Babies and Sleep

See also: Babies Sleep Problems

One of the questions most often asked of new parents is whether they are getting any sleep, and this is also perhaps one of the biggest concerns of parents-to-be.

It is fair to say that it is inevitable that new babies will result in disruption to your sleep. But this does not have to go on more than a few months.

This page provides some guidance on babies and sleep, including how much sleep babies and toddlers need.

WARNING!


There are hundreds, if not thousands, of books on sleep and babies. The advice is contradictory, to say the least.

As with so many aspects of parenting, the best way is your way.

Whatever works for you and your baby is just fine, as long as it isn’t actively harmful or dangerous to either of you.


How Much Sleep Does a Baby Need?

It may sound obvious that babies need sleep. But it is very easy to underestimate how much sleep is necessary at different ages.

The UK NHS Choices website recommends the following amounts of sleep for babies and toddlers:

Age of Baby Daytime Night-time
1 week old 8 hours 8.5 hours
4 weeks old 6 to 7 hours 8 to 9 hours
3 months old 4 to 5 hours 10 to 11 hours
6 months old 3 hours 11 hours
9 months old 2.5 hours 11 hours
12 months old 2.5 hours 11 hours
2 years old 1.5 hours 11.5 hours
3 years old Up to 45 minutes 11.5 to 12 hours

In other words, tiny babies sleep almost as much during the day as they do at night. But they don’t need to sleep that long at night.

You won’t be putting a tiny baby to bed at 6pm and not seeing them again until 8am the following day.

Ideal Sleeping and Feeding Patterns in New Babies

The usual pattern with small babies, insofar as there is one, is that sleeping and feeding are closely linked.

Some books will suggest that you try to break this link, but most parents will tell you that being able to feed your baby to sleep is an essential tool in your armoury, at least to start with, and you can worry later about breaking the link.

A fairly standard sleep pattern, and probably the best one to aim for early on, is a feed at about 10pm, another at 2am and then sleeping through until 6am or so.

Over time, the 2am feed will probably gradually get later and later until, one day, your baby will drop the night feed altogether and sleep through until 6am or 7am.

Alternatively, they may just drop the night feed suddenly and sleep through. This can happen any time from about three months onwards.

Warning!


Tiny babies need at least one night feed. If your baby is not waking to feed at night during the first three months, you will probably need to wake them (and you) for a feed.


Daytime vs. Night-Time Sleep

There is a huge variety of conflicting advice about the difference between daytime and night-time sleeping.

Some authorities believe that you should make daytime sleeps as much like night-time as possible (so dark room and bedtime routine). Others point out, not unreasonably, that there will be times when you need your child to sleep in the car, or away from home, and that they need to able to do so.

The important thing is the result, not the method, especially early on.

Babies need sleep, or they will be miserable, and so will you.

For the first six months or so, therefore, it is worth doing what you need to do to get them to go to sleep. If this is taking them for a long walk in the pram, or out for a drive in the car, then that is what you need to do. If you need to rock them to sleep from time to time, then it may be worth doing that, even if you are aware that there will come a time when you can’t or won’t.

  • Don’t worry too much about a one-off situation. It won’t create bad habits.
  • But do keep in mind the possibility of creating bad habits in you or your baby by long-term practices.

It’s a good idea to think about the sleep habits that you want to create from an early stage, and start to put in place routines and tricks that will help you to achieve those.

For example, you can help your child to know it is sleep time by always playing the same music, closing the curtains, and saying something like ‘Sleep time now,’¬†as you settle them down. Even if you go out for a walk quite often to help them sleep, go through the sleep routine when you are at home.

There is more about this on our page on Sleeping Problems in Babies.

A Place for Sleep...


Advice on where babies should sleep is as contradictory as on sleep more generally. They should sleep with you. No, they should never sleep with you.

They should sleep only in their cot. No, they should sleep in car seats, prams, and cots. Or you might use a Moses basket.

They should sleep in the light. No, the dark. With noise. No, without any noise at all.

It’s your choice. Choose what works best for you and your family, and take any action necessary to make sure that choice is safe.

For example, if co-sleeping is your choice, then limit your alcohol consumption in the evenings because research shows that babies are only really in danger if parents are sleeping particularly heavily, a situation often related to alcohol consumption.


Sleeping Problems

If you find that you are struggling to establish sleeping routines and patterns that work, you may find it helpful to have a look at our page on Sleeping Problems in Babies.

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