For the first 8 weeks of your baby's life you really just need to be following their lead. This means when they're hungry, feed them. When they just want to be held, do so. And when they're tired, let them sleep. Trying to set up a schedule for a newborn is not practical. But your baby starts to turn a corner around 2 months, and by close to 3 months your baby is starting to fall into a much more regular pattern of eating, wake time, and sleeping. About this time is when you might start considering setting up a schedule for your little one.
Most three-month-olds are ready to follow a sleep schedule since they're able to stay awake and alert for longer periods of time without tiring so quickly. But it's also important to remember that as much as routine can help both you and your baby, being rigid with it is only going to backfire and stress you out.
Here we give you guidelines of a good schedule and routine for a 3-month-old to set them up for success, but be sure to implement it in a way that works best for your family.
What Sleep Looks Like for a 3-Month Old
Before getting into a schedule that works well for your 3-month old, it's important to know the following:
- how much sleep your 3-month-old needs
- when they should be napping and how long those naps should be
- the type of sleep your baby is experiencing when they're snoozing
So here's the nitty-gritty.
3-Month Old Sleep Needs
Babies this age need between 14 - 16 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period.
Naps will become more evenly spaced throughout the day and you can start expecting your baby to sleep longer stretches at night. Do not expect your little one to start sleeping through the night without feeding at this age. You may hear experts say that they can, but it's also important to remember that some consider "sleeping through the night" to be only 6-7 hours per night, as noted here. Even then, MOST babies will still need to be fed 2-3 times per night at this age. We go into what you can expect through the months in our article, "When do babies sleep through the night without feeding?"
What about 3-month old naps?
One advantage of your baby growing and maturing is their ability to take more solidified naps. Instead of 20 minutes here, 45 minutes there (perhaps in your arms), at this age they'll start taking longer naps. I can't tell you how nice it is when you're finally able to lay your baby down in their crib and know that you finally have over an hour of peace and quiet. We know you love your baby with every ounce of your being, but we also know you're tired and need a break. No need to feel guilty about the break, though, babies thrive when they get the sleep they need.
At this age, your baby will take 3 longer naps per day (1.5 - 2 hours each) with a possible 4th catnap (30 - 45 minutes) in the early evening. The average total nap time should be about 5 - 6 hours (this will also depend on how much they're getting at night).
How a 3-Month-Old's Sleep Looks
You might be thinking, "Isn't a baby's sleep just like mine?" At this age, the answer is actually no! Though it may be changing very soon.
Young infants only alternate between two stages of sleep (Non-REM and REM). This is different from older babies, children, and adults who instead go through 5 stages of sleep. Additionally, babies this young experience shorter sleep cycles which will continue to lengthen as they get older. This is actually the last month of your baby's life that they will experience this kind of sleep; around 4 months is when the transition to sleep more similar to an adult's begins. This is actually the cause of the 4-Month Sleep Regression. As intimidating as that may sound, setting up your 3-month-old with a sleep schedule and instilling a routine is the best thing you can do now to make getting through the 4-Month Sleep Regression as smooth as possible.
Now that you have a good understanding of your 3-month-old's sleep patterns and needs, it's time to find out how to go about getting a sleep schedule in place.
A Typical Schedule for a 3-Month-Old
By this point, you're probably wanting to know how to go about setting up your baby's day. We're going to provide a schedule that works well for many babies at this age, but remember that tweaking it to work for your family will work best. Your baby will get a sense of the schedule you set pretty quickly so plan out what will work best ahead of time and your little one will come around.
Though it's great to have a schedule like this as a guideline, don't get so rigid that it's always set in stone. For example, babies this age often become overstimulated after being awake for 1.5-2 hours. So, if they wake early from one nap they may end up going down early for the next one. It's best to keep the schedule a bit fluid in order to best meet your baby's needs.
What about a catnap?
We mentioned that some babies will require a catnap. This is a short nap that young babies may take before dinnertime (or perhaps when the rest of the family is eating dinner). You've likely heard of the "witching hour" when babies can get extra crabby...sometimes they just need a mini-snooze to get them through the day. If your baby is fussy at this time of day we'd recommend a catnap, but some babies won't require it. It's also common for babies to need them on some days and not on others.
What's the dream feed?
Our schedule includes a dream feed because it can be helpful to get YOU as the parent a longer stretch of sleep at night. It's really more for you, your health, and your sleep needs. During the dream feed, you'll feed your baby one last time before you go to bed, and we go in-depth about how to do that here. Ultimately, your baby will get the nutrition they need, whether it's at this time or when they wake you in the night, so the dream feed can really help you sleep longer before getting woken up.
Now that you've laid out how your 3-month-old's schedule will look, we want to talk about how important it is to set up a routine each time you lay them down to sleep.
Implementing a Solid Sleep Routine
Chances are that you already have certain steps you follow before you put your little one to bed. On the other hand, you also may have a baby who just falls asleep in your arms whenever it's convenient, not really even knowing what time of day it is.
Either way, it's time to set a solid sleep routine that signals to your baby that it's time to go down for the night. You'll also implement a shortened version of this for naps.
- Give a calming bath 45 minutes – 1 hour before bedtime
- Infant massage - Read our article about baby massage to learn more about the benefits of infant massage as well as how to massage your baby to help them relax
- Swaddle with the Dreamland Weighted Swaddle. Most 3-month-olds are not yet rolling over, so you'll want to continue using a swaddle until they show signs of rolling. If they are, you can use a Dreamland Weighted Sack instead. The weight of both of these act like a gentle hug for your baby which helps them sleep better and longer (moreso than a typical swaddle or wearable blanket).
- Use blackout curtains (this is key for naps to keep out daylight)
- Create a soothing environment by dimming the lights and turning on white noise or quiet lullabies. You can choose to keep this on while your baby sleeps or not, but we recommend keeping it on if your house or the outdoors may be noisy.
- Nurse or Feed until drowsiness (but asleep)
- Rock your baby, snuggle then and sing your favorite lullaby
- Lay baby down on her back – still awake, but clearly drowsy
All of these steps calm and relax your baby. They are signals to your baby that it's time to sleep while also winding down from the day. Sticking to a bedtime routine like this really sets your baby up for success in being an independent sleeper.
How a Schedule and Routine Helps Your 3-Month-Old Sleep More
So you have a schedule set and a routine you follow before naps and bedtime to get your baby ready to doze off to dreamland. And at this age it is completely normal for them to wake out of hunger, 1-3 times per night.
But babies may also wake beyond times of hunger or wake up early from a nap. The Sleep Foundation states, " because a baby’s sleep cycle is so short, he or she is prone to fully or partially waking up during the transition from deep sleep to light sleep." Luckily, babies have the ability to self-soothe and put themselves back to sleep as long as their parents have taught them how to be independent sleepers.
This is where having a schedule and routine for your baby can be so important. A schedule means your baby's body is ready for sleep around the same times everyday, and a routine gives them the ability to fall asleep drowsy but completely on their own. Babies need a lot of sleep for proper development, so you are doing a wonderful thing for your little one by giving them the tools they need to get the best sleep possible. In turn, you get more shut-eye, too.