Although you may feel like your baby's anything but average, it's still reassuring to know where your little one's behavioral and developmental progress falls compared to that of other babies. Sleep is an area in which the "normal" range is a wide one, so comparing your baby's sleep habits to the baby next door is not always wise. Use your knowledge of typical infant sleep needs to spot problems before they get worse and to reassure yourself that your infant is on track.
Birth to 3 Months
In the first few months of life, the average baby sets his own sleep hours. He'll drift off often and may wake up on his own when he needs to be changed or fed. During these early months, he won't be on a set sleep schedule but may doze for short periods of time, anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. Because every baby is unique, even experts can't predict exactly how long you can expect your infant to sleep in a 24-hour period. KidsHealth.org says that a newborn may sleep 16 or more hours per day, while the National Sleep Foundation estimates that he needs anywhere from 10 to 18 hours of sleep per day. On average, you may expect a baby to doze for at least 14 or so hours in any given 24-hour period.
After 3 Months
By the time the average baby is about 3 months old, he'll have established a fairly consistent sleep schedule -- with some help from his caregivers. He'll take somewhere between one and four naps a day, says the NSF, and sleep for anywhere from nine to 12 hours at night. A typical infant gradually need less sleep as he gets older, so while he may take four daily naps at 3 months old, he may only take two naps a day by his first birthday. At 3 months, your baby may still need one feeding during the night. He'll soon be able to sleep for seven or more hours without waking up to eat, though this is another area in which every baby is different. Between 70 and 80 percent of infants sleep through the night by the age of 9 months, says the NSF.
Encouraging Healthy Sleep Habits
When your baby gets his best sleep, you'll get yours, too. Take the worry out of bedtime by making sure his sleeping environment is safe; an infant's crib should hold a firm mattress with a tight-fitting sheet and nothing else. Dress him in a cozy sleeper if his room is cool and always put him to sleep on his back. Try putting him to bed when he's drowsy but not yet asleep, suggests MayoClinic.com, which teaches him to associate his bed with falling asleep. The average baby is a light sleeper and stirs frequently. Rushing to his side only makes him more alert and interrupts his rest, so when he's murmuring or whimpering, wait a few minutes to see if he settles back down.
Common Sleep Problems
Infant sleep problems are equal parts frustrating and common. Young infants often have their days and nights reversed, meaning they are most alert at night and drowsiest during the day. Help your baby associate darkness with sleep and light with play by encouraging him to be active during the day, suggests the American Academy of Pediatrics. Play with your baby, turn on music and engage him with new sights and sounds during daylight hours. In the dark, be quiet and soothe him with gentle rocking.
Consult Your Doctor
Unfortunately, not all infant sleep hiccups have quick-fix solutions. The average baby might sleep like a rock one night and spend the next night fussing for no apparent reason. Tiring him out during the day and maintaining a consistent bedtime routine may help him to doze off, but your doctor should always be your first call with concerns about your baby's sleep.