The Ultimate Guide to Infant Sleep

Young mother holding her newborn child. Mom nursing baby. Woman and new born boy relax in a white bedroom with rocking chair and blue crib. Nursery interior. Mother breast feeding baby. Family at home

“You’ll never sleep again!”

How many times did you hear this before you became a parent? I know I heard it a lot.

And, to be honest, at times it may feel like it. Jack’s first year was full of many, many sleepless nights as we tried to console an infant with severe acid reflux and a variety of other digestive issues.

Judging by the popularity of my post on gentle ways to help a baby sleep through the night, infant sleep is a hot topic. I sometimes will peruse my “birth club” on Baby Center, and I see so many topics started on infant sleep – What’s normal, what’s not, when a baby will sleep through the night, etc.

To be honest – there are a lot of opinions out there on infant sleep, as well as a lot of myths. So, I’m here to share just about everything you need to know about infant sleep. Do I guarantee your baby will be an awesome sleeper after reading this? Of course not. But hopefully you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need!

How Much Should Your Baby Sleep

Newborns sleep – a lot. They can sleep up to 20 hours a day, and that is completely normal. My mom always tells me about when my little brother was a baby, she was worried that he was sleeping so much. She called a nurse, and the nurse told her, “Enjoy it while it lasts!” – which I completely agree with.

Often times, you will even need to wake up your newborn to make sure they eat. We had to do this with Oliver – if we let him, he would go well beyond three hours. You need to make sure they don’t go any longer than three hours without eating (though try and keep it closer to two hours!).

Infant sleep cycles are shorter than adults – a lot of it is spent in REM sleep, which can be more easily disturbed because it’s not as deep as non-REM. It’s actually a good, though, because it isn’t good for an infant to get into too deep of a sleep.

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For the first month or so, your baby probably won’t have much of a schedule. Around 6-8 weeks, however, babies (for the most part) will start to get into more of a schedule, and hopefully give you more rest!

As your infant gets older, they will sleep less and need less rest during the day and more at night. BabyCenter has this great guide to reference for different ages and stages of sleep. I also recently was introduced to this great interactive chart that shows you the average number of naps and hours of sleep a baby should have. Of course, no baby is the same, so just take these as averages (and I don’t believe in night weaning unless you want too, so I just ignored the number of feeds per night needed haha). It’s a great chart though!

Safe Infant Sleep

It is very important to make sure your baby has a safe sleeping environment. While you can’t control everything, and tragedies do happen even when everything is done right, there are several things you can do to make sure your child is safe:

  • Use a firm mattress with a tightly fitted sheet
  • Don’t put any blankets, stuffed animals, or pillows in the bed
  • Don’t use bumpers on the crib (but if you insist, make sure they are breathable bumpers.) If you are using something other than a crib (such as a co-sleeper or a bassinet –HERE is an affordable and quality co-sleeper) make sure the sides are breathable.
  • Put your baby to sleep on their back. Some babies will roll to their side or eventually to their stomach. Oliver has flipped to his side since birth – his pediatrician told us that if they move themselves to that position, it’s not as worrisome as if you put them on their back.
  • Offer a pacifier at night (we love the Wubbanub!)
  • Breastfeed if possible (here are some tips I wrote about tips for breastfeeding success.)
  • Keep your baby in your room. It isn’t recommended to sleep with your baby in the same bed (unless they are in a co-sleeper basket) but it is recommended to have them sleep in your same room.
  • Have a room fan on in the room to circulate the air.
  • Keep the temperature around 70-72 degrees. Don’t let it get too hot or too cold.
  • Don’t use blankets – a tight swaddle (or even better, a SwaddleMe blanket), sleeping bag pajamas, etc. are better options.

Owlet Baby Care Monitor – I already talked about this monitor a few weeks ago (read the post here), but I think it’s such a great product…it needs to be mentioned in this post! It monitors your infant’s oxygen levels and heart rate throughout the night and alerts you if any of the levels get too low. It can give you peace of mind and help monitor your baby when you can’t. It has alerted us many times to Oliver having a drop in oxygen (due to a sleep disorder we didn’t know about.)

Here is a video that explains it a bit more, but make sure you check out the Owlet Coupon Code page for all current offers – the only coupon codes will be available here. They also offer refurbished ones for $199.

