The year in baby sleep schedules

Continuing the theme of “first year of parenting in review,” I thought I’d share how Little Boy’s sleep habits developed over that time.  As far as I can tell, the timing of his nap transitions (going from all-over-the-place naps to 4 naps to 3 to 2) were pretty normal, but his sleep needs are a little higher than average overall (e.g., he’ll nap for two hours where a typical kid might only sleep for 90 minutes).

0–2 days: Hospital

Little Boy slept about as well as can be expected for someone who has been suddenly introduced to the world.  His mother, on the other hand, woke herself up every 20 minutes to make sure that he was still breathing.  (Also, she was rather uncomfortable—did you know that C-section pain can refer up to your shoulder?—and a bajillion hospital staff kept dropping in, but that’s another story.)

2 days–2 weeks: Establishing Breastfeeding

The hospital sent us home with instructions to feed Little Boy at least every 3–4 hours, even if that meant waking him up at night.

We’d initially planned to have him sleep in a bedside “co-sleeper” bassinet, but it turns out that (a) newborns are noisy, and (b) it’s not so easy to just reach over and pick up your baby when you’re recovering from a C-section.  So we moved the bassinet out to the living room and took shifts getting a few hours of uninterrupted sleep.

2–3 weeks: Honeymoon Period

Little Boy was solidly above his birth weight at his two-week appointment, so we got our pediatrician’s blessing to let him sleep as long as he wanted at night.  Hooray!  He actually slept for a 6-hour stretch one night, which was amazing.

We knew it wouldn’t last, and it didn’t.  Little Boy’s interest in falling and staying asleep declined rapidly.

3–5 weeks: Honeymoon Period, Part 2

Swaddle and swing to the rescue!  For a roughly week-long period of time, we had it figured out again.  Little Boy’s routine looked like this: wake up, diaper change, eat, fall asleep eating, get Velcroed into a swaddle burrito, lie in baby swing, sleep.  And he’d sleep for 3 or 4 hours at a time.  I actually got kind of worried that he wasn’t eating enough, since he was only asking for food 4–5 times a day, and here were all of these baby care resources telling me that 8–12 times a day was normal.  But he’d nurse for an hour at a time when he did eat, so I guess it all evened out.

In retrospect, I should’ve maybe tried waking him up for regular meals during the day, to help him differentiate between day and night.  At the time, however, we were so grateful for any extended stretch of sleep that we took what we could get.

5–6 weeks: Hell Week(s)

The 6-week fussiness peak is notorious among parents, and Little Boy embraced it with gusto.  Life was starting to get interesting, too interesting.  There were little birds on his swing!  A Mommy and Daddy to smile at!  He was no longer in his own little world, but he couldn’t quite process the rest of the world yet.  The result was a cranky baby who did not sleep.

Baby sleep cycles are 45 minutes long at this age, so that’s how long naps lasted.  Sometimes it was because he was hungry, but usually it was because his little brain couldn’t transition to the next sleep cycle even though he was tired and wanted to keep sleeping.  My own brain practically lost the ability to fall asleep at all for a while.

If you’re a parent going through Hell Week,

1.  I’m sure you’ve tried everything already, but here are some tips that might help.

2.  Feel free to smack anyone who tells you to “enjoy every moment.”

6–9 weeks: Night Sleep Started Developing

Things started to slowly settle down after the 6-week bump.  By 8 weeks old, Little Boy was consistently falling asleep for the night around 10 or 11 p.m. and staying asleep until he got hungry around 3 or 4 a.m.  Somewhere in this time frame is when we introduced a regular bedtime routine.  Nights went roughly like this:

8:30 p.m. (ish, depending on when he last ate) — bath, PJs, nurse

10. p.m. or so — Little Boy falls asleep in his swing

3/4 a.m. — nurse

next few hours — Little Boy maybe sleeps, maybe fidgets and grunts a lot

6:30 or 7 a.m. (ish) — he wakes up for the day

Naps were still chaotic and unpredictable.  For the most part, Little Boy fell asleep nursing and would sleep for either 45 minutes or several hours, but rarely for a time period in-between.

