The idea of babies and schedules is actually pretty funny: They haven’t read the books, articles or blogs, they have no idea what time it is, and the only sure thing about parenting is that, as soon as you get used to something, it’s going to change. Though it’s true that a specific timetable is not going to work at all, it can help many parents, especially in those blurry, exhausted days, to have some idea of when their babies need sleep and food. After all, a baby who is too tired or too hungry to settle is not a happy kiddo. We talked to some experts to find out the most typical windows for waking, sleeping and feeding.
During the first month, your newborn sleeps a lot and is usually only awake for about 45 minutes at a stretch. They often confuse day and night and take plenty of catnaps. And, of course, they eat frequently, with all the wet and dirty diapers to prove it (yes, you’ll be counting those diapers in the first little while to help make sure that they’re getting enough milk).
By the second month, your baby is more alert but still needs lots of time to sleep and eat. As you enter the third month, you may feel like things are a little more predictable because you and your baby have had lots of time to get used to each other. Still, they are bound to change things up. “Newborns are kind of wonky,” says Alexis Dubief, a child sleep consultant in northern Vermont. “You can have a 10-week-old who is mysteriously awake for four hours in the afternoon for no reason.”
Once you’ve made it through the “fourth trimester” and your baby is four to five months old, you’ll probably see more consistent naptimes (usually three a day) and longer stretches of sleep at night. Some may even sleep through the night, but many, especially four- and five-month-olds, still need to eat once or twice overnight.
When your baby is six to nine months old, naps will continue to be a bit more predictable, but your kiddo may also go from three naps to two at the end of this range. This often means moving to an earlier bedtime so that they can get longer chunks of sleep overnight. Mealtimes continue to be exciting and messy, with new solid foods and textures, but nursing or formula feeding is still the main source of nutrition.
Between nine and 12 months, your baby is probably having two solid and fairly predictable naps, with nighttime sleep of up to 12 hours. But that sleep can be interrupted by their fascination with their cool new abilities, such as crawling, cruising and talking. “What parents call ‘sleep regressions’ are mostly connected to developmental milestones,” says Erin Neri, a certified paediatric sleep consultant in Sherwood Park, Alta. “It’s like they wake up and want to practise at night. There’s just so much going on in their brain that it disrupts their night sleep and naps.” As far as food goes, your baby needs to eat about five to seven times a day and enjoys mashed or finely chopped solid foods, along with breastmilk and formula.
At 12 to 18 months, your baby is officially a toddler—wow! You may be nursing on demand or switching over to cow’s milk, depending on the best fit for you and your baby. Kids at this age tend to eat less often than in their babyhood days because they’re not making those huge leaps forward in growth. With toddler independence comes sleep battles (sometimes known as the 18-month sleep regression) because they want to hang out with you, practise walking and talking or just generally test some limits. Somewhere in this age range, the morning nap gets dropped, so you’ll need to adjust their bedtime and naptime accordingly.