Kim West is dedicated to providing tired parents with excellent sleep advice and coaching. She is the author of “GOOD NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT: The Sleep Lady’s Gentle Guide to Helping Your Child Go to Sleep,” “Stay Asleep and Wake Up Happy, the Good Night, Sleep Tight Workbook,” and “52 Sleep Secrets for Babies.”
At 3 months, 3 weeks old, your little one may be in an in-between phase when it comes to sleeping — he or she is learning to be asleep for longer periods of time but could be regressing to an earlier newborn sleep pattern. Kim West, Bundoo Sleep Expert, explains why this could be happening, plus other milestones to look out for.
Bundoo: Sleep issues are one of the most common complaints for parents, and many are counting down the days until their baby sleeps through the night. At what age do many babies start sleeping through the night? And what does that mean exactly?
Kim West: I always smile when I get that question, because it’s very subjective. There really is no such thing as sleeping through the night for a newborn baby. Most babies are up and down around the clock, and things tend to get a little better as your baby gets older.
Most babies can sleep four to six hours in a single stretch by 6 months old … and many consider that “sleeping through the night.” A few can sleep a four to six hour stretch at 2-3 months, but it’s not the norm. Obviously, by our adult standards, that’s simply not the case.
For a baby who is healthy — which means no colic, no reflux, and no other medical conditions — it’s reasonable to begin sleep coaching between 6 and 8 months, which will help your baby learn how to self-soothe and will allow them to sleep through the night. Some babies between 18 weeks and 6 months are ready for gentle sleep coaching at night.
As babies get closer to sleeping through the night, what issues can arise for parents to deal with? Separation anxiety? Fear of the dark? Nightmares?
I like to call these periods “routine busters” because they usually throw most babies and parents for a loop. Perhaps the best-known “routine” buster is the dreaded 4-month sleep regression. While it’s not the only one your baby will likely experience, it does seem to have the largest impact on temperament and sleep.
Beyond the 4-month regression (which can last anywhere from four to six weeks!), parents may need to deal with Daylight Savings, holidays or late nights, vacations, illness, and separation anxiety.
Fear of the dark typically begins around two years of age.
Do you recommend that 4-month-old babies still sleep in their parents’ rooms? Is there an “ideal” sleeping arrangement at this age?
I honestly tell parents that they need to do what’s best for their baby and their family. For some, room sharing, which is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, works beautifully, since you can respond to your baby quickly, especially during the first six months. Others need to have their babies in a separate room.
Wherever your baby sleeps, please follow current safety recommendations: no loose blankets, bumpers, pillows, or stuffed animals. If you co-sleep, make sure you are doing it safely.
What can a parent do at this age to encourage healthy sleeping habits for their babies?
The biggest thing that a parent can do to start their baby off with healthy sleep habits is to use natural light. Get outside for a morning or early-afternoon walk, and soak up some sunshine. Block out light when your baby is napping or going to bed for the night.
Our babies aren’t born with a circadian rhythm, so at first, we have to be that for them. Another thing that new parents can use to their advantage is the implementation of a gentle and flexible routine into your baby’s day starting at around 6 weeks.
Keep routines simple, with no more than two or three items. You can even weave the routine into your day, incorporating tummy time, games, and meals, as well as sleep times.
Should babies still be sleeping on their backs at four months of age?
It’s best for your baby to be sleeping on his or her back for as long as possible. Once your baby is able to roll independently, it’s difficult to keep him or her on their back.
Babies master rolling at anywhere from 3 to 8 months, which is a huge span. Until your baby is rolling without assistance from back to front and front to back, do your best to ensure that your baby is on his or her back at sleep times. Making sure your baby has daily tummy time will help him or her learn to master this skill.
Additionally, once your baby starts rolling, it’s time to start thinking about weaning the swaddle. Better to wean it than find your swaddled baby face down and unable to flip back over.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, August 2019