It doesn't matter how ready (or not) you think you are for motherhood, nothing can prepare you for the brain-numbing, bone-aching reality of new-parent sleep deprivation.
Or for your sudden, all-consuming need to find answers to a million and one baby sleep-related questions. What's the best way to settle a newborn baby to sleep? How long should she sleep for? Should you let her cry or not? Is it OK for your baby to sleep in your bed? How on earth do you get her to take a nap? How do I cope when I'm this sleep deprived? And when, oh when, will she sleep through?
Swaddling my baby saved my sanity.
If you're desperate for some tried-and-tested tricks that'll persuade your baby to give you a few more hours – hell, a few more minutes – in the land of Nod, then you're in the right place. Not only has WellVine baby sleep consultant Maryanne Taylor kindly answered our burning questions on baby sleep, we've also consulted the truly weary wise: Mumsnetters who have been (or still are) in the same bleary-eyed boat as you.
The average newborn sleeps for 16 to 20 hours a day. But not all at once. And not all at night. It's pretty shattering for those of us who are meant to be in charge.
The early weeks are worst. Your baby's doing a random, round-the-clock waking and dozing thing, and often has a distinct aversion to sleeping anywhere other than your arms.
“My newborn wouldn't go to sleep on his own – only in my arms or in our bed. If we put him down in the Moses basket, he would wake after 20 minutes at the most. I was worried this might be the start of major bad habits but now he's seven weeks and is settling much better.”
“My first child got her days and nights mixed up: she would sleep nearly all day and then be awake almost all night!”
If you're not having any luck with the lay-down-and-leg-it approach, try our tips for settling your newborn baby below.
As the weeks pass, it does, ever so slowly, get better (honest). Your baby will gradually cotton on to the difference between night and day and, by six to eight weeks, will probably be putting in more time at the cot-face during the wee, small hours.
Even the most diehard of night-time wakers are usually sleeping less in the day and more at night by 10 to 12 weeks.
“My daughter was either sleeping, feeding or screaming – none of the peaceful 'surveying the world' the baby books tell you about. I found it very depressing and worried that things would never change and that I must be doing it all wrong. But she changed and at 10 weeks slept through the night.”
How much sleep do babies need?
All babies are different when it comes to the amount of sleep they need over the course of a 24-hour period. Your baby will have their own sleeping pattern that will likely be different to that of all the other babies you know. Having said that, there are some general trends in the amount of time babies spend sleeping, depending on their age:
How much sleep do newborns need?
Newborn babies spend much more time asleep than awake. The total amount, including naps, varies from baby to baby, but averages around 16 hours. Some newborns will only sleep for eight hours, whereas some will sleep for 20.
How much sleep do babies from three to six months need?
As your baby gets a bit older, she won't need as many feeds during the night. As such, she'll be able to sleep for a bit longer. By this stage, some babies will even sleep for a full eight hours during the night (although, word of warning: don't get your hopes up). Most babies will spend twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day – e.g. eight hours at night and four hours during the day.
How much sleep do babies from six to 12 months need?
Many babies aged six months to a year will no longer need a night feed and may sleep for up to 12 hours at night. However, there're no guarantees of this, and some babies may wake up in the night for a bit (or a lot) longer.
How much sleep do babies from one to two years need?
Most babies will sleep for around 12 to 15 hours in total at this age.
How much sleep do two-year-olds need?
Most two-year-olds will sleep for around 12 hours at night, with a couple of naps in during the day.
When do babies start to sleep through the night?
In the newborn stage, it can seem like your baby won't ever want to sleep for more than what seems like half an hour at a time. Luckily, though, all babies do eventually start sleeping for longer and longer stretches, until they finally crack sleeping right the way through the night.
Frustratingly, though, there's no saying when exactly your baby will sleep through. Many babies are able to sleep through the night by around six months, but this is by no means a set age. There are the odd few who nail it by three months (whose parents we are oh so jealous of), and many more who still aren't sleeping for more than six hours when they're 12 months or older (parents, we feel your pain).
