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Sleep: The Basics

New Parents

Written By Gracie Revland
May 26, 2021

Sleep is on everyone’s mind when you have a baby. Not only do you get to live through the lack of sleep, but for some reason, everyone loves to ask, “so how are they sleeping?” Like it’s some universal sign for how good of a baby or parent you are.

baby crying on bed with sleep suit

However, let me tell you a little secret. IT IS NOT YOU. Every baby is different, and I am serious when I tell you it is the luck of the draw. What’s important here, though, is to understand the basics of sleep so you can give your little one the tools to sleep through the night when they are ready.

What you need to know about sleep

Babies are not like adults

The longer an adult goes without sleep, the sleepier they become. THIS IS NOT THE CASE WITH BABIES; I REPEAT, NOT THE CASE. Trust me when I say sleep equals sleep. If they become overtired, they have a more challenging time falling asleep and staying asleep.

Sleep changes with development

Sometimes this works in your favor and sometimes not. It is entirely normal for babies to backtrack when going through developmental milestones.

Example: the four-month sleep regression which is a common time in development where a baby’s sleep pattern changes. But this isn’t the only time! Teething and other developmental milestones can affect sleep. Think of sleeping through the night as an upward graph with ups and downs; not linear.

Wake windows overrule schedules

Especially for the first few months, honoring wake windows is going to help you way more than a schedule. Depending on their age, they will have a typical wake window. To get them to maximize sleep and to sleep longer, you need to honor that wake window.

Stimulants are what they are used to

White noise, swaddles, and darkness are what they experienced in the womb. Therefore, it will make them most comfortable in a bassinet or crib.

Learn sleep cues

Babies have different sleep cues to tell you they are tired. They differ from baby to baby so try to learn your baby’s early. Familiar sleep cues are rubbing eyes, yawning, droopy or red eyes, less movement, or staring into space.

If you wait for your baby to start hysterically crying, you have entered overtiredness. So try to learn their sleep cues so you can get them down before they become overtired.

Awake windows by month

*These are daytime wake windows; if they wake up at night, do not consider wake windows.

1-2 Months

  • Awake Window- 40-90 minutes

3-4 Months

  • Awake Window: 1.5-2 hours

5-6 Months

  • Awake Window: 2-3 hours
  • Good time to start looking for patterns or establishing a schedule because their wake window won’t adjust as much these next six months.

7-8 Months

  • Awake Window: 2-3 hours

8-12 Months

  • Awake Window: 2-4 hours

baby laying on bed with sleep suit

Tips to get your baby to sleep longer at night.

Feed as much as they want during the day: babies need a certain amount of milk each day. The more they get in the day, the less they will need at night. So if your baby wants to cluster feed, let them! If they want to eat every two hours, let them! (Also, great for supply if breastfeeding). Think of every feeding during the day as one less feeding at night!

Calm without feeding first

When you hear them wake in the middle of the night try not to rush to grab them at any small noise. Give them time to see if they are just stirring, they might go back to sleep. If they don’t try soothing in their crib first (paci, rubbing belly, etc.). If that doesn’t work, try soothing out of the crib (rocking, walking, etc.). Make feeding your last step. This teaches them to go a little longer and not always rely on eating to feel comforted.

Side note: I know this is hard because you’re so tired you want to feed them and get it over with so you can go back to sleep, but over time it pays off. If breastfeeding, this could be a good time to share some of that nighttime work with your partner!

Honor the longest stretch: try not to go backward

If your baby makes it four hours between feedings one night, try to honor that the next night. Try to soothe another way until that four-hour mark. This helps them learn consistency and aid in pushing that sleep time long.

Use white noise, swaddle, and a dark room

In order for a baby to sleep for longer stretches, they need to be comfortable. So how do you do that? Give them stimulants that resemble the room. Swaddle, white noise, and complete darkness are the best ways to emulate that same feeling. I love this White noise machine, it’s easy to travel with

There is no doubt sleep is one of the most difficult things about having a young baby. But I can assure you, you won’t be sleep-deprived forever. Even though it is such a crazy time, soak in those late-night baby snuggles and your little one instantly calming when they hear your voice or feel your touch. It goes by so fast. I challenge you to go listen to It Won’t Be Like This For Long by Darius Rucker and you’ll hug that little one a little harder at 1:00 am. You got this.

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Gracie Revland

Hi! I’m Gracie Revland •

One of the two mamas who created Supporting Chaos. It's hard to put into words how excited we are to grow this community of support! So all I can say is thank you so much for being here...