When it comes to baby sleep there are So Many Unknowns. Use this cheat sheet to learn all the baby sleep techniques, strategies, solutions, and tips you need to know to help your baby sleep (and therefore yourself) well.
Before you read the 32,645 words (jk jk… or am I?) about sleep, I want to tell you something.
Something I hope you find encouraging, and not discouraging.
Humans (and therefore our precious babies) are made to sleep. It is necessary for development and restoration and they will – as a matter of survival – learn to do it.
The truth is this: the biggest barrier to our little one sleeping well is often us.
In fact, one of my most favorite posts about helping little ones sleep is about how this ONE THING is what often keeps us from having content peaceful babies who sleep well.
Sleep Considerations — You’ve Got This!
Here are some of the biggest things that need to be considered when you begin to tackle the issue of baby sleep.
You’ll want to use our daily baby logs if you really want to dig into what’s happening with baby.
Bedtime Routine, Routine, Routine
Like the price of a home is determined by Location, Location, Location, the likelihood your baby sleeps well is determined by your Routine, Routine, Routine.
If baby is here, there, and everywhere then the likelihood baby will fight sleep is pretty high.
Even if you are a spontaneous person and hate being tied down to routine, that doesn’t mean that routine isn’t good for your baby.
➡️ You might not like routine, but babies do.
Questions to ask yourself about your routine:
- Is there too much time between naps?
- Does baby seem overtired? Am I doing the #1 thing that feels intuitive, but backfires?
- Does the family regularly do the same thing morning, afternoon, and evening? Is there a pretty predictable rhythm?
- Is our wind down routine in place?
- My routine, is it on point? If so (and believe me, you aren’t alone) then get Rhythms, Routines, & Schedules and see 25+ sample routines that make for easy baby sleep.
Ultimately, baby needs a routine that allows them ample time to be up and interacting with you and then ample time to rest.
Read: How to Stop Contact Naps (Peacefully)- and What to Do Instead
Too much awake time and they’re overtired and won’t sleep.
Conversely, too much sleep during the day and they’re up all night.
Learn how to space naps, how many a day per age, best times, etc. and get your nap game ON!
How Cluster Feeding Helps Infant Sleep
If baby isn’t sleeping well at night then you might want to try cluster feeding.
Cluster feeding is both extremely stressful (if done all day) and extremely useful if done right (at night before bed).
You don’t want to get into the habit of cluster feeding all day long every day as a general routine.
This will make you nuts and baby fussy.
Instead, you want to use cluster feeding to help get lots of nutrient rich milk into baby’s tummy before they are down for the night.
- In the hours between 5 and 8 ish, try feeding a few times.
- The goal is to help baby eat well, top up, and do it again before you want them to go down to sleep for the evening.
- Let your dream feed be the last feed you do and hope baby will sleep a longer stretch.
- Don’t cluster feed all day long unless baby is having a growth spurt. If no growth spurt, focus on full feeds.
Read: 12 Medical Reasons Why Your Baby’s Not Sleeping (With Symptoms of Each)
How The Dream Feed Helps Everyone Sleep
The dream feed is the last feed you give baby before you go to bed for the night.
This usually happens between 10 and 11 ish, give or take.
It’s the very last feed you want to drop. If baby sleeps longer stretches you want to feed at 11 pm then let baby sleep until the morning. Then, after a few weeks of this, then and only then will you drop this feed.
Dream feed tips
- Sometimes baby finds it hard to wake at this time. If baby won’t wake to feed, give it 20 minutes and try again.
- This feed is the one that tops baby off and allows them to have a full tummy that’ll help them sleep longer. If the last feed baby has is at 8 p.m. it’s no wonder that he wakes at 4 a.m. and is ready to start the day!
- Drop this feed last.
Sleep Times (Naps & Nights)
Here are some generally agreed upon sleep times for babies. Some babies will have higher sleep needs than others, so you don’t have to go to the letter.
The way you know if your routine is working is this: if baby is content the majority of the time.