What's more, there's no guarantee once your baby sleeps through the night for the first time that this is now the norm. She may make it through the night on the odd night here and there, before eventually settling into a more stable routine.
There are certain things you can do that may (or may not) encourage your baby to sleep for longer periods during the night. For example, try to make sure you're not reducing her daytime naps too much with the intention of making her sleepier by bedtime. This can often have the opposite effect, and make her overtired and restless come the evening. Similarly, aim not to let her nap for too long during the day, as she then may not be tired enough at bedtime. The amount of sleep your baby will need at nap time and during the night is unique to her, so it may take some playing around with nap routines to strike a good balance.
Q: How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?
I have a six-month-old who goes to bed (a crib in our room) quickly at about 8pm and then wakes at 11pm, 2am, 4am and 5am. At 5am I usually give in and let her sleep in our bed and she wakes at about 7.30am. Is there anything I can do to help her sleep through better? Do you think controlled crying, the pat method etc. might work?
Maryanne, WellVine baby sleep consultant
There are a few factors to consider here:
- Her daytime sleep can affect nighttime sleep, so try to maximise daytime naps with a schedule of two to three naps a day
- Try shifting bedtime earlier, as 8pm may be a bit late and, while she is settling quickly at this time, it may be a contributing factor to the night wake ups.
- Giving a consistent response to these multiple wake ups will help to keep her frustration levels to a minimum. Also consider whether bringing her into your bed at the 5am mark is a possible fuel for these other wake ups as if she is expecting this to happen and if it doesn't for the other wake ups, then she will keep waking until it does.
What is the safest way to put my baby to sleep?
Although the causes of cot death (SIDS) are still not completely clear, health experts are agreed that there are steps you can take to reduce the risk for your baby:
- Put your baby on her back to sleep
- Do not let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
- Do not let your baby get too hot or too cold
- Do not cover your baby's head while she's sleeping
- Place your baby down to sleep, so that her feet are at the foot end of the cot
- Consider using a dummy to settle your baby to sleep
- Do not share a bed with your baby if you smoke
- Do not share a bed with your baby if you have been drinking or taking drugs
- Understand that the safest place for your baby to sleep in her first six months is in a cot in your room
Q: Do you have any advice for helping a baby with reflux to sleep – and safely?
I'm a new mum with a three week old daughter. She sleeps well during the day but not at night. I think she may have reflux as she hates lying flat. We have tilted the cot but she still isn't happy and I'm not getting any sleep. Any tips?
Maryanne, WellVine baby sleep consultant
In terms of the possible reflux, it is certainly worth getting this checked with the GP and, if necessary, a paediatric gastroenterologist, if you suspect discomfort is causing her to be unsettled at night. Medication for this can help alleviate the symptoms, and hopefully, will help to improve her sleep at night.
In the meantime, try to avoid feeding her just before putting her down as this will exacerbate the symptoms, so switch her feeds during the day to after naps and give her milk further away from bedtime. This means you can keep her more upright after feeding her, so the milk has time to digest before you lie her down.
Tips for settling your newborn baby
Frustratingly, newborns don't come equipped with a 'now go to sleep' button. While some nod off angelically at the drop of a hat, there are many who, no matter how tired they are, often need some serious parental persuasion on the closing-eyes front. Mumsnetters' top 10 sleep-persuasion tactics include:
1. Swaddling. “My daughter was far more settled when we wrapped her in a swaddle – you just have to be careful to make sure that they don't overheat. We used a cotton cellular blanket but, when it was really hot, we used a sheet.”
2. “Gently stroke your baby's nose in little downwards movements. This encourages them to close their eyes and fall asleep.”
3. “My son wouldn't settle if he was lying flat. We found putting him in a baby bouncer and rocking it gently worked.”
4. “The spin cycle on the washing machine is very effective! Sometimes, I'd put several consecutive spins on just to lull her to drowsiness.”
