Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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How to Implement a 3 Month Old Sleep Schedule for Your Baby

This flexible approach will help you meet her needs and use your other parenting detective skills to figure out what else could be causing her to be fussy between feeds and sleeps such as gas, boredom or being uncomfortable.
Around 3 months of age your baby’s behavior and sleep patterns are starting to change.  You may notice that your baby seems more alert to the world and may be showing preferences for sleeping positions, such as on you:)

This may be due to the beginning of the 4 month sleep regression. 

The 4 Month Sleep Regression can start anywhere from 3.5 to 4.5 months of age. 

At 3 months of age, many parents are getting a 6 to 8 hour stretch of sleep in the night.  They are then shocked when their baby starts waking up every 3-4 hours in the night.

The 2 Main Signs of the 4 Month Sleep Regression

  • Waking up every 3 hours at night when previously having longer stretches
  • Only taking 45 minute naps 

What’s Happening At 3 Months? 

Your child is waking up to the world around her.  She’s starting to learn “object permanence” around 4 months which is the concept that you still exist even though she can’t see you.  She tests this concept out by calling for you when she wakes in the night, which all humans do.

What’s Hard About 3 Months? 

The drive to sleep is biological, but the way we sleep is a learned habit.  That learning inadvertently happens around 4-8 weeks of age.  Personally I taught my son that a boob was a soother and he had to be nursed to sleep.  Every time he woke in the night, which all humans do, he wanted to nurse to fall back asleep. The challenge is when you hit the 3 month mark and kids start waking up more at night and what sleep looks like to your little one has already been established.  At this stage it can be hard to change the way your baby falls asleep without protest from your baby.  However, they are too young to work on self soothing as they often still lack sufficient arm control.  You’re in a bit of a holding pattern and basically buying time until closer to 4 months to make any significant changes in how your baby falls asleep.

What can you do to help your 3 month old sleep in longer stretches and with less help? 

1. Work on tummy time during the day 

The next stage of sleep after 4 months is about encouraging your baby to be an independent sleeper and less reliant on you to fall asleep.  When kids can roll they have more control in positioning their bodies and making themselves more comfortable.   This can help them self soothe.  Tummy time helps strengthen the core which is the building base of rolling.  On average you want to be starting at 5 minutes of tummy time every awake time and working up to 15 minutes.

2.Get her used to her arms

She’ll need her hands free out of the swaddle with pretty good control of them to be able to self soothe and ultimately be an independent sleeper.  Over the next few weeks can you get her used to not being swaddled.  The Merlin suit or Swaddle Sleeves can be a useful tool for this transition.  If you don’t want to invest in yet another baby product, you can start swaddling one arm out at night only.  After a few days do 1 arm out at naps.  Slowly make the transition to a sleep sack.

3. Offer comfort but in a different way

Your baby might have been giving you a 6-8 hour stretch of sleep with 1 or 2 feeds over 11-12 hours at night.  Now you may be defaulting to feeding her to sleep every 3 hours in the night now.  On those first couple of wake ups, can you offer comfort by rocking or reinserting a pacifier rather than feeding?  You don’t want to shift the calories from the daytime into the night.

4. Work on Your Daytime Schedule

There is no fixed schedule at this age as nap lengths can vary significantly one day to another.  However you can work on feeding on wake up, rather than put down.  The idea is that you want to be disassociating feeding and sleeping so she’s not reliant on sucking from a breast or bottle to fall asleep.  If this is how she falls asleep, when she surfaces from sleep in the night she’ll expect that same approach to fall back asleep.     

5. Watch the Clock

There are no fixed schedules at this age as they can set you up to fail because you can’t control how long a nap is going to be. Nap length will vary day to day. Most 3 month olds can comfortably stay awake a maximum of 1.5 hours between naps. Exceeding that time can make it harder for them to fall asleep and then stay asleep. Try and get your baby back to sleep after being awake for 1.5 hours and this includes the time before bedtime.

The Key To Getting Your 3 Month Old on a Schedule

Forget a set schedule where 9 am is naptime and work with a “flexible schedule.”  The idea that on every wake up you anticipate to have her back asleep in 1.5 hours.  And similarly with every full feeding, plan on having her feed again in 3 hours during the day.

Worried that your three month old isn't getting enough sleep or sleeping at the right times? Download my free sleep summary chart to see how much sleep your baby should be getting and when.

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