Sleep in the first year – what’s normal?

Over the years of working with babies, I’ve come to find that a baby’s first year of sleep is more or less a predictable one. Before you begin to work on gently changing your little one’s sleep, first you have to understand what ‘normal or typical’ baby sleep is.

Here’s what a typical night looks like month by month*

The seven stages of sleep in your baby’s first year

Sleep Progression Pyramid

0-3 Months
Feeds every 2-3 hours
There is no pattern to sleep; circadian rhythm is not yet developed, babies, can’t tell night from day. This stage is also known as the 4th trimester.

During this time, babies are said to be in their 4th trimester. From womb to the world, it’s a massive transition. In your womb, they would have been warm and snug in the dark, naked with water all around them, protecting them, keeping them comfortable and in constant contact with you. Their body temperature would have remained consistent, and their nutrition and hunger need continuously met. As well as being in the dark, they would have been unable to smell anything, and all that they heard would have been stifled. They would have been lulled, soothed and comforted by these dulled sounds, your heartbeat and the repetitive, rhythmic motion of your footsteps.

By mimicking these conditions as best as possible for the first 12 weeks of your babies life, you will help them make a smoother transition, experience less crying and have a more contented baby.

If you assume your baby should just fit in with the family from day one and don’t take into account his previous conditions and surroundings, you are likely to have a stressed baby. A baby who cries a lot, becomes overtired and overstimulated often, who might be labelled as having colic and a baby who doesn’t get much sleep.

A baby of this age will typically sleep a lot and can often sleep through noise and in daylight (protect baby’s eyes when in the buggy by pulling the hood up and make sure your baby does not face directly upwards into your lit up ceiling, turn the lights off).

Sleep is inconsistent and irregular; your baby will have no concept of time and no idea of day and night once entering into his new world. Your days will most likely follow a pattern of short amounts of awake time, feeding and sleeping. Your baby will be happiest in the comfort of your arms, where he can feel your body heat, love and reassurance; hear the sound of your voice and heartbeat and smell the best smell in the world to him: you.

3-4 months
3-4 Feeds per night
By the end of month four, your baby’s Circadian rhythm (body clock) will be fully developed meaning he can distinguish between night and day.

At this age babies are typically transitioning from 4 naps to 3 naps, a little more of a routine begins to gently fall into place, their circadian rhythm (body clock) is fully established, helping their bodies tell the difference between night and day. Longer stretches of sleep are seen at night and naps begin to consolidate a little more. You may start to find a similar pattern is starting to evolve, e.g., a consistently long morning nap and shorter naps after that.

Your baby may be a little less resistant to being put down in his cot for nap times now whereas before might have wanted to be in arms for sleep times. (Although for many babies this only changes at around six months). From this age onwards your baby’s sleep environment will begin to affect him more and more. You may find your little one finds it hard to sleep anywhere and through anything, like he previously did as a newborn, and that light and sound effect his sleep.

4-5 months per night
2-3 Feeds, more waking may occur due to sleep regression
Babies go through a significant developmental leap known as 4-5 month sleep regression. Often sleep at this age is likened to that of a newborn.

Between 4-5 months is the age where babies go through an incredible and massive developmental leap. It is known as the 4-5 month sleep regression, and it is likened to that of a newborns sleep. Your baby may fuss a lot and seek a lot of reassurance and attention from you. With broken nights, (more than usual) a cranky baby who only wants to be up in your arms all day and naps that may prove tricky, it can be one of the hardest developmental leaps you’ll go through in the first year.

This phase is often tiring for parents, but it is incredibly important for babies. It’s really as if during this time they are awakening. No more the sleepy newborn baby, their senses are heightened, they can see further and are beginning to recognise faces and voices. You may find your little one less comfortable being passed around to loving friends and family and instead seeking your reassurance and comfort, making the room know it until reunited with you. Their sense of touch improves as well as their ability to move and communicate through speech (babbling) and facial expressions. To sum it up, it’s a whole new world for them. One which can be overstimulating and overwhelming to the senses. Once you understand this, you can more easily find understanding, compassion and empathy for your baby and see the world through his eyes, giving him all the love, reassurance and comfort he needs to get through this big leap, while he learns and makes sense of so much more.

Babies are usually well established on three naps at this age, taking a morning and afternoon nap, and a late afternoon catnap.

Six months
2-3 Feeds per night
Weaning typically begins, and the new foods can disrupt sleep while baby’s digestive system adapts.

6 Months sees your baby out of the sleep regression, and you will notice the changes your baby has been through, all the new things your little one can do; such as his more determined, controlled movements, a sense of humour, his beautiful personality coming through, his likes and dislike. His different cries, more sound and pitches added to his babbling. You’ll know his tired signs well and how best to help him fall asleep.

