Babies & Sleep: Your questions answered

Babies are little bundles of joy, but it can take them a little while to find a sleep pattern that works for them. The night-time waking, the far too early mornings, and the flat-out refusals to sleep can be some of the most difficult aspects of parenting.


But trust us, the difficult sleep periods will only be temporary. So, to set your mind at ease and to bring a little reassurance, here we’ll answer the most common questions about babies and sleep.


How much sleep does my baby need?


On average, newborn babies need around 16 hours of sleep every 24 hours. But remember, this is an average. Every baby is unique, and some will sleep more or less than others. Some babies will sleep 14 hours a day or less, some will need 18 hours of sleep a day or even more. This can also vary day-to-day as well.


Rather than focussing on a specific number of hours of sleep per day, it’s best to let your baby set the pace. Let them sleep whenever they show signs of being tired and let them do so for as long as they need.


How long will my newborn sleep for at a time?


Although babies need lots of sleep, they usually don’t sleep for long periods. At least not at first. Most newborns sleep for stints of around two to three hours. You’ll likely find yourself in a routine of your baby sleeping for a couple of hours, waking for a feed, having a nappy change and engaging in a spot of playing, then going back to sleep again.


At first, most babies won’t distinguish between night or day either, so you’ll be waking every few hours throughout the night. This can be exhausting, but it won’t last for long. Your baby will begin to sleep for longer stints and will start to sleep more at night.


What should my baby sleep in?


During the first six months, your baby should sleep in the same room as you. And they should sleep in a suitable Moses basket or a crib, which are designed to create a safe and comfortable environment for them. You may also want to consider co-sleeping with your baby, where they’re in the same bed as you. But make sure you follow safe co-sleeping recommendations


After six months of age, you can think about moving your baby’s crib to their own bedroom.


What’s the safest way for my baby to sleep?


To make sure your baby sleeps safely, follow these safe sleeping recommendations:


·        Lay your baby down to sleep on their back

·        Place their feet at the end of the bed, so they can’t slip down any further (feet to foot position)

·        Keep your baby’s head and face uncovered

·        Cover them with a single, lightweight blanket like a cellular blanket. Tuck the blanket under their arms so it can’t slide up over their face

·        Don’t put any other objects in the bed with them, like soft toys, pillows or bumper cushions


How much should my baby nap?


At first, when you’re in the cycle of small sleeps, you won’t count daytime sleeps as naps. But as your baby settles into sleeping longer at night and less during the day, you’ll establish a routine of daytime naps.


Sometime between two and six months of age, most babies slip into a routine of having three naps a day, for between one to two hours at a time. Remember however, this is an average and your baby’s sleep habits may vary from this.


How can I tell if my baby is getting enough sleep?


You’ll quickly learn how to tell when your baby is tired and ready to sleep. Common signs include:


·        Yawning

·        Rubbing their eyes

·        Showing less interest in people and their surroundings

·        Looking away from sources of stimulation

·        Being more irritable than usual

·        Crying


If your baby shows these signs frequently, they may not be getting enough sleep in general.


How can I tell my baby is getting too much sleep?


It’s rare for newborn babies to sleep too much. Even if they spend most of the day asleep, it’s likely because they need it.


But, in some situations, too much sleeping can be a sign that your baby is ill. Look out for the following symptoms:


·        Trouble waking

·        A lack of energy when awake

·        Irritability when they’re first woken up

·        Not wanting to feed when they’re first woken up

·        Signs of dehydration

·        Not feeding enough and not putting on enough weight


If you recognise any of the above, it’s best  to visit your doctor for advice.


When will my baby sleep through the night without waking?


For many parents with babies, this is the holy grail of sleep. It makes life a lot easier when you can return to nights of unbroken sleep once again. But getting to this point can vary a lot by baby.


Some babies will quickly adjust to night-time sleeping and will sleep through when they’re only four months old. Others will take longer. Some won’t sleep through the night until they’re one or even 18 months. It will happen though. We promise!


How do I get my newborn to sleep?


Some babies are easy sleepers and will need nothing more than to be put down in their crib


But other babies aren’t such easy sleepers. Even though they’re tired and need to sleep, they may find it difficult to drift off. If your baby is having problems falling asleep, try the following:


·        Don’t wait until your baby is overtired. As counter intuitive as this might sound, if a baby gets too tired they can find it harder to fall asleep. Learn to judge the sweet spot when your baby is showing signs of tiredness but isn’t yet overtired.

·        Put a fresh nappy on your baby and feed them before they sleep.

·        Make sure the room your baby is sleeping in isn’t too warm or too cold.

·        Keep the room around your baby dark and quiet.

·        The one exception to quiet is to try white noise, as this can help babies fall asleep. You can find a range of white noise emitters here.


Should I wake my baby to feed them?


In most circumstances, you don’t need to wake your baby for a feed. Babies need both plenty of sleep and plenty of milk during their first months, but your baby will wake when it’s time to feed. They’ll let you know when they’re hungry!


The exception to this, is if your baby is having problems with feeding and is underweight. Your doctor may then advise you to feed them on a strict schedule that may involve waking them. Speak to your doctor if you’re worried as they can give you the best advice and support.


Can my baby sleep with a dummy?


Yes, as long as the dummy isn’t damaged in any way.


Some babies sleep better with a dummy, but they can cause night-time waking too.. You can experiment letting them sleep with or without a dummy to find which gives you and your baby a better night’s sleep.


If in doubt, check with an expert


We hope we’ve answered your most pressing questions about babies and sleep, and we hope we’ve set your mind at ease. If you have any other questions, or any concerns about your baby and sleeping, it’s best to check with your doctor, your community nurse, or midwife.