Here are windows… some babies will sleep on the higher end (or perhaps even more) and some a bit lower than this. Remember the rule of thumb above!
- Newborn to 2 months: 16-18 hours a day | 7 to 9 naps (one after each feed) .
- 2-4 months: 15-17 hours a day | 4 to 5 naps (after each daytime feed).
- 4-6 months: 14-16 hours a day | 4 naps or so (probably dropping the last nap before bedtime).
- 6-9 months: 14-16 hours a day | 3 to 4 naps a day (eventually getting down to 2 naps a day).
- 9 – 12 months: 14-16 hours a day | 2 to 3 naps (eventually getting down to 2).
- 12-18 months: 14-15 hours a day | 2 naps a day (eventually getting down to 1 nap a day).
Read: Baby’s First Year: The Ultimate Month By Month Guide
How Over tiredness Affects Baby
Let’s talk about a cycle.
➡️ If babies are overtired they have trouble going to sleep.
➡️ Then, they have trouble going to sleep, mom introduces sleep props to get baby to sleep.
➡️ With sleep props in place, mom is then forced to continue jumping through hoops to help baby sleep.
➡️ Baby becomes overtired and the cycle goes on.
It seems lose / lose and the truth is, it’s hard.
Here’s an in-depth post on helping baby avoid overtiredness, but let me give you a few highlights.
- Find your baby’s sleep window (when baby is drowsy and will go to sleep well) and don’t go past it.
- Institute some wind-down routines before you put baby down to rest.
- Don’t have busy days one after the other. Schedule in time to be at home with baby so they can be better rested. Remember: it’s a short season!
- Don’t put baby down to bed in a crowded room with loud siblings past about 3 months of age. That’s when babies start to “wake up” and you’ll find baby gets exhausted quickly.
Get my cheat sheets and find your family’s groove. Chore, independent play, meal, nap, bedtime, and MORE routine ideas!
Day / Night Confusion
If your baby is 6 weeks old or under, there’s a possibility for some day night confusion.
Day night confusion is marked by these symptoms:
- Baby takes long naps throughout the day and is difficult to wake.
- Baby is more restless and fussy at night instead of day.
- And baby has longer stretches between feeds during the day instead of at night.
The key is to differentiate between day and night for baby. It seems like it might be quite difficult (based on the trouble you’ve had) but really it’s not.
How To Reverse Day Night Confusion
- Don’t let baby nap longer than 2 or so hours during the day.
- Wake baby up from naps that go over that.
- Turn on lights and open windows and curtains and take baby outside during the day between feeds. Or better yet, FEED OUTSIDE.
- At night, don’t turn on lights to feed. Use your phone or a very dim lamp or flashlight. By turning on lights at night you are perpetuating the confusion. If sleeping away from home, try using blackout curtains.
Infant Sleep Props
A sleep prop (something baby depends on for sleep) is something a child associates with sleep that requires you and your presence, or is something that a child can’t control on their own.
These sleep props can become quite addictive (particularly during witching hours) and we’ll talk about why later.
Sleep props can include, but are not limited to:
- nursing to sleep,
- rocking to sleep,
- pacifiers if they can’t re-insert them, (Read: Pacifier Weaning 101: Guide To Less Stress & Fewer Tears)
- car rides to settle, or
- swings or vibrating chairs (if they won’t sleep there every time).
Create sustainable sleep habits for your little lamb so the whole family can sleep peacefully without the stress, drama, and tears.Learn More
A Sleep Mindset You Need
The truth is that babies are made to sleep.
They are made for restorative rejuvenative rest.
If they are not having that (and it’s not medically related) then it’s because baby doesn’t know how to sleep on its own, the conditions aren’t right, or you are too Mom Guilt Ridden to let it happen.
“Mom guilt causes moms to make unwise decisions in the moment at the expense of long-term healthy habits.”
If this is you, you are not alone.
It is really hard to make baby sleep changes that cause baby to be (temporarily) unhappy.
