Not getting enough sleep can be one of the most challenging parts of being a parent. This section will offer advice that may help your baby and your family.
Remember all babies are different; some may sleep through the night in the first few months while others may take longer.
Newborn babies may sleep for 18 or so hours a day, but often only for short periods. In the early days, they have very small stomachs so will wake frequently for feeds. As your baby grows and develops, they will gradually go longer between feeds and start to sleep longer.
There are lots of reasons why your baby may wake up. These include being too hot or too cold, being hungry, teething, needing a nappy change or just wanting a cuddle. This is why it’s very difficult to establish clear sleep patterns in the early days and weeks.
Establishing sleep routines as your baby grows
There are some things you can try to help establish good sleep routines. Creating the right environment at night time might help. Keep the room fairly dark – you don’t usually need to switch on the lights just to feed or comfort your baby. Talk in a soft voice, so as not to stimulate your baby too much, and only change their nappy or clothing if you really need to.
There will be times when your baby won’t settle back to sleep. In these situations, ask for help from your partner, you could also try gentle rocking or if you’re breastfeeding, you could offer your breast again, even if your baby has just fed. If you’ve had an unsettled night, be kind to yourself and give yourself time to rest the next day.
It can take several months for a baby’s day-night pattern of wake and sleep to become established. Talk to your health visitor for further support and advice if you have concerns.
Putting your baby to sleep
For safer sleeping:
- Always put your baby down on their back to sleep, never on their front or side
- Keep your baby in the same room as you to sleep for the first six months (including daytime sleep)
- Your baby should be put to sleep in their own cot, crib or moses basket
- Make sure there are no loose items such as blankets or toys which might obstruct your baby’s breathing
Make sure the bedroom is not too warm; it should be between 16 – 20 degrees.
If you’re breastfeeding, make sure you’re comfortable. Your health visitor can show you feeding positions that help you to rest and minimise risk to your baby. Before you go to bed, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a drink to hand – breastfeeding is thirsty work
Being organised in advance is the key to smooth night time formula feeding too. Make sure bottles are sterilised, the powder is already measured out in a separate sterile container and you have boiled water ready in a full flask. The water used to make the feed needs to be above 70 degrees C. The flask does not need to be sterilised but should be clean and only used for your baby.
You could also use ready-to-feed milk at night. Remember, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when making up feeds. Don’t try to make your baby have more formula than they should in the hope that they’ll sleep for longer.
Sleep routines for older babies
All babies have different sleep habits. What’s considered ‘sleeping through the night’ is open to personal opinion. Research has shown that only 58% of three month old babies are sleeping uninterrupted at night for a five hour stretch, and by five months 58% are sleeping for an eight hour stretch. This means there is still a significant amount of babies not ‘sleeping through’ the night.
By 12 months, 27% of infants don’t sleep through the night, as defined by the hours of 10pm to 6am. Just remember, sleeping patterns vary between babies, so try not to compare.
However, it is okay for your baby to start to learn how to fall asleep independently of you. This will give them the confidence to soothe themselves back to sleep if they wake up, meaning you get a chance for some uninterrupted sleep yourself!
To help this process, start establishing a simple and consistent bedtime routine from around three months old. This can help your baby recognise the difference between day and night. Your routine might include bath time and massage, story time and lullabies with plenty of kisses and cuddles, as well as a breast or bottle feed.
Try to avoid over stimulating your baby before they go to sleep with things like noisy musical toys with bright lights or the TV. Work towards your baby falling asleep in their own cot or bed– imagine how disorientated you’d feel if you went to sleep in one place and woke up somewhere completely different.
If, at any stage, you or your baby is struggling through a lack of sleep, remember to talk to your health visitor who will be able to offer your some more strategies to try.
If your baby is crying constantly and you can’t console or distract them, or the cry doesn’t sound like their normal cry, it can be a sign that they’re ill. They could also be ill if they are crying and have other symptoms such as a temperature. If this is the case see your GP, or access out of hours services if outside of normal opening hours, by calling 111.
For more information about spotting signs of serious illness, visit the NHS website.