The following routines are general guidelines for parents to establish a steady routine for their baby at different times throughout the first 12 months of his or her life. For the best results, parents should be aware of the following things:
- How much sleep your baby needs at each age & how it should be spread/distributed amongst daytime naps & night sleeps.
- How long your baby is capable of staying awake between sleeps to help avoid overtiredness which will make it harder to settle. For more information see ‘Tired signs’.
- How often your baby should be feeding, in proportion to his or her weight.
A very basic routine for a newborn up to 6 weeks of age could be comprised of 5-6 sleeps of 2-3 hours each day with a feed, nappy change, burping & cuddles in between (but parents must be conscious that new babies can only be awake for approximately 1 hour at a time for the first 6 weeks), with an obvious wind down period before the night sleep, for which reason starting a bedtime routine from birth can be very worthwhile. Nappy changes & being unswaddled are a form of activity that will help a baby to wake up so these things should only be done before beginning the bedtime routine or just after waking up (although changing a soiled nappy at any point in the day or night is advisable for hygiene reasons - unsoiled & only wet nappies are less likely to disturb your baby).
After 6 weeks & then up to 3 months of age, when babies are able to be awake for up to an hour & a half, this same routine can be adapted to include more play in between sleeps, including tummy time, with perhaps only 4-5 sleeps if your baby is inclined to sleep for longer periods.
By 3 months of age, babies will need to be taught to return to sleep after night feeds & woken up at a set time each day. Waking any time between 6-7am is fine & your baby should engage in some activity before having his or her first nap of the day about 1-2 hours later.
Naps of 2-2.5 hours should continue throughout the day with awake periods of 1.5-2 hours in between right up until bedtime. The afternoon nap can be a little shorter, approximately 45 minutes to an hour in preparation for when the afternoon nap is eventually dropped at 6 months.
The bedtime routine should be maintained during this time and bedtime should be at the same time every night. Any babies that sleep after 5pm in the afternoon may not be tired enough to be ready for bed at 6 or 7pm, which will allow your baby to wake for her night feed at an earlier hour of 11pm or 12am rather than 2 or 3 am, so a 6 or 7pm bedtime is preferable to a later one, if possible. If babies do wake anytime between the early hours of the morning and won’t settle easily, an extra night feed may be necessary.
Between 6-9 months babies can stay awake for longer periods of 2.5-3 hours & should eat several meals of solids during the day, with set times for breakfast, lunch & dinner, & have separate times for bottle feedings and breastfeedings, which may still be part of the bedtime routine and therefore best given before bed. Waking at 6-7am and going to bed at 6-7pm is still desirable and your baby’s sleep should be approximately 10-12 hours during the night. Night feeds may or may not continue as your baby’s diet incorporates a wider variety of fruits and vegetables.
Naps can be about 1-2 hours long, and can be reduced to 2 sleeps a day by 9 months. Babies may also be able to sleep in a separate room more easily by 6 months of age onwards.
By 9 months of age babies can be awake for 3-4 hours at a time & are likely to be doing plenty of rolling & crawling so they will be very tired when they are ready to sleep & parents will need to ensure the quality of sleep is as restful as possible. Your baby is likely to be established in waking at 6-7am & going to bed at 6-7pm for the 10-12 hours of sleep he or she needs every night by this time too. They should also still be napping twice a day for about 1-2 hours each.
Morning and afternoon snacks may need to be added into a daily routine for some hungrier babies but not all babies will need this.
Facts verified by Jo Ryan, child sleep expert at Babybliss and a registered nurse of 20 years experience, with much of that time spent working in paediatrics.