Getting your baby to sleep the right amount and at the right times can be a sanity-saver as a new parent. But figuring out just what that means can be a puzzle in itself. Luckily there are some patterns that many parents and pediatricians alike swear by.
While newborns tend to snooze much of the day, when they're around three or four months old, many babies start to consolidate their sleep into two to three naps a day, starting with an hour or two in the morning. More important than the precise time that this nap happens is the spacing. Babies can keep their eyes open for only a limited period of time—about two hours— before they start getting cranky and need to recharge. That means that if your baby wakes up at 7:00am for the day, she’ll likely be ready for her morning nap around 9:00am.
But remember, while a sleep schedule can be helpful in providing some predictability in the often-tumultuous life with baby, flexibility is key. Trying to put a wide-awake baby down for a nap can be an exercise in frustration, just as keeping a baby awake after he’s hit his limit can make it even harder for him to sleep when the time comes. That’s why it’s important to learn to read your baby’s own cues.
Eye rubbing is one of the universal signs of sleepiness, as is fussiness (assuming that there isn’t another reason that your baby is upset or uncomfortable). Pay attention to your baby’s patterns, and consider jotting down what time you see the signals so you can start to anticipate them—and get her fed, changed, and nap-ready before she becomes overtired.
And just when you get it down, don’t be surprised if the schedule evolves. Most babies take about three naps a day (one in the morning and two in the afternoon) up until they are nine months old. Then they usually go down to two, and then they drop the morning nap altogether by about 18 months. Naturally, as the number of naps shrinks, your baby will be able to stay awake longer between snoozes and you can shift the schedule accordingly.