We feel horrible.
As though we’re torturing our babies and forcing them to do something against their will.
Read: The Nap Trap – How To Deal With It & Not Resist It
We have to remember that the goal of baby sleep is FOR our baby.
How To Protect Baby’s Sleep With Older Siblings
Little kids are curious.
This does not stop when a new baby comes home.
In fact, this amps things way up.
They are more curious, more excited to hug, cuddle, and squeeze the baby, and all around in a more agitated state.
At least for a little while.
When baby is up to around 3 months, he may just sleep in the living room with chaos going on around him. But let me assure you of something.
This will stop.
He will not be able to go to sleep with chaos around him for months and months. And, if he does, he won’t pass through active and passive sleep cycles well and will wake up after 45 minutes.
The truth is, we need baby to rest.
- Create clear rules for siblings (i.e. do not go into baby’s room while he’s napping).
- Use white noise. White noise is a true lifesaver. It’s also a sleep association that works.
- Find creative nap locations. I’ve had babies sleep in guest bathrooms and my closet. Whatever keeps the noise out works.
- Occupy the older ones. Let them have independent play, go outside, or have their own rest time.
Babies with reflux have a hard time sleeping.
Okay, it’s not that hopeless. But it is hard. Gas often accompanies reflux and it can seem like a negative cycle.
Baby is uncomfortable. So baby won’t sleep. Baby is tired so doesn’t feed well. Then baby is hungry, overtired, and not resting or feeding well. Baby is uncomfortable.
Here’s an entire post on baby sleep and reflux, so you can go there for more info, but here are a few key points.
- Burp really really well after feeds.
- Determine if you have hyper-lactation or if baby actually has reflux.
- Incline the crib with a safe infant wedge.
- Keep baby as comfortable as you can.
Growth Spurts & Regressions
Babies have sleep regressions.
Usually a 4 month old baby sleep regression and the 9 month regression then the 2 year old sleep struggles.
Here’s a good rule of thumb…
If baby has slept well for a good while, sleeping through the night and going down on their own, this is likely a regression or a growth spurt NOT a sleep issue.
Sleep issues are when baby really hasn’t ever slept well past the 3 month mark. Some babies will sleep well until 3 months (because babies are naturally super sleepy until then) and then suddenly WAKE UP.
This is usually sleep related, not a regression.
How To Handle Regressions:
- First, determine if it’s a regression or sleep related. If baby used to sleep well then stopped, it’s likely a regression.
- Rule out teething or ear aches or other physical discomfort. One time my baby was waking up multiple times nightly for a few nights and I realized he was cold. I felt horrible, obviously. And here I write a blog about baby sleep.
- Keep a semblance of routine. Growth spurts may mean feeding double the amount for a few days until baby and milk catch up, that’s fine. But don’t completely throw off your routine.
- Read these posts on the 4 month sleep regression and the 2 year old toddler sleep regression issues.
- Do not take the regressions as a sign baby doesn’t need sleep. Take them as a sign that baby is having trouble sleeping for whatever reason.
Here are some common baby sleep problems:
- Doesn’t fall asleep easily without some type of sleep prop.
- Wakes up after 45 minutes from a nap (see this post).
- Sleeps heavy during the day and light at night (see this post).
- Cries, screams, or whines to get to sleep and the parent can’t take it.
- Wants to feed every hour or every two hours well past the 6 week age mark (see this post).
- Wakes up super early in the morning and won’t go back to sleep (see this post and this post).
Sleep And Separation Anxiety
One main concern of parents looking to teach their babies healthier sleep patterns is they’re worried the baby will feel abandoned if they are alone sleeping in their crib. They are noticing separation anxiety at bedtime.
To some moms…
Baby who sleeps well alone = baby who is not connected to mama.
This is what’s referred to as a Zero Sum Game.
➡️ Either baby goes to bed well and is given the privilege of much needed restorative rest OR baby is well connected to a nurturing mother.
