Baby Sleep Advice

New babies sleep more than they are awake, but some babies sleep much more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. Your baby will have their own pattern of waking and sleeping, and it’s unlikely to be the same as other babies you know.

Night waking in the early weeks and months is normal newborn behaviour. Most babies are unable to sleep through the night — particularly those younger than 12 weeks. Young babies have small stomachs so they need to feed often.  Many babies will wake every 2 or 3 hours for a feed. However, as babies grow they tend to sleep for longer periods at night.

At first, babies don’t know that night-time is for sleep and day-time is for being awake.  You can help them to learn by giving them plenty of daylight and games during the day, but at night, keep lights low, keep your voice quiet and put your baby straight back down after you’ve fed him/her – don’t play or change him/her unless you need to.  Trying to keep baby awake during the day so that they are tired at night usually doesn’t work and can be stressful for you both. 

By 3 months, your baby should be sleeping for longer through the night and will probably be having a couple of day time naps.  All babies are different but by 12 months they should need around a 12-15 hours sleep over a 24hour period. 

Where should my baby sleep?

For the first six months it’s recommended that your baby should be in the same room as you when they're asleep, both day and night. Try to make sure the room is not too hot or too cold, between 16 – 20 C is fine.  You shouldn’t need to heat the house all night and baby’s shouldn’t sleep in a hat.  You can add or take away blankets depending on the weather. 

You can start getting your baby used to going to sleep without you comforting them by putting them down before they fall asleep or when they’ve just finished a feed.

It may be easier to do this once your baby starts to stay alert more frequently or for longer.
Once your baby moves into a cot, they should sleep with their feet at the foot of the cot so they can’t shuffle down under the blankets.  You don’t need cot bumpers as baby can get tangled up in them, and baby’s shouldn’t sleep in a hat as they can get too hot. 

Is it important to have a routine from the beginning?

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 that you’ll get a long sleep before they wake up again.

Establishing a bedtime routine

You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is around three months old. Getting them into a simple, soothing bedtime routine can be helpful for everyone and can help prevent sleeping problems later on. It's also great one-to-one with your baby. The routine could consist of:
  • having a bath
  • changing into night clothes and a fresh nappy
  • brushing their teeth (if they have any!)
  • putting 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 that you can turn on when you've put your baby to bed

Leave the room while your baby is still awake, happy and relaxed and they will learn how to fall asleep on their own in their cot. Try to avoid getting them to sleep by rocking or cuddling them in your arms. If they get used to falling asleep in your arms, they may need nursing back to sleep if they wake up again.

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. 

Coping with disturbed nights

Resist the urge to rush in if your baby murmurs in the night. Leave them for a few minutes and see if they settle on their own.

Having said that, newborn babies invariably 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 that you can go back to sleep.

Sleep problems

All new babies change their 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 growns 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 GP, midwife or health visitor.

Reducing the risk of cot death (sudden infant death syndrome)

It's not known why some babies die suddenly and for no apparent reason from what's known as cot death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Experts do know that placing a baby to sleep on their back reduces the risk and that exposing a baby to cigarette smoke or overheating a baby increases the risk.

Cot death is rare, so don’t let worrying about it stop you enjoying your baby’s first few months. Follow the advice below to reduce the risks as much as possible.

To reduce the risk of cot death:
  • Place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot in the room with you.
  • Don't smoke during pregnancy or let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.
  • Don't share a bed with your baby if you've been drinking alcohol, if you take drugs or if you're a smoker.
  • Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair.
  • Don't let your baby get too hot.
  • Keep your baby’s head uncovered. Their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders.
  • Place your baby in the 'feet to foot' position (with their feet at the end of the cot or pram).
  • The safest place for your baby to sleep is on their back in a cot in a room with you for the first six months.
  • Place your baby on their back to sleep
Place your baby on their back to sleep from the very beginning, for both day and night sleeps. This will reduce the risk of cot death. It's not as safe for babies to sleep on their sides as on their backs. Healthy babies placed on their backs are not more likely to choke.

When the baby is old enough to roll over, don't prevent them from doing so.

Feeding and dummies

Breastfeeding your baby reduces the risk of cot death.

It's possible that using a dummy at the start of any sleep period reduces the risk of cot death.

However, the evidence is not strong and not all experts agree that dummies should be promoted.

Don't give your baby a dummy until breastfeeding is well established, usually when they're around one month old. Stop giving them the dummy when they're between 6 and 12 months old.


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