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What Are Realistic Expectations for Baby Sleep? EP 25

Are you crushing the nap schedule or is the nap schedule crushing you? Do you have the right bedtime? Does your child get the sleep they need? Many (and I do mean many) parents are getting hung up on concerns about how their child is sleeping when really the problem is the gap between reality and their expectation for what should be happening. If you don’t know what realistic expectations are, it’s hard to know how well sleep is (or isn’t) going. And answering the “what is realistic” question is harder than you think.

This podcast episode will cover why realistic expectations are so challenging, what science and experience suggests are grounded expectations for the first year, and parameters to know if you and your child are on the right track. Full details are available in the episode with summary show notes are below.

Where Do Sleep Expectations for Kids Come From?

The shorter list is, where don’t they come from. Ask 3 people what normal sleep looks like and you’ll get 3 different answers. Some books suggest that your newborn should be sleeping 12 hours by 12 weeks. Others would tell you that waking to eat 3X a night by their 3rd birthday is a non-issue. Poke around well-intentioned comments in online communities and you’ll find unicorn babies sleeping 16 hours a day along with more challenging babies waking 8X a night and the casual reader has no good cues to understand which is a realistic guidepost for their child.

Why Are Solid Guidepost So Challenging?

Accurate and consistent guidelines for babies and toddlers and sleep are challenging for three key reasons:

  1. Many expectations for baby sleep are based on old understandings/books on baby sleep. Our understanding of how sleep works and what normal looks like have evolved.
  2. The normal range of sleep for most ages is +/- 3 hours. This is huge!
  3. Certain developmental issues (the maturation of the circadian rhythm, consolidated naps) take time and some babies will achieve them sooner than others.

A few readers have shared feedback on the book,“I wish it had more schedules/charts” but these are the reasons why concrete schedules/charts are a challenge. There is a wide range of normal!

What About The Sleep Through the Night Guidepost

One of the biggest guideposts parents are interest in is, “When will my child sleep through the night?” And to be clear there are a million things that can work against your child sleeping through the night. The lack of independent sleep is clearly the biggie. But if you establish independent sleep and gradually night wean (as outlined in the book), it is realistic for most kids to be reliably sleeping through then night by 6-9 months. And by STTN I mean sleeping solidly until a ~5 am snoozebutton wakeup.

Normal Sleep by Age

0-3 months – total crapshoot

3 – 6 months

  • Less chaotic but naps still short/variable
  • Consistent bedtime
  • 0-2 feedings per night (sometimes 3)
  • Night typically 11 hours but can be as short as 9 or as long as 13

6-12 months

  • Naps more predictable
  • Consistent bedtime and morning wake time
  • Full night weaning (except for an early am snoozebutton) is possible here if you choose to do so
  • Move towards a more BTC approach happens organically during this time

And know that no matter what you do there will be bad days or even bad weeks. Short naps and mysterious night wakings will plague even the most diligent parent. It will feel very uncomfortable when this happens. You might have a mini freakout, “I have done all the right things, why is this happening!” Resist the urge. A few rough nights or short nap days may mean nothing. It may mean that babies are variable and these things happen. It’s uncomfortable and unenjoyable. Sometimes parenting is like that.

As always you can listen to the podcast episode here or subscribe on iTunes or your favorite podcast aggregator. If you have any suggestions/questions for the podcast feel free to email me at alexis@preciouslittlesleep.com. And warm reviews are always welcome!

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