5. “Try a lambskin. My two slept on them for years and they're so easy to take everywhere. I just put it on the floor and they'd settle straightaway.”
6. “Keep things quiet and boring in the lead-up to bedtime and limit the number of people holding him. I underestimated how unsettling and over-stimulating being held by visitors can be.”
7. Watch the clock. “A good rule of thumb is that a newborn can't stay awake more than two hours at a time. So, if yours has been wide awake for two hours, retreat to a quiet room with little stimulation.”
8. “If all else fails, put your baby in a sling. She'll almost certainly fall asleep in a sling, close to your body, and at least you've got your hands free to make yourself a cup of tea.”
And for the baby who falls asleep beautifully in your arms but snaps awake again as soon as her head hits the sheets…
9. “Put a muslin or a blanket under him during the feed and transfer this with him, then he'll still have some of Mummy's warmth and smell with him when you put him down.”
10. “Babies don't seem to like cold sheets. Use a hot water bottle to gently warm the bottom sheet of your Moses basket for a minute or two before putting your newborn down to sleep.”
Oh and one extra (noisy) word to the wise…
“Don't be quiet when your baby sleeps. When my kids were tiny, I always saw sleep time as the perfect opportunity to get some vacuuming done. Now they sleep through almost anything. My sister, by contrast, turned down the TV and spoke in whispers and her daughter now wakes up if a floorboard squeaks.”
If you're having real trouble settling your baby or have times when you just can't seem to stop your baby crying, read our tips on crying, comforting and colic.
How can I get my baby to sleep?
Sometimes, your baby will nod off with seemingly no effort required from you. No rocking, no shushing, no patting. Then there are the nights where your baby will fight sleep as though their little life depends on it. What's more, once she does drop off, it won't be long before she's awake again. You know she needs to sleep, but she hasn't quite got the memo.
For nights like these, we've compiled a guide for getting your baby to sleep. Whether you give controlled crying a go, or experiment with using a dummy, there're a number of things you can do to up your chances of getting your baby to sleep.
My baby wakes up crying several times a night. Is this normal?
Put simply, yes. Your baby's main way of communicating with you is by crying. This is especially the case when she's in her cot at night and any non-verbal signs of hunger/wanting comfort/thirst etc. aren't going to cut the mustard. What's more, a very young baby won't even know the difference between day and night, so won't be saving their tears for more sociable hours.
When your baby cries at night, she could be hungry, thirsty, in need of a fresh nappy, uncomfortable, cold, wanting a cuddle and, well, you get the gist; there's a whole host of things she might need or want.
As your baby settles into a more regular sleeping pattern, though, you should find that she wakes less – and therefore cries less – during the night. You might even find, too, that when she does wake up, she is able to self-soothe and settle herself back to sleep.
If you're finding it difficult to soothe your crying baby, then you're certainly not alone. It can feel especially difficult at night, when you're worrying about getting some sleep yourself. There is hope, though, as most babies do eventually settle into a sleep pattern that means longer stretches of sleep and fewer tears – for everyone.
What are baby sleep aids and should I try them?
If you're the parent of a baby who Just. Won't. Sleep. then you're probably willing to give anything a shot to get a few more minutes kip than you're currently getting. While some babies seem to nod off with a quick rock and a pat, some do need that little bit extra encouragement. Although nothing is guaranteed to work, it can be worth giving some of these products a go.
A white noise generator, for example, creates a soothing sound that your baby is more likely to fall asleep to than complete silence. It will also help block out any abrupt noises that could otherwise startle your baby awake. Some baby monitors also play sounds (such as lullabies) to comfort and soothe.
Sleep training clocks can also be really useful for helping toddlers and older children tell the difference between night and day. It can mean the difference between a 5.30am and 7.30am wake up – which alone is enough to convince us.
Related: The best baby sleep aids to try to help settle your newborn at night.
Should I give my newborn a dummy?
