Sleep Hierarchy for Babies 3-6 Months

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Sleep goals to focus on while your baby is 3-6 months old. Learn what you should focus on to get your baby to be a great sleeper.

3-6 month old sleeping baby

When I wrote the post on my newborn sleep hierarchy, I had a reader request that I share my thoughts on sleep goals for older babies.

3-6 months is a tricky phase. I would call it an “in-between” phase for your baby’s sleep.

During the 3-6 month phase is when you should start getting more consistent in your days. I have read somewhere that by 3 or 4 months old, you should have your baby sleeping where you want her at a year old.

So during this time period, we are talking habit forming time.

But you also have to be careful to not lump all babies in the same category, especially considering the difference between a 3.5 month old and a 5.5 month old.

The difference is huge.

There is also a huge difference between a 3 month old who has learned to sleep on her own and a 3 month old who has been held pretty much her whole life. The same rules can’t apply to the two.

Sleep Goals for a 3-6 Month Old Baby

Let’s try to break these goals down a little bit with some goals varying depending on the individual baby.

Please take these as suggestions and try to see the reasoning behind them–don’t take them as pure law. If it makes sense for your baby, run with it! If it doesn’t, adapt the goals to meet your baby where she is currently.

Sleep Goals for a Baby Who Sleeps Well

My three girls were all in the category of a baby who slept well at 3 months old.

By “sleeps well” I mean that baby sleeps in her own bed (at least most of the time) rather than a swing or somewhere similar.

I also mean baby is able to fall asleep on her own.

For babies who fall in this category, your number one goal is to keep it up.

Continue respecting nap time. Continue putting her in bed awake. Continue having her naps in a bed.

Remember that growth spurts are still rampant in this age range, so continue to watch for growth spurts. Feed baby when hungry. You won’t ruin anything by doing so.

>>>Read: Baby Growth Spurts: Everything You Need To Know

Hang in there and keep intact what you have worked to build.

You can start to go stir crazy at this time. You start to feel more normal and want to get out of the house more. This can lead you to disrupt the flow you have going. Be cautious of that.

Around 4 months old, baby should go to 3 naps a day. So hang in there. You will soon be able to get out for the evening hours without worrying about a nap.

I don’t want you to feel like you can never go out! You can go out (read my tips here). You can disrupt baby’s schedule at times. Just monitor how your baby responds and make sure you don’t disrupt too often.

Things do continually get easier and better. Look how far you have come and work to maintain that progress.

  1. Put baby to bed awake
  2. Put baby to bed in her own bed
  3. Continue forward as you have been doing

Sleep Goals for a Baby Who Sleeps Pretty Well

I would put 3 month old Brayden in the “sleeps pretty well” category.

We started the whole Babywise process at 9 weeks, so he hadn’t been doing it very long.

At three months, he still cried or fussed some before naps, but only a few minutes. He took only a 45 minute nap most of the time.

When I say pretty well, I don’t mean baby usually sleeps well except for this week during her growth spurt. If the norm is well, then she is in the “well” category.

Pretty well means baby’s normal is not ideal.

If your baby sleeps pretty well, then during this period I would work toward moving into the well category. Make that your focus.

This will require consistency on your part. If she sleeps pretty well, then you most likely have been working on it already. Just continue to work on it.

If she sleeps pretty well and you haven’t worked on sleep, then I have good news. She is a naturally good sleeper.

That means that with a little effort, you can ease into the “sleeps well” category.

If you have worked on it, there is still good news. With more time and more consistency, your baby will get there.

For babies who sleep pretty well:

  1. Make an effort to be home when it is nap time most of the time. It would even be a great benefit to be home 98% of the time for a couple of weeks to really get things down.
  2. Put baby in bed awake
  3. Put baby in her own bed
  4. Make sure you are timing naps correctly so that she reaches optimal waketime. This will make falling and staying asleep easier for her
  5. Continue your efforts

>>>Read: Tricks for Getting Baby on a Consistent Schedule

Sleep Goals for a Baby Who Doesn’t Sleep Well

I would say a baby who doesn’t sleep well at this age doesn’t fall asleep for naps. She fights naps or is never really given the opportunity for naps.

She might sleep well when provided a prop (like a swing or the carseat), but cannot nap in her bed. She cannot fall asleep on her own.

For whatever reason, you probably haven’t put a lot of effort into creating good sleep habits. Reasons could range from not wanting to, being busy and on the go, or having a medical reason for props (like reflux).

If medical reasons still apply, do what you can and what you think is best. Many babies start to outgrow reflux problems in this age range so at the least they are able to start to tolerate things like sleeping in a bed rather than in a swing. Not all babies, but many.

If your baby does not sleep well, the 3-6 month range is a great time to get more serious. Believe me when I say that teaching your baby to sleep on her own will be easier now than 6 months from now. It is easiest now before a baby can sit up, stand up, and/or call out “Mama!”

Focus on these things:

  1. Identify and work to remove sleep props that are interfering with establishing good sleep habits
  2. Make an effort to be home when it is nap time most of the time. It would even be a great benefit to be home 98% of the time for a couple of weeks to really get things down. You might have to extend this to four weeks since baby is just beginning the journey
  3. Put baby in bed awake. You want your baby to learn to fall asleep independently.
  4. Put baby in her own bed
  5. Make sure you are timing naps correctly so that she reaches optimal waketime. This will make falling and staying asleep easier for her
sleep goals for 3-6 month old

Sleep Goals for all Babies 3-6 Month Old

No matter your baby’s ability, there are goals you want to move toward during this time period.

You want baby to be able to fall sleep on her own in her own bed when it is time to sleep. This is your main goal to work toward.

This might mean that sometimes, baby doesn’t nap well. While with a newborn, I would say to get her to sleep any way necessary if she won’t sleep in her bed, during this older phase, it is time for her to start to learn to sleep on her own if she hasn’t already. There are several ways to attain this goal and several sources to turn to.

>>>Read: Best Baby Sleep Training Books to Get Baby Sleeping

Your secondary goal is that baby will sleep for the correct length of time for her naps. This means nap one is 1.5-2.5 hours (most will be 1.5-2). Nap two is the also 1.5-2.5 hours long. Nap three might be the same, or it might be 30-60 minutes.

If there is a nap four (typically baby drops the fourth nap right at four months old), it is usually 30-60 minutes long.

The best way to work toward your secondary goal is to time waketime correctly. For a 3 and 4 month old, I do not advocate letting a baby cry it out mid-nap–especially if she is just learning to sleep on her own.

Some parents find success with CIO mid-nap with a 5 month old, but most success comes after 6 months old.

Always go with your gut, but don’t feel like you need to CIO mid-nap with this age group.

If baby wakes early, I would give about 10-15 minutes to see if she is going through a rough sleep transition. That happens.

If she isn’t resettled by then, I would try soothing her back to sleep somehow.

Some might just need a hug for a few minutes. Some might need the swing. Some might need a pacifier. Some might need a re-swaddle. Some might need to be rocked.

Most babies work this out by the time they are 5 months old without CIO, but some do require some sleep training to be able to sleep through the naps.

And of course, always be mindful of growth spurts. If it is a growth spurt, naps will be shorter and baby will eat more often. This is very normal. Always feed a hungry baby.

Conclusion

Hopefully I  have been able to convey my sleep hierarchy for the 3-6 month old. Sleep is still so vital.

You are so close to being able to get out and have disruptions without impacting baby for days and weeks.

Hang in there for a few more months. Work at this. Establish these sleep habits now. I promise it will not be something you regret when your child is two or any age after that.

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This post originally appeared on this blog October 2010

3-6 month baby sleep hierarchy

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