when you get overtired it
affects your nighttime sleep.
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Safe sleep environments
are very important.
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The baby has to be asleep on
their back until they roll over.
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Once a baby rolls over, it's very hard
to stop a baby from rolling over.
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So at that point, we reinforce no
soft objects, no stuffed animals,
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no bumpers, no mesh bumpers,
no anything with the word bumper in it.
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And you wanna make sure that
the crib sheets are tight, so
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that there's no loose fabric that a baby
can get strangled or smothered in.
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So sleep training is a really important
part of pediatric appointments because
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parents are exhausted and
they wanna know when is the right time.
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So one of the first things I tell
parents is to manage expectations, and
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to not listen to everybody else and
focus on what's right for your child.
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For most babies, though,
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usually around 4 to 6 months of age is an
appropriate time to start sleep training.
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The method that has been found to be
the most effective way to sleep train
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is called the Ferberizing method, and
some people call it the cry it out method.
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But with that, even Dr. Ferber has a lot
of caveats of when it's appropriate for
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which child and how to do it.
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There is so much pressure on parents
about sleep training and good sleeping
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habits and there is so much information
out there that they get overwhelmed.
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We've worked together as a team.
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I'm a pediatrician and as a parent we
really look at where the issue is of why
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they're not sleeping and
what can we do to fix them.
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How much sleep do babies and kids need? National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on January 8, 2021 at https://sleepfoundation.org/excessivesleepiness/content/how-much-sleep-do-babies-and-kids-need)
Sleep and Newborns. Nemours, KidsHealth. (Accessed on January 8, 2021 at http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleepnewborn.html)
Sleep and 1- to 3-Month-Olds. Nemours, KidsHealth. (Accessed on January 8, 2021 at https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep13m.html?WT.ac=p-ra)
Sleep and 4- to 7-Month-Olds. Nemours, KidsHealth. (Accessed on January 8, 2021 at https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep47m.html?WT.ac=p-ra)
Sleep and 8- to 12-Month-Olds. Nemours, KidsHealth. (Accessed on January 8, 2021 at https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/sleep812m.html?WT.ac=p-ra)
What Does a Safe Sleep Environment Look Like? National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (Accessed on January 8, 2021 at https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sts/about/environment/Pages/look.aspx)