It's amazing, really, how much emotion a small piece of plastic can stir up. But it can – and does. Ranged in the 'against dummies, no matter what' corner are, generally speaking, the older generation, mutteringly darkly about bad habits and wonky teeth. Facing them from the 'for dummies, actually' corner are, equally generally speaking, an evangelical crowd of new parents who've finally found the way to get a moment's peace.
To save you time sifting through the (occasionally dodgy) claims of either side, here's a quick dummy-debate lowdown…
The 'pros' of dummies
- 'They soothe your baby’s cries when nothing else can.' This is certainly true for some 'sucky' babies who just don't seem to be able to settle any other way. Not for nothing are dummies called pacifiers in the US.
- 'They can reduce your baby's risk of cot death.' There are indeed studies that have shown an association between giving your baby a dummy while she sleeps and a lower risk of cot death. But it's not yet clear whether it's actually the dummy itself that's providing this protective effect or simply the action of sucking (which a baby could do just as well on her fingers or at the breast).
- 'They're (eventually) simple to get rid of.' Because you can chuck 'em out when the time comes. Which you can't really do with your child's thumb.
The 'cons' of dummies
- 'They're ugly.' Granted, they’re no thing of beauty but maybe, just maybe, you can live with that.
- 'They make breastfeeding harder.' Breastfeeding experts say that giving a very small baby a dummy can cause 'nipple confusion' – because sucking on a dummy is quite different to sucking on a human nipple. And that can make it harder for you to establish breastfeeding. For this reason, breastfeeding mums are generally advised not to introduce a dummy until their baby is one month old and feeding is going well.
- 'They can give your child wonky teeth.' True, but only if your child still has a dummy at age five or six when her permanent teeth are coming through. And sucking a thumb can cause tooth-wonkiness, too, of course.
- 'They can delay language development.' Possibly, but only if your child’s plugged into it morning, noon, and night.
- 'They become such a source of comfort, you’ll have a battle getting your baby to give it up when she’s older.' Maybe; maybe not. But if you're desperate to settle your screaming baby, that probably sounds like a good trade.
- 'They can cause night-time waking when they fall out of your baby’s mouth.' Often true but at least the back-to-sleep solution is close at (your) hand.
- 'They are used by lazy mums who can’t be bothered to find out what their baby’s really upset about.' A sentiment, it has to be said, that is generally only expressed by people who have yet to attempt to calm their squalling progeny for three ear-splitting hours on the trot.
“This is outrageous, arrogant and downright rude. It is pure snobbery. Dummies are totally harmless and, if anything, they are good for babies, yet they attract such hostility. I am really glad I followed my son's needs and not other people's snobbery when I made choices about his wellbeing.”
Dummies are neither good nor evil. They are just a choice – and, generally, it's the baby who makes it.
And, as for the whether you should join the dummy-doomsayers corner or the dummy-devotees, we really wouldn't bother fretting because, odds are, the choice isn't going to be yours to make.
“It can go both ways. My daughter used one up until she was about two. I'd actually rather she hadn't but, on many occasions, I was glad that she did. My son has never liked them, which is great for many reasons but there have been lots of occasions when I have wished he would take one. Dummies are neither good nor evil. They are just a choice. And, generally it's the baby who makes the choice.”
Q: My baby will only go to sleep on my boob – any advice?
I have a three-week-old who refuses to be put down – day or night. We are happy to cuddle him in the day but need some sleep at night. He also wants to chomp on my nipples all evening and, whenever I try to put him down at night, I'm not able to soothe without the boob but they're in agony. Any tips?
Maryanne, WellVine baby sleep consultant
Congratulations on the birth of your baby. The beginning weeks can be exhausting and draining, and your body is also still recovering from the birth so you have a lot to handle at this stage.
If he appears to be suckling a lot on the breast (differentiating between suckling for comforting and actually drinking), it may be worth trying him with a dummy to get you through this initial patch. Put some drops of breastmilk on a muslin and when you are cuddling him, have this wedged between you and him, so when you put him down, he goes down with this muslin. The smell of you together with the milk is his ultimate comfort at the moment, so having this on a muslin in the crib can help him feel more secure.
