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 may sleep for 18 or so hours a day, but often for only 2-3 hours at a time. In the early days, they have very small stomachs so will need to wake frequently for feeds. As your baby grows and develops, they will gradually go longer between feeds and start to understand the difference between night and 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, need a nappy change or just want a cuddle. This is why it’s almost impossible to establish clear sleep patterns in the early days.
However, there are some things you can try, such as creating 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.
Although we all know that the first few months with a baby will involve disrupted nights, our expectations for how long this lasts, and our understanding of how normal infant sleep develops, can be unclear or unrealistic.
It’s important to remember that babies operate according to their internal biological rhythms. It can take several months for a baby’s day-night pattern of wake and sleep to become established.
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.
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 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. 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!
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 health visitor who will be able to offer your some more strategies to try.
- NHS Choices
- BASIS: Baby Sleep Info Source– providing information about normal infant sleep for parents based on latest research. You can also download the free Infant Sleep Info app for Apple and Android.
- The Lullaby Trust
- Unicef leaflet- Caring for your baby at night
- The Lullaby Trust leaflet- Safer sleep for babies