For many people, not getting enough sleep can be the most challenging part of being a parent. The advice in this section will help you to consider some ideas that suit your baby and your family.
All babies are different, so while your friend’s baby may sleep through the night every night from a young age, don’t beat yourself up if it takes longer for your baby to do this consistently.
Newborn babies sleep a lot – up to 16 hours per day.
As well as being hungry, there are lots of other reasons why your baby may wake up. They might be too hot or too cold, be feeling a bit unwell, be teething or need a nappy change. This is why it’s almost impossible to establish clear sleep patterns in the early days.
What you can do though, is create the right environment at night time. 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 those situations, try skin-to-skin contact or gentle rocking. If you’re breastfeeding, you could try offering 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. If your baby is crying for long periods, they may need a medical check to make sure there’s nothing wrong.
Young babies often enter periods of light sleep every two hours, when they may/may not need feeding. This is normal behaviour, and as they grow and develop they may be able to sleep soundly for longer periods. However, keep in mind that all babies are different.
Putting your baby to sleep
For safe sleeping, put your baby down on their back to sleep, never on their front or side, and keep them in the same room as you to sleep for the first six months. Babies should sleep in their own cot or moses basket on a firm, flat mattress.
If you’re breastfeeding, make sure you’re comfortable. Your public health nurse (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 and you have boiled water ready in a full flask. This will ensure that the water is hot enough to kill any bacteria in the formula.
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 routinezzzzzz for older babies
All babies have different sleep habits and although it’s true that some babies start to settle for longer periods between 6-12 months, it’s completely normal for some babies to wake at night until they are a toddler.
Your baby needs to learn 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!
As your baby grows, be flexible and adapt your routines to suit their changing needs. Remember that consistency and repetition will always be helpful.
If, at any stage, you or your baby is struggling through a lack of sleep, remember to talk to your public health nurse (health visitor) who will be able to offer your some more strategies to try.
- NHS Choices
- The Infant Sleep Information Service (ISIS)
- The Lullaby Trust
- Caring for your baby at night – leaflet from Unicef
- Leaflet: Safer sleep for babies
Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust runs a confidential secure text messaging service for parents of children aged 0-19 years called Chat Health. The service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm, excluding bank holidays. All texts will be responded to by a public health nurse (health visitor/school nurse) within 24 hours. Outside of the service working hours, you’ll receive a message back to inform you that your text will be responded to once the line reopens.
Should you require urgent health advice in the meantime, please contact your GP, visit an NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. For emergencies, dial 999 or visit A&E.
Leicester City: text 07520 615381
Leicestershire & Rutland: text 07520 615382