When Should a Baby Sleep Through the Night

The million dollar question that every parent wants to know. The answer? Who even knows. Ideally a baby can start sleeping through the night around four months – however, that is not going to happen for everyone. At that point, they may be able to go for longer periods without eating. Some babies will sleep through the night earlier, and others will sleep through the night later on. It’s hard –  all of us want our babies to sleep through the night! But I strongly believe that babies will sleep through the night when they are ready and able. Sure, you can do things that help them along, but there are just some babies who will not sleep through the night until they are good and ready!

Mixed Up Days and Nights

Many infants have their nights and days mixed up when they are born. I was once told that the active periods that you had baby had in the womb was when they would be most awake after birth. This has definitely been true with Oliver. Although I didn’t feel his movements super strongly, from about 8 to 11 PM was when he was most active. I’ve been fortunate enough that both of my boys never had their nights and days mixed up, but I know that’s not always the case.

So, what can you do to help your baby start to distinguish nights from days? During the day, interact with them often. Keep the lights on and don’t worry about keeping everything quiet. You want them to learn that lights and noise are associated with the day. At night, dim the lights, avoid watching TV, etc.

How to Help your Baby Sleep

Some babies will just fall asleep easily – if your baby does, consider yourself lucky. After the initial newborn stage passes (which goes by way too fast), you might find that your baby has a harder time falling asleep on their own. Try and remember the S’es:

  • Swaddle
  • Suck (such as a pacifier)
  • Swing – Try and gently rock or swing your baby in your arms. If you want to, you can even try using an infant swing. I don’t recommend having your baby sleep in a swing (especially when they are young and don’t have a lot of neck control), but it can help them calm down and fall asleep.
  • Sing – I’ve found that singing “Hush Little Baby” calms down Oliver better than anything else.
  • Stroke – I know this seems weird, but my sister-in-law showed me that when a baby starts to seem sleepy, if you stroke their nose, they’ll start to fall asleep. It works!

Why Won’t My Baby Sleep Fall Asleep

I know that I asked myself this plenty of times when Jack was a baby. Quite frankly, it can be very frustrating when your little baby won’t fall asleep. I think it’s frustrating for them too – I can’t imagine not being able to tell someone why I’m having a hard time.

While there will definitely be times where you just won’t be able to figure out why your baby won’t fall asleep, here are a few common scenarios.

Gas

This has been something that we’ve dealt with often with little Oliver so far. He’s a pretty calm baby, except for when he gets exceptionally gassy, which happens most often at night. A few weeks ago, he started just crying and crying for several hours at night, and I know it’s because he had a lot of gas. Even though we burped him, he always seemed to have more trapped gas, tons of hiccups, and kept passing gas. It was hard!

Then I remembered that I had heard people speak wonders about something called Gripe Water. I sent Forrest out to get some one night, and let me tell you, it’s a miracle worker! It’s recommended to only start giving it after one month of age, but it works SO well. I love the Wellements brand – it’s safe, doesn’t have weird ingredients, and it works. Oliver went from crying for a good part of the night, to falling asleep peacefully on my chest. At first it wasn’t working, but then I read that you should give it to your baby right after they eat, so I started doing it after his 7:00 feeding.

You can also try moving your baby’s legs in a bicycling movement, massaging their stomach clockwise, or trying other baby massage techniques to help with gas.

Hungry

This is a pretty obvious one, but if your baby is having a hard time going to sleep, you can try nursing them. Some people are really against nursing babies to sleep, and that’s fine…but for us, sometimes it’s the only thing that helps. Sometimes it’s just for comfort nursing, and sometimes it’s because they are truly hungry. Babies have small tummies and digest their food quickly – they often will want to cluster feed as well. Feed on demand as much as you can.

Sleep Regression/Wonder Weeks

Babies sometimes go through periods of sleep regression. You may have a baby who slept very well for a long time all of the sudden stop sleeping. This is normal, and it usually will pass soon. I recommend becoming familiar with the Wonder Weeks. What are they? Basically, these are periods of mental leaps during an infant’s life. They typically happen around the same time for most babies, and increased fussiness and sleep regression are often associated with these times.

I have the Wonder Weeks mobile app that alerts me when one of the mental leaps is coming. Very helpful!

Diaper

Most parents will check their baby’s diapers often, and if your baby isn’t wanting to sleep, I recommend changing it – even if it’s just the slightest bit wet.

Overly tired

In my experience, this happens very often, especially with little babies after a busy day. I’ve found that if their day is full of small cat naps, it happens more often, because they don’t get into that restful sleep that they need. If your baby is just so exhausted, they might not be able to fall asleep. You may have even experience that feeling yourself.