Also you may find that he is happy to be in his crib some of the time, so once he is fed and drowsy, try putting him in to cot and keep your hand on him or pat him once he is lying down.
What is baby sleep regression?
A sleep regression is a period of time, usually lasting between two to six weeks, when your baby starts to wake frequently during the night – she may seem to be actively refusing or fighting sleep – after previously sleeping well. A sleep regression can occur at any time, but the most common sleep regressions happen at four, eight and 18 months. The four month sleep regression is the most common of these three.
Although it can feel like the last thing you and your baby need, your baby's four month sleep regression is actually a sign that their sleep cycle is developing and she is reaching some important milestones developmentally.
So, although a sleep regression can feel like just that – a regression to previous sleep behaviour – it is actually the opposite in terms of what your baby is experiencing. She is starting to go through all four stages of sleep that we experience, rather than going straight from awake to deep sleep as she has been until now. The good news is that she is developing the sleep cycle that she will have for the rest of her life, so the regression really isn't forever.
How to survive the four month sleep regression
Although there is no way of preventing or avoiding your baby's sleep regressions, there are some things you can do to soften the blow of repeated waking – for you and your baby.
Try swaddling your baby
If your baby has liked being swaddled until now, keep doing it. If you haven't given it a go – and your baby hasn't yet started showing signs of rolling over (it becomes unsafe at this point) – now could be a good time to try. Swaddling your baby can give her the extra comfort she needs to get to sleep, especially at the four month mark, when she is likely to be that bit more fussy.
Keep the bedroom dark
When it comes to encouraging your baby to sleep, it's important to keep the bedroom (or room where they are sleeping) very dark – the darker the better, in fact. Newborn and young babies are not scared of the dark, so pitch black is ideal for creating a good sleep environment.
Put your baby down when they're drowsy but not asleep
If you can, aim to put your baby in their cot when they're drifting off to sleep, but still awake. This means they learn to settle themselves and begin to associate their cot with sleep, rather than your arms. Don't be too hard on yourself if this doesn't work in practice, though – some babies do just love sleeping in your arms and refusing to go down anywhere else (Netflix day afternoon it is, then).
Keep the noise down
Like us, babies appreciate a quiet sleeping environment, without loud, irregular sounds. It can be pretty tricky to avoid making at least some noise, but playing white noise will mask the disruptive sounds.
Stick to your normal bedtime routine
During a sleep regression, it can feel like your baby no longer responds to any bedtime routine cues, like bath time or pre-bed cuddle time. This will pass with the regression though, so it's a good idea to stick to any routine you had established before the regression. This way, you won't struggle as much getting your baby back into the swing of things when their regression ends.
Feed your baby as much as she wants
Babies can be extra hungry during a sleep regression. The four month regression often coincides with a growth spurt, so your baby might want more milk than she's been having before. Give her as much as she wants – don't worry if it feels like a lot, as long as you are taking her lead and feeding her until she lets you know that she's full.
Change your baby's bedtime if necessary
If you find your baby is sleeping less during the day during her sleep regression, it can be a good idea to give her an earlier bedtime to compensate for the lost hours of sleep.
Baby sleep: what to expect at three to six months
By three months, many babies are managing a good old stretch of night-time sleep (maybe even up to six hours between feeds). Whether you call this 'sleeping through' or not largely depends on your abilities to spin the situation: for every parent who thinks 11pm to 5am is living torture, there's another thinking, 'Result!' (And, very probably, a third who'd give her eye teeth for even half a night like that.)
Over the next few months, your baby's sleep habits should start to bed down (as it were) into a more predictable (OK, slightly less chaotic) pattern. She'll gradually start to sleep less in the day (as she becomes more alert and engaged with the world around her) and more at night (as she becomes able to go longer without a feed).