➡️ Either your baby is well rested and content and happy and disconnected from you OR they are connected to you and then miserable with exhaustion.
Honestly, this makes no sense.
It’s nothing more or nothing less than this…
Sleep training is nothing more or nothing less than helping babies learn to go to sleep on their own and stay asleep on their own.
As you are putting them down for a rest, you are there.
Then, when they wake up, you are there.
When they are hungry, you are there.
And when they need comforting, you are there.
FALSE Mom Guilt is often the #1 reason babies are exhausted and miserable with fatigue.
FINALLY…. Concluding Thoughts On Baby Sleep
I know if you’re here and you’ve read this much (over 2300 words, wow!) that you are serious about baby sleep.
You want your little one to be happy, well-rested, content, connected, AND you don’t want to be up all night every night comforting a worn out inconsolable baby.
This is not a pipe dream.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are common (and sometimes verbatim) sleep questions I get asked on the reg.
Are baby sleep sacks necessary?
They are not *necessary* but babies usually do sleep better snug and swaddled up. It helps prevent the startle reflex from waking them when they are in the lighter more passive sleep.
I personally recommend the Woombie.
When are baby sleep regressions?
Regressions often happen at 3 to 4 months, and again at 2 years. Additionally, you might feel like baby is having a regression around 5 to 6 months of age because they are starving and not quite eating enough solids to keep them full.
This will interrupt sleeping.
Why does baby sleep during breastfeeding?
Nursing brings both comfort and sustenance to baby. It’s natural that after feeding for a bit, baby will have enough to be lulled to sleep, then start to catnap at the breast.
This can cause a lot of issues with sleep because baby is snacking. Here’s a full post on full feeds.
“What helps baby sleep when teething?”
I have an entire post on teething and how it affects sleep. It is hard, but the trick is comforting baby and then helping baby be as comfortable as she can so she’ll continue to sleep as much as possible.
“Do I have to put baby to sleep on their back?”
In short, yes. Experts say that putting baby to sleep on their back helps prevent SIDS. That said, once baby is able to roll over, they may try to roll on their tummy.
This is when you would swaddle wean. And, unless you plan on going in and repeatedly flipping baby over, then you’ll have to leave that up to your discretion.
“Where does baby sleep in a hotel?”
So, if we were driving to our destination we’d put baby in a pack n play that we brought with us.
Or, if we were flying, we’d request a crib from the hotel. They usually have them! See more tips in my ebook Can The Kids Come Too?
I have also, because I am paranoid about sleeping with baby in my bed, made a nice soft pallet on the floor near our bed where I laid the babies on their backs.
“Why won’t baby sleep unless he’s being held?”
This is a classic sleep prop. Why? Babies love their mamas!
If baby is used to sleeping in your arms, that’s where she’ll want to sleep. They key is to wean from these sleep habits into others that allow baby to go to sleep peacefully on their own.
I have an ecourse that’ll help.
“Will baby sleep better with solids?”
In a word, yes.
At the 5 month mark or so, start gearing up for solids and by 6 or 7 months of age, baby should be sleeping a lot better. If, that is, hunger was the baby sleep culprit.
I am very glad that I found these posts. I feel that Rachel writes clear messages, to the point, easy to read, brief and from lots of real experience (her 5 kids under 6). I started reading her when my baby was 3 months-old and I started implementing her sleeping strategies one month later. It worked so so well from day #1…now my baby is 12 months-old! And she keeps sleeping (naps and bedtime) so so well. I am one of those mums who NEED routine so these posts worked for me so well. I am also a stay home mum which I believe it helps a lot with keeping a successful routine. I am 6 months pregnant with baby #2 and so, again, these posts are a blessing to avoid/minimize chaos with children at home.
Thank you Rachel. You just ROCK.
Rachel Norman says
Lorena, thanks so much for taking the time to comment!
Morgan Mendoza says
Make sure your baby is dressed in comfortable organic cotton clothes for them to sleep better!