When my babies have been over tired, I usually try a few things with success:

  • Swaddling nice and tight
  • Dimming the lights
  • White Noise – you can get an app but we like having a white noise machine. 
  • Skin-to-skin
  • Going outside (of course, if it’s cold outside, wrap your baby up in a nice blanket.) It can be very calming for them!
  • Stand up and bounce them
  • Baby carrier – both my boys will always fall asleep in their carrier. I am a HUGE fan of moby wraps and the ERGO.

Temperature

Make sure your baby isn’t too hot or too cold. As a rule of thumb, babies don’t need more than maybe one extra layer than you would need. I tend to have Oliver sleep in thin footie pajamas and a SwaddleMe wrap. Sometimes if it’s hotter in our house, I’ll have him wear a onesie, and I will swaddle him up with that.

Sick

When babies are sleep, they will typically sleep worse. My kids get congested and coughs so easily, and when they get them, they sleep so badly. If your baby is congested, definitely use a nasal aspirator on them to help clear out their airways. This can help them eat better as well. You can simply use the blue bulb they give you at the hospital with some saline spray, or you can invest in something like the NoseFrida – it helps clear their noses out so well. We actually love the BabyBubz. Cheaper and easier to use b

If your baby is sick, make sure you monitor them to make sure they are doing okay. Sometimes, they will sleep even more when they are sick. We loved having a wearable thermometer when Oliver was spiking a high fever. The InfantTech is the best one we have found.

If your baby has a fever, dress them in a onesie and you can give them infant Tylenol, and if they are over 6 months you can alternate Tylenol and Infant Advil every couple hours – consult your doctor for more info.

Reflux

While most babies experience some sort of reflux, some babies will have a more severe form. Jack was one of those unlucky ones. This can make sleeping uncomfortable and difficult to stay asleep for long periods of time. If you are concerned about your baby having a more severe form of reflux, talk with your doctor. I’ve also been told that a Rock-and-Play sleeper can work miracles with babies who have reflux (update – we got one for Oliver, and it is a miracle worker!) Otherwise, try and keep your baby in an upright position for about 15 minutes after they eat (which, I know, is difficult in the middle of the night.)

Seven month update: Oliver ended up having severe reflux. The best thing we did was meet with a pediatric pulmonoligist. The Rock and play and medicine definitely helped.

Infant Sleep Myths

There are many myths out there concerning infant sleep – some that have been perpetuated for generations. Here are a few that I’ve heard most often:

Cereal in bottle: I think most people have been told this before – give your baby solids to help them sleep better. This has been refuted many times, and it’s not a recommended practice to introduce solids before six months (especially if it’s just to try and get them to sleep through the night.) It’s also  not recommended to thicken your baby’s food with baby cereal (especially when they are small infants) to help them sleep better. Sometimes, if a baby has bad reflux, a doctor will recommend this, but that is the only time you should!

Never wake a sleeping baby: There are times where you do need to wake your baby – namely, if they haven’t eaten for awhile. After the first six weeks or so, it’s okay to let your baby sleep for longer periods at night, but during they do, if they sleep for more than three hours without eating, you should wake up them. When they are newborns, make sure they don’t go too long without eating as well.

Babies need to sleep in silence: Babies can sleep through a lot. Unless you want your entire household to be on lockdown and silent mode multiple times throughout the day, don’t worry about keeping your house entirely silent during their naps. While they are in the womb, they actually are exposed to more noise than you may realize, so they don’t need complete silence once they are born!

Sleep Training

When most people hear the words “sleep training” they probably instantly think a person is referring to the “crying-it-out” method. However, sleep training and crying-it-out are not synonymous. Crying-it-out is simply a method of sleep training, albeit a well-known version. Sleep training is just a way of helping your baby learn to soothe themselves and get back to sleep on their own.

I personally don’t like the crying-it-out method, but if that’s your cup of tea, more power to you. From what I’ve read, it’s not recommended to try that method until your baby is about six months old. I’ve read that the best way to do crying-it-out is to go in and soothe them after 5 minutes, and then wait 10 minutes, and then 20, etc.

If you don’t like crying it out, I highly recommend the book The No-Cry Sleep SolutionIt has some excellent suggestions for helping your baby sleep better and learn to fall asleep on their own. I talk about it in my post about gentle ways to help your baby sleep better, and I recommend it to everyone I know!

I hope that you found this helpful! Let me know if you have any questions!

A fellow blogger wrote this wonderful course about infant sleep – it’s customizable to your preferences and child! I’ve been told it’s excellent. She even has a free mini class about the three biggest sleep struggles and how to solve them. It’s free and great! But the full course is worth the money

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