Understanding Baby Sleep

Some babies sleep much more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. Some sleep through the night at a young age while some don’t for a long time. Your baby will have his own pattern of waking and sleeping, and it’s unlikely to be the same as other babies you know. It’s also unlikely to fit in with your need for sleep.

Try to sleep when your baby sleeps. If you’re breastfeeding, in the early weeks your baby is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed. Carry on feeding until you think your baby has finished or until they’re fully asleep. This is a good opportunity to try to get a bit of rest yourself. If you’re not sleeping at the same time as your baby, don’t worry about keeping the house silent while they sleep. It’s good to get your baby used to sleeping through a certain amount of noise.

Night and Day

It’s a good idea to teach your baby that night-time is different from daytime from the start. During the day, open curtains, play games and don’t worry too much about everyday noises when they sleep.

At night, you might find it helpful to:

  • Keep the lights down low
  • Not talk much and keep your voice quiet
  • Put your baby down as soon as they’ve been fed and changed
  • Not change your baby unless they need it
  • Not play with your baby

Soon, your baby will learn that night-time is for sleeping.

Where to Sleep

For the first six months your baby should be in the same room as you when they’re asleep, both day and night. Particularly in the early weeks, you may find your baby only falls asleep in your arms, or when you’re standing by the moses basket. You can start getting your baby used to going to sleep without you comforting him by putting him down before he falls asleep or when he’s just finished a feed. It may be easier to do this once your baby starts to stay alert more frequently or for longer.

Routine

Newborn babies will sleep on and off throughout the day and night. It can be helpful to have a pattern, but you can always change the routine to suit your needs. For example, you could try waking your baby for a feed just before you go to bed in the hope you’ll get a long sleep before he wakes up again.

Establishing a baby bedtime routine

You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is around three months old. Getting him into a simple, soothing bedtime routine can be helpful for everyone and help prevent sleeping problems later on. It’s also a great opportunity to have one-to-one time with your baby.

The routine could consist of:

  • Having a bath
  • Changing into night clothes and a fresh nappy
  • Brushing teeth (if he has any!)
  • Putting him to bed
  • Reading a bedtime story
  • Dimming the lights in the room to create a calm atmosphere
  • Giving a goodnight kiss and cuddle
  • Singing a lullaby or having a wind-up musical mobile you can turn on when you’ve put him to bed

As your child gets older, it can be helpful to keep to a similar bedtime routine. Too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your child up again. Spend some time winding down and doing some calmer activities, like reading.

Avoid Bedtime Feasts

Leave a little time between your baby’s feed and bedtime. If you feed your baby to sleep, feeding and going to sleep will become linked in your baby’s mind. When he wakes in the night, he’ll want a feed to help him go back to sleep.

How much sleep is enough

Just as with adults, babies’ and children’s sleep patterns vary. From birth, some babies need more or less sleep than others. The ages below show the average amount of sleep babies and children need during a 24-hour period, including daytime naps.

Newborn Sleep

Most newborn babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be from 8 hours up to 16 to 18 hours. Babies will wake during the night because they need to be fed. Being too hot or too cold can also disturb their sleep.

Three to Six Months

As your baby grows, he’ll need fewer night feeds and will be able to sleep for longer. Some babies will sleep for eight hours or longer at night, but not all. By four months, he may be spending around twice as long sleeping at night than he does during the day.

Six to Twelve Months

For babies aged six months to a year, night feeds may no longer be necessary and some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours at night. Teething discomfort or hunger may wake some babies during the night.

Twelve Months to Two Years

Babies will sleep for around 12 to 15 hours in total after their first birthday.

Two-year-old Sleep

Most two-year-olds will sleep for 11 to 12 hours at night, with one or two naps in the daytime.

Three- to Four-Year-Olds

Most children aged three or four will need about 12 hours sleep, but this can range from 8 hours up to 14. Some young children will still need a nap during the day.

Disturbed Nights

Newborn babies wake up repeatedly in the night for the first few months, and disturbed nights can be very hard to cope with. If you have a partner, ask them to help. If you’re formula feeding, encourage your partner to share the feeds. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your partner to take over the early morning changing and dressing so you can go back to sleep. Once you’re into a good breastfeeding routine, your partner could occasionally give a bottle of expressed breast milk during the night. If you’re on your own, you could ask a friend or relative to stay for a few days so you can get some sleep.

Baby Sleep Problems

All babies change their sleep patterns. Just when you think you have it sorted and you’ve all had a good night’s sleep, the next night you might be up every two hours. Be prepared to change routines as your baby grows and enters different stages. And remember, growth spurts, teething and illnesses can all affect how your baby sleeps. If your baby is having problems sleeping or you need more advice about getting into a routine, speak to your health visitor.

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