With this age comes weaning. Weaning is the introduction of solid food to your baby’s diet. Often weaning can disturb sleep as the digestive system digests/ processes and gets used to the new foods your little one is eating. This phase passes reasonably quickly. Keep meals simple, healthy, nutritious and fresh, avoiding processed foods. Introduce foods slowly, helping you see which foods/ if any your baby reacts to badly. It is essential to keep a close eye out for allergies and intolerances during this phase and seek medical advice straight away if you suspect your baby is sensitive to a particular food.

During this time your routine will change, making space for meal times. Babies are usually still on three naps a day at this age taking a morning and afternoon nap, and a late afternoon catnap.

Seven months
1-3 Feeds per night
The ideal time for making gentle changes to your baby’s sleep for both day and nighttime sleep.

Seven months is the ideal time to work on sleep for both naps and night time.

At seven months old your baby’s personality is shining through and his independence is budding. The world around him makes so much more sense, and he enjoys playing, interacting and being stimulated. Weaning is well established and by this time, so should your day to day routine be, your baby is happy and content with the knowledge of what comes next.

At seven months your baby may begin to drop his late afternoon catnap, this naturally happens anywhere from 7-9 months. On losing this late afternoon catnap, you will probably have to make bedtime very early, as soon as 6 pm.

8-9 Months
1-2 Feeds per night (night wakings and feeds may increase due to separation anxiety)
Babies typically go through separation anxiety at this age and nights can be disrupted as baby seeks extra reassurance.

Often babies begin to experience separation anxiety, which peaks significantly at around the eight-month mark, lasting anywhere up until 9.5 months (although you will see it come and go all through toddlerhood too.)

Separation anxiety is a regular part of your every growing baby’s development and is a healthy sign that your baby is beginning to learn that she is separate from you.

Your baby knows you as her base, the place where she feels safest. The place where she can always go to for love, comfort and reassurance.

Once she learns that you can be separated, she doesn’t have the mental capacity just yet to understand that you come back. To babies, it’s as if when you leave; you go forever. They have no way concept of time and no way of self-soothing themselves or reassuring themselves into thinking that you will come back and that you will only be away for a short period.

During this time sleep is often affected by babies needing more reassurance and comfort for both nighttime sleep and daytime sleep.

Babies are usually on two naps a day at this age. Typically a long morning nap and a late afternoon catnap or a short morning nap and a longer nap in the afternoon.

9-12 months
1-2 Feeds per night
Another good chance at making gentle changes to your little one’s sleep but can prove more difficult as baby becomes older and more mobile.

Babies are still on two naps a day taking a morning nap and an afternoon nap.

Naps month by month, summarised

0-3 Months
Four naps

Four months
Three naps
Babies are typically taking a morning nap, afternoon nap and late afternoon cat nap at this age

5- 6.5/7 months
Three naps
Babies are typically taking a morning nap, afternoon nap and late afternoon cat nap at this age

6.5/ 7-9 months
Two naps
Late afternoon catnap falls away leaving your baby with a morning nap and afternoon nap

10-12 months
Two naps
Your little one will still be on two naps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

12 months
At this age, your little one is likely to still be on two naps but will soon have the ability to transition to one nap within the next few months leaving you with one midday nap.

14/15 months onwards
One nap
At around this age, you may find you don’t have enough time in the day to fit in 2 naps without having a very late bedtime. In that case, you can gently help your baby transition to 1 nap by making their morning nap later, eventually making that one nap fall at around midday.

*Bedtimes need to be adjusted according to last nap of the day and how long your baby can comfortably stay awake. All babies are unique, use this as a general guideline only.

Some babies are just naturally better sleepers than others. Make sure that there are no medical reasons for why your baby may not be sleeping well. Until they are treated, your baby’s sleep will not get better on its own.

If your baby is ill, teething, has reflux, silent reflux, allergies and/or intolerances, thrush, candida, digestive pain or any other medical condition, these HAVE to be seen to and adequately diagnosed and treated FIRST before you’ll see any difference in sleep.

This must become your priority.

If your baby is up many times throughout the night or is taking a long time to settle at bedtime and/or through the night, there either may be something upsetting your little one or gentle changes that can be made in helping your baby sleep better.

For a free consultation to discuss your baby’s sleep and to find out whether it’s ‘normal’ baby sleep, sleep that can be improved upon or a condition which has not yet been diagnosed or misdiagnosed, get in touch with me here. I am not a doctor but over the years have come to recognise what may be causing your baby discomfort during the night. It’s very likely that I’ll be able to steer you in the right direction.

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