Why Is Sleep Important?
Sleep is an essential part of your baby’s life. It is crucial for their brain development, helps them become re-energised, and supports their growth. Over-tired babies can be very difficult to relax and get to sleep.
How Much Sleep Does Your Baby Need?
All babies have their own unique, individual needs for sleep. Their age and stage of development, activity and temperament may impact on how much sleep they will need each day. However, below is a guide of what you may expect.
- During the first few weeks your baby will sleep most of the day and night. Newborns will usually sleep for around 16 hours in every 24, in blocks of up to 4 hours at a time. They are likely to wake 2 to 3 times during the night for a feed
- By 3 months, there is often more of a pattern to their day/night waking and feeding. They may have 2-3 daytime sleeps for around 2 hours each and will still wake for feeding every 4-6 hours
- From 6 months to 12 months your baby will have their longest sleep at night. Most babies sleep for a period of 6 hours or more during the night and wake less. Your baby is also likely to still have daytime naps lasting 1 to 2 hours each.
It is important to recognise the signs early when your baby is getting tried, this may help to prevent them from becoming overtired, distressed and can make it easier to calm them for sleep. Tired signs to look out for include:
- Rubbing eyes
- Jerky movements.
Safe Sleeping Guidelines
- Sleep your baby in their own safe cot or bassinet, in the same room as you
- Use a firm, safe, clean mattress that complies with Australian standards
- Keep pillows, doonas, bumpers and soft toys out of cots
- Don’t use a waterbed, bean bag, pillow or cushion for your baby to sleep on as these are unsafe
- The best position for them to sleep, is on their back not their tummy or side
- Make sure your baby’s head and face is uncovered
- Stop wrapping your baby for sleep once they can roll from their back to tummy as it can prevent them from returning to their back
- Don’t let your baby get too hot and make sure the room is not overheated
- Avoid exposing your baby to tobacco smoke, both before and after birth, keep your car and home smoke free. Babies who sleep in the same bed as their mothers have a higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) if they are smokers.
Babies have patterns when going to sleep, these are known as sleep associations. Some of these include:
- If breastfeeding, your baby may link feeding with going to sleep and might find it difficult to go to sleep without a feed before bed
- Patting, rocking or singing your baby at bed time can help them go to sleep
- Your baby also may find a dummy or special blanket helps them to feel secure when going to sleep.
Without their sleep association your baby may find it difficult to go to sleep so it is important to develop associations that you are happy to carry on with as they get older.
Babies can learn new sleep associations if the ones they’re used to need to change. Like any habit, it can take weeks before old patterns of behaviour are replaced with new ones. Time patience, consistency, confidence and persistence always make a positive difference.
How To Settle Your Baby To Sleep
Parents have different choices about ways to settle their baby. Choose what suits you both and experiment with different strategies. There is no one right way which applies to every parent and every baby.
- Young babies will often go to sleep when they’re feeding or being cuddled. This may help them to feel secure and safe
- Crying is one way your baby communicates. Tiredness and needing to go to sleep is usually indicated by a quieter more grizzly tone that stops and starts
- “Hands-on Settling” is when your baby is placed into their cot sleepy though still awake. You can place your hands gently on their chest, tummy or legs and stay with them until they are calm or fall asleep. This may be a good method to try for babies who are used to being cuddled to sleep and parents want to change this dependency
- “Comfort Settling” is a way to encourage babies over 6 months to go to sleep on their own in their cots. You leave your baby for a short period of time before they are asleep and then return to comfort them if necessary
- Many babies enjoy being patted gently and rhythmically when they are going to sleep. Some like having their head or face stroked, gentle cot-rocking or being sung to. If they’re distressed and crying, hearing a repetitive ‘shshsh’ sound can also be soothing
- Try to stay calm and focused on your own emotions when settling your baby. The aim is to try and bring your baby down from an aroused, alert state to one of calm and peace. If your baby senses your tension, they may not feel safe enough to go to sleep
- There will be times when your baby will not want to go to sleep despite everything that you try. When this happens, it may help to pick them up and try something else to calm them. Go for a walk, try bathing and massaging them, ask someone else for help or listen to some music. Ultimately, you cannot control whether they will or not.