Dr. Sarah Mitchell
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Understanding Baby Sleep: 1-3 Months: What you need to know: A Guide for Moms

Understanding Baby Sleep 1 to 3 Months 

According to the World Health Organization, newborns are medically described as babies 0 to 28 days old.  However, in popular culture the term “newborn”  is often used to describe babies 0 to 3 months of age. 

Your baby is changing dramatically in the first 1 to 3 months of life. By 5 months of age, most babies have doubled their birth weight.  During this first 1 to 3 months of age, feeding habits are becoming established.  Your baby’s food intake is changing dramatically as the size of her stomach is increasing and her caloric needs to fuel all this growth is rising.   She’s sleeping alot and the amount of 24 hour sleep is gradually decreasing by month. 
How Much Sleep Does Your Newborn Need? 

Your newborn baby, 1 to 3 months of age, needs roughly 16 to 20 hours of 24 hour sleep. 

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, newborns need 16 to 17 hours of overall sleep including daytime naps. 

In my experience of working with newborns, the range of amount of sleep they need tends to be:

  • <2 Months:  16 to 20 hours 
  • 3 Months:  15.5-18 hours
    This is total sleep including naps and night time interruptions.  There is a large amount of variation child to child. 

5 Things You Need to Know about Your Baby 1-3 Month Old’s Sleep 

  1.  Newborn’s Sleep Regulation Systems Are Weak 

There are two systems that help guide our sleep patterns.  The circadian rhythm related to light and melatonin and our homeostatic system related to cortisol release.     Melatonin is inhibited by light during the day and is released at night time and signals your brain it’s time to sleep.   Cortisol decreases at night, increases in the morning and starts our day and gets us up and moving. 

In babies 0-3 months, these systems are not yet strong and well developed.  They often rely on mothers signals to guide them.

Melatonin, the sleep signaling hormone, isn’t produced by an infant until about 3 months of age.  Until this time, a baby receives melatonin through it’s mothers breast milk.  So there is some thought that if you pump breast milk, you should include the time of day it was accumulated and deliver it at the same time of day.    There is evidence to show that breast fed babies have better sleep cycle regulation than formula fed babies due to this influence. 

  1.  Newborns Waken More Easily

An adult sleep cycle has many “deep sleep” cycles.  In deep sleep, adults can sleep through trains, barking dogs, loud snorers.  Newborns have fewer deep sleep cycles and more “lighter sleep cycles” which means they may waken more easily than adults. Barking dogs, construction, squeaky floors are not your friend.

In between sleep cycles there can be “arousals.”  For an adult, this looks like waking when you roll over and change positions or check the clock and go right back to sleep.  Babies cycle through sleep cycles more quickly than adults and so they may have more “arousals.”  However they are often in a semi conscious state but still may make noises.  Parents can often mistake these for being completely awake.  If you jump up to comfort your baby you might actually be waking them up more in these stages.  Can you wait 2-5 minutes and see if the noises pass and your baby settles back into sleep? 

  1.  Newborn Sleep Amounts Vary Widely

Iglowstein 2002 showed that newborn sleep amounts vary widely in quantity. This includes night time sleep amounts and nap lengths. I’ve worked with parents who can only get 40 minute naps during the day but their baby wakes up happy and content.  Their best friend seems to get 2 -3 hour naps.  Why the difference?  We’re not sure.  The most important thing is that your baby seems content on waking and that you’re in the overall 24 hour range of 16-20 hours at 2 months and 15-18 at 3 months. 

  1. Sleep Pressure Builds Even at This Age 

Part of the science of sleep is related to the build up of a protein in your blood called Adenosine.  It's part of the ATP molecule that your body uses up  for energy and metabolism.  Babies are growing exponentially.  They need to eat frequently to provide fuel for growth.  They breakdown ATP and use it for fuel. A byproduct of that is a build up adenosine which signals your brain that it’s time to sleep.  This is why newborns need so many naps.  They get tired with all that growing!  

What we have observed over time is that most newborns do best if they are back to sleep during the day after being awake between 45 minutes and 1.5 hours.  Surpassing that “awake time” makes it harder for your baby to fall asleep and then stay asleep.  Staying awake too long during the day can lead to more frequent night wakings and fussier babies. 

  1. This is not the Time for “Sleep Training” aka Sleep Teaching

The drive to sleep is biological.  It’s related to those circadian and homeostatic systems.  The way we sleep however… is a learned habit.  “Sleep training’ happens when you are trying to teach a new way of falling asleep to your little one.  

I prefer the term “sleep teaching” over “sleep training’ as that’s what we’re doing, teaching your little person the self soothing skills of relaxing into sleep. Unfortunately your little person has a personality and opinions by that age and they will protest change, leading to some tears.   This can occur at 4 months or later.  However, in the 1-3 month period you can work on preventing the need for dramatic changes after 4 months of age.  You can be working on healthy sleep habits now. Between 4 and 8 weeks their is a short window when new habits are being formed.  Putting your little one down calm but awake and working on feeding on wake up rather than put down are two simple things that you can do to help.

In my online class, Helping Newborns Sleep, we teach no tear approaches to:

  • Help you become a sleep detective
  • Figure out why your baby might be fighting sleep
  • Understand how much sleep your little one needs and when
  • Strategies to help make sleep happen  

You can learn more about the class here:  www.helpingbabiessleepschool.com

Your Sleep Goals of 1-3 Months of Age:

  1.  Keep Your Little One Well Rested

This helps minimize the fussies and those long stretches of being awake in the night.

      2. Using methods to help your little one sleep that you can maintain

Sleeping on you is lovely and adorable (although technically not approved for safe sleep by the AAP).  However, it is very hard to maintain sleep habits of a baby that will only sleep on someone.  You want your baby to be able to sleep in a crib or bassinet.

       3. Honing Your Parenting Sleep Skills

Learning to differentiate your babies cries and body movements can help you figure out why your baby is fighting sleep and help you address the root issue so you can move on and get sleep to happen.  You might be interested in reading my blog post about Acid Reflux and Baby Sleep.
      4. Setting up Healthy Sleep Habits

Since we know sleep is a learned behavior, let’s work on our long term goals for sleep which will be to be able to fall asleep from awake in the crib.  It might not work every time and you’ll need to step in and help, but why not start thinking it is possible?

You May Also Like to Read

10 Ways to Help Your Newborn Sleep

Self Soothing Skills and Why Your Child Needs Them

Acid Reflux & Baby Sleep: Help Your Baby With Reflux Sleep Better [Complete Guide]

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