Let your baby sleep when she wants to, or teach them a routine? You may start out with plans to do one or the other, but end up discovering that having your toddler sleep through the night is worth the inconvenience of waking them up if they doze off mid afternoon. Or perhaps your baby is fiercely resisting any routine you try to introduce. There's plenty of baby sleep help available from baby sleep consultants, your healthcare provider and from mums and dads online, but here are some the common answers:
How much sleep is normal?
Every baby varies, but typically a newborn needs seven or so hours during the day, and eight at night. At three months, he'll need five hours during the day and ten at night, while by twelve months your child will only need a two and a half hour nap in the afternoon, and eleven hours at night. After this, you can start weaning them off the afternoon nap altogether and expecting them to sleep through the night; most toddlers tend to stay awake quite late if you let them sleep during the afternoon, which isn't ideal if you need some time to yourself. Remember too that the earlier you put them to bed at night, the earlier they're likely to get up in the morning.
Of course, the "eleven hours at night" scenario is idealised, and not all babies will sleep through the night, especially in the early months when they still require regular breastfeeding. Your baby is unlikely to stay asleep for more than three hours at a time for the first six months. If you're feeding on demand, this might mean that your patterns are a little unpredictable for a while, but it is possible to introduce a routine fairly early on - in fact, this can help your child sleep better.
Even as adults, routine can help us sleep better. Some people refer to it as "sleep hygeine" - a bath before bedtime, putting on pyjamas, having a warm drink and doing something relaxing like reading a story with the lights down low (bright lights wake us up, which is why using the computer, smartphone, or watching TV before bed is likely to keep us awake) will all help to encourage regular sleep.
Doing this routine at the same time every night is even more effective. Even when your baby is very small and still sleeping a lot during the day, you might like to introduce a "proper bedtime" that marks the boundary between day and night. You can then just stick to this as you wean your child off daytime sleeping later on. Further differentiation between day and night - for example, lively, colourful, noisy activities restricted to the daytime, whilst keeping things peaceful, low key and fairly dark at night - will also encourage better sleeping patterns.
Keep the TV quiet once your child is in bed and try not to make too much noise yourselves - not only might this wake her up, but it can also make her feel interested in what's going on, and more likely to come and investigate. For this reason, it's also useful to keep your child's bed in the quietest corner of the house if at all possible.