9–13 weeks: Moved Towards a 4-Nap Routine

“Schedule” is still much too strong a word at this point.  We had noticed that Little Boy was hungry for 4 or 5 meals during the day (plus his night feeding), so we encouraged a routine that had him eating 5 times between about 7 a.m. in the morning and 8:30 p.m. or so at night.  He was no longer regularly falling asleep while nursing, so he’d wake up, eat, hang out awake for a bit, then take a nap.

In a perfect world, he would’ve slept until he got hungry again, but we were still plagued by the 45-Minute Nap Monster.  A 45-minute lap left Little Boy grouchy and still tired, but not particularly interested in eating again just yet.

We flipped his bedtime routine from bath, nurse, bed to nurse, bath, bed (and added a story and song before bed).  His longest night shift stretched until 4 or 5 a.m., which would have been great if he had gone back to sleep easily after that wee-hours feeding.  Fortunately, by 12 weeks old, he was starting to occasionally skip night feedings completely.

The worst part, however, was that he began to seriously fight bedtime.  It took increasingly-longer periods of swinging, rocking, singing, and nursing to relax him enough to fall asleep, after which we had to wait anxiously for the 45-minute mark to see if he’d stay asleep.

3–4.5 months: Long Morning Nap Developed

When Little Boy was 3 months old, we implemented two things: (1) sleep training, and (2) a consistent morning wake-up time.  The latter made the timing of our daytime routines much more predictable, and the former made all three of us much happier at bedtime.  A typical day looked something like this:

7 a.m. — wake up; nurse

8:30 a.m. — down for nap #1

10:30 a.m. or so (depending on length of nap #1) — nurse

around noon — down for nap #2

2 p.m — nurse

3:30 p.m. — down for nap #3

5 p.m. — nurse

6:30 p.m. — down for nap #4 (always only 45 minutes)

8 p.m. — nurse & start bedtime routine

Nap times were not exact—sometimes Little Boy got tired after 90 minutes of awake time, sometimes it took a bit longer.  Nap #1 settled into a solid 2+ hour nap, but naps #2–3 varied, and nap #4 was always short.

Little Boy dropped his last night feeding not long after his 3-month birthday, although he did continue waking up around 5 a.m. for a while.  He would talk loudly but pleasantly to himself for a bit, then fall back asleep.

4.5–8 months: 3-Nap Schedule

By about 4.5 months old, Little Boy could happily stay awake for about 2 hours between naps, and he was consistently making it over the 45-minute hump in nap #2.  His schedule finally became quite regular from day-to-day:

7 a.m. — wake up; nurse

9 a.m. — down for nap #1 (2 hours)

11 a.m. — wake up; nurse

1 p.m. — down for nap #2 (2 hours)

3 p.m. — wake up; nurse

5 p.m. — down for nap #3 (45 minutes)

5:45 p.m. — wake up; nurse

7 p.m. — nurse & start bedtime routine

When we introduced solid foods, those became an evening meal that eventually replaced the 5:45 p.m. nursing session.

8–12 months: 2-nap schedule

Between 7 and 8 months old, nap #3 dropped out of the picture.  Little Boy was staying up a bit longer before nap #2, and he just didn’t need the additional sleep anymore.  So for the last four months, our days have looked like this:

7 a.m. — wake up; nurse

9 a.m. — down for nap #1 (90 minutes–2 hours)

11 a.m. — wake up; nurse

noon — lunch

1:30 p.m. — down for nap #2 (90 minutes)

3 p.m. — wake up; nurse

5/5:30 p.m. — dinner

6:30 p.m. — nurse & start bedtime routine

(This is for days when he’s at home.  He naps for 30-40 minutes max total at daycare, then crashes on the car ride home.)

Right now, at 12 months, we’re starting to see signs that a transition to just 1 nap is headed our way: Little Boy has started fighting his afternoon nap on a semi-regular basis.  Of course, he’s also just learned how to pull himself to a sitting position in his crib (which is new and exciting and therefore preempts going to sleep!), and has been fighting a series of colds.  Today’s afternoon nap took place in the arms of Daddy and Mommy, because our poor little sick dude just couldn’t get comfortable on his own.

TL;DR—As soon as you think you’ve got your kid’s sleep habits figured out, they change.  Especially in the first four months. 

Parents, were your babies easy sleepers, little terrors, or something in-between?  What did you find to be the hardest age when it came to sleep?

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