I cannot tell you how many times I hear the words “s/he slept so well between 10 and 16 weeks, we were getting five, six, even seven hour stretches in the crib/bassinet/basket and s/he would settle back to sleep easily and quickly after a feed. Things started to go wrong at around four months, I don’t what we did wrong, s/he was such as good sleeper, but since then it’s all been downhill. I just don’t understand”.
We (‘we’ meaning society) seem to think that baby sleep is linear. By that I mean we seem to think that it gets better as babies grow older. Or at least we believe it is static, ie. it won’t get worse again. The thing is, it’s not linear (certainly not in an upwards trajectory) and it’s not static. It goes up and down (mostly down in the first year). This is entirely normal and very, very common (that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong if your baby’s sleep got better and better, you’re just in the lucky minority!).
This chart is far more representative of what happens sleep wise in the first 18 months. Yes it is depressing, but it’s realistic and once you know that something is totally normal, not your fault and most importantly *not permanent* it is so much easier to relax a little.
As it happens, 3 months is the peak of sleep in the first year, that means it’s as good as it gets. There is a very, very high likelihood that your baby will sleep the best they are going to sleep until their first birthday (and later) around the age of about 3 months. It’s really not uncommon for 3 months to be happy to be put down, to only wake once or twice in the night and to go to sleep easily after a quick feed/cuddle.
Then 4 and 5mths happen, they’re not fun months. You get lulled into a false sense of security at 3mths, then suddenly your baby is waking every hour, won’t be put down and is awake for an hour or more refusing to go back to sleep. This is normal development, it is temporary and you didn’t do anything wrong! You also don’t need to do anything to change it, keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t be scared of bad habits and especially don’t consider sleep training. It’s temporary!
You often get a blissful little blip of better sleep around 5-6mths, then just when you think “finally, it’s getting a bit better”, bam, thinks get worse again, usually not as bad as they were at 4mths, but still far worse than you’d hope.
7-8/9mths are often months that promise hope, with any luck you’ll be back somewhere to where you were around 3mths (but probably not as good), but then – oh my goodness – 8-10mths hits. This is the worst sleep gets in the whole of the first year. At this age 84% of babies are waking (and feeding) regularly at night. Who would have thought that your baby would sleep significantly worse at 10mths than they did at 3?!!
Thankfully from around 11mths things start to improve again, fairly steadily for the next 6mths or so (although not the golden heyday of 3mths!). You can still expect nightwaking and night feeds at this age though.
I didn’t draw the rest of the chart, as it’s a bit depressing, but when can you expect ‘good’ sleep fairly reliably? somewhere between 2-3yrs of age (there is a common dip at about 2.5yrs however). That’s a *lot* later than most people think and certainly a lot later than most professionals advise, but it’s the reality, it’s just such a shame that we’ve lost touch with reality when it comes to infant sleep! The secret to all of this is you – what you can do to stay calm, rested and able to cope with this normal sleep pattern. Having realistic expectations is a huge start.
For more on baby and child sleep – see my Gentle Sleep Book.