Anyone who’s ever said “I slept like a baby” and meant they had a good night’s sleep obviously never saw a baby sleep. Now if they woke up from their latest nap at dinnertime, didn’t go to bed until midnight, woke up every two hours screaming for a meal, and finally at 8 a.m. settled down for a nice, long stretch of sleep, then and only then, would it be true that they slept like a baby. Here’s a look at what bedtime really looks like during baby’s first year.

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Photo: Andrew Bardwell via Flickr

Stage 1: Nocturnal Creature

If you spent the last few weeks of pregnancy constantly being woken up by little kicks and punches, then you may have a night owl on your hands. After nine months in the dark, a newborn’s internal clock isn’t fully developed. That means she’ll slumber all day long, but come night – forget about it! Just about when no amount of coffee is going to keep your eyes open, Baby’s there to do that for you. She busts out of her swaddle, screams until you turn on the lights and no matter how loud you crank up that white noise machine, it’s no substitute for your sweet voice. Don’t worry, you’ll be too tired to care about all the light and noise and fall asleep (possibly face-down on the floor) before she does.

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Photo: Oleg Sidorenko via Flickr

Stage 2: Midnight Snacker

At 2-3 months old, your newborn is hopefully settling down at reasonable hour, but you may not have quite found that sweet spot yet. All during the evening hours, you keep a close eye on her, watching for tell-tale signs of sleepiness but not waiting until she’s actually cranky. At the first eye rub, you whisk her off to the nursery, pop on a fresh diaper and pajamas, and get ready for a good, long feeding before bed. You get halfway through, and she’s sound asleep. No matter how much you sing to her, tickle her face and feet, or strip her down to his diaper, nothing is getting this kid to open her mouth. You settle her down and try to get some sleep, only to stare at the clock, cursing yourself for waiting too long to put her down and counting the minutes until she’s up again.

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Photo: Wade Armstrong via Flickr

Stage 3: Sleeping In

Four to six months in, and you think you’ve finally got a routine. Baby gets her bath in the evening, a good feeding before bed, and now she’s snuggled up and ready to settle down in the crib in her own room. Sure, she still gets up in the middle of the night to feed, but you’re getting used to it and at least there’s some predictability. Then one night you go to bed shortly after your little bundle does. You wake up to birds chirping and feeling more refreshed than you have in months. This is great! Then you check the clock and realize it has been eight hours, and you panic. You stare at the baby monitor, trying to see her chest moving up and down or a little twitch of the foot. After several agonizing minutes, you give up and creep into the nursery, just to check. The squeak of the door wakes her up. She starts crying as if to say, “What’s the deal, Mommy?” Then you do your best to settle her back down, but she’s up for the day now.

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Photo: freeflight046 via Flickr

Stage 4: Sleep Regression

From here on out, you start to think you’ve got this. The night feedings are almost a thing of the past. Bedtime has become a fun bonding experience at a reasonable hour. There’s quiet singing and he babbles himself to sleep, much to your amusement as you eavesdrop on the baby monitor. That’s when the milestones kick in. At 7 months he starts to crawl or pulls up to stand. His bed has become his play mat. He’s up late and at all hours of the night practicing. Then at 9 months, the teething starts. The simple act of laying down induces a screaming fit. You spend half the night driving around in the car because that’s the only place he sleeps now. A month later, separation anxiety rears its ugly head. You sit in his room, playing on your phone, until he falls asleep. When you try to sneak out, a rogue floorboard creaks, he wakes up, and you’re back at square one. Good luck.

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Photo: Upsilon Andromedae via Flickr

Stage 5: Oh, the Horror!

By the year mark, your infant is moving into toddler territory. She looks forward to playing in the bath, the calming lavender-scented bubbles setting her up for bedtime. Then there’s snuggling together with a book before bed. You even have a few hours to yourself before you hit the hay. Sleep regression occasionally occurs, but you’re learning to roll with the punches. Then one night a blood-curdling scream has you running to the nursery. Though not really awake herself, she’s loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood. It’s the dreaded night terrors! A late-night Internet search tells you the best way to deal with this sleep problem is to wake her up and try to head off the terrors tomorrow night.

The first year of bedtime is full of challenges and changes, but there’s nothing so sweet as when your baby is peacefully slumbering. You’ll be more sleep deprived than you’ve even been before and tested in ways you never imagined. One day, though, your little one will be off for her first sleepover, and then she’s someone else’s problem. That is, at least until you get a phone call in the middle of night to come pick her up!

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What did your bedtimes look like during baby’s first year? Share in a comment.

–Katie L. Carroll