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Your heart may swell with love when you watch your baby sleeping. She looks so sweet and innocent. Your heart may race, though, when you can’t get her to stay asleep all night or at times when you really want her to.

You can ease your stress and better prepare to set your baby's sleep schedule by understanding which parts of her sleep routine are in your hands -- and which aren’t.

Understand Your Baby's Sleep Needs

During the first 2 months, your newborn's need to eat overrules her need to sleep. She may feed almost every 2 hours if you're breastfeeding, and possibly a little less often if you bottle-feed.

Your baby may sleep from 10 to 18 hours a day, sometimes for 3 to 4 hours at a time. But babies don’t know the difference between day and night. So they sleep with no regard for what time it is. That means your baby’s wide-awake time may be from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

By 3 to 6 months, many babies are able to sleep for a stretch of 6 hours. But just as you think your baby is getting into a nice routine -- usually between 6 and 9 months -- normal developmental stages can throw things off. For instance, when your baby begins to associate bedtime with being left alone, she may start crying just to keep you around.

Set a Bedtime Routine

A study of 405 mothers -- with infants between 7 months and 36 months old -- showed that babies who followed a nightly bedtime routine went to sleep easier, slept better, and cried out in the middle of the night less often.

Some parents start their baby's bedtime routine as early as 6 to 8 weeks old. Your baby's routine can be any combination of regular bedtime activities. The keys to success:

  • Play active games during the day and quiet games in the evening. This keeps your baby from getting too excited right before bedtime. 
  • Keep activities the same and in the same order, night after night.
  • Make every activity calm and peaceful, especially toward the end of the routine.
  • Save your baby's favorite activity for last, and do it in her bedroom. This will help her look forward to bedtime and associate her sleep space with things she likes to do.
  • Make nighttime conditions in your baby's bedroom consistent. If she wakes up in the middle of the night, the sounds and lights in the room should be the same as when she fell asleep.

Put Your Sleepy Baby to Bed

Starting when your baby is 6 to 12 weeks old, soothe her until she is drowsy. When she’s on the verge of sleep, put her down and let her drift off on her own. Don't wait until she’s fully asleep.

This routine will teach your baby to soothe herself to sleep, and you won't need to rock or cuddle her to sleep every time she wakes up during the night.