At this point, some parents like to get cracking with 'proper' daytime naps and strictly scheduled bedtimes; others prefer to go with the flow for a while longer yet.
Whatever your inclinations, it's definitely worth trying to establish some kind of bedtime ritual to wind your baby down nice and calmly to a good night's sleep.
“I think a bedtime routine can really help at this age – and it allows you some free time in the evening, too. By routine, I mean a feed, a bath, a quiet time and a feed, in that order, and at about the same time every night. If your baby wakes or doesn't settle, then you don't take her downstairs again but settle her in or near the cot. This is not controlled crying, which I feel is too much for a baby of this age. It's just establishing a quiet end to the day.”
Try to establish a soothing, calm and predictable bedtime routine which can help improve quality of sleep during the night.
Of course, getting to sleep calmly doesn't guarantee staying asleep calmly. The average three- to six-month-old may be capable of clocking up six to 10 hours a night but all sorts of things can come along to interrupt their slumber. In which case…
“If your baby suddenly starts waking again, after having been a good sleeper, don't despair. It could be teething or hunger triggered by a growth spurt. As long as you're not doing anything to reinforce the waking, like turning on the light or talking to your baby, it'll pass.”
“A baby sleeping bag was the answer for us. My baby used to wake himself up moving around and banging his head against the cot but that's stopped now.”
Q: My four-month-old was sleeping through the night but now wakes every hour. Help!
My baby is four and a half months and used to sleep really well in her own cot, waking once or twice a night for a feed. Then for the last two nights she has woken up every 45 minutes. She cries each time until she is picked up, then instantly stops when in our arms, and falls back asleep. Patting her in her cot doesn't work, she wants to be on my chest. I didn't sleep last night. Is there anything I can do?
Maryanne, WellVine baby sleep consultant
At around the four month mark, babies can have a sleep regression which causes more frequent wakings during the night. This is largely due to a growth spurt and a developmental jump at around this age. So while it may not help with the exhaustion, rest assured that it is not uncommon and you are not alone.
In terms of dealing with it, try to increase milk intake during the day, and avoid her getting overtired during the day too, as this can also be a contributing factor to these wake ups.
Try to avoid setting a new association for sleep by cuddling her back to sleep each time she wakes. Start by holding her until she becomes drowsy but not fully asleep and put her down at that stage. If necessary, pat her or keep your hand on her in the cot.
Baby sleep: what to expect at six to 12 months
By six months, most babies are sleeping 11 to 15 hours a day. Of that, about three or four hours is daytime sleep, which they'll usually pool (or can be persuaded to pool) into two decent-length naps – one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
This leaves a nice, healthy eight to 10 hours for gloriously uninterrupted night-time sleep, slowly increasing to around 11 hours by the age of one (when the two daytime naps will have shortened or gone down to one).
So much for the theory.
Back in the real world, where theories are just theories and babies are a lovely but unpredictable reality, you may still be struggling to string together even a couple of nights of unbroken sleep.
If your baby's still regularly waking in the night, you may want to:
- Move her to her own room. “We seemed to be waking our daughter every time we moved or turned over in bed, so we whipped her into her own room. She immediately started sleeping right through.”
- Cut down/out the milk. “If feeding at night really bugs you and you're really knackered, then don't do it. I always go cold turkey with mine. It takes a couple of nights and then they sleep through. By six or seven months, there really is no need to feed in the night.”
- Get tough. If you're up all night, every night and you're beside yourself with exhaustion, you could try controlled crying or one of the other methods of sleep training. “It's not for everyone – and I wouldn't ever use it on a baby under six months – but it worked brilliantly for us.”
Toddlers and sleep: what to expect
When your baby becomes a toddler, you'll start to wonder when to move her into her own room (if she's not already in her own room) and when to move her out of a cot and into a proper bed.
Like with all the milestones your baby reaches, there's no right time to move a child from a cot to a bed. The main thing to consider is if you feel you and your child are practically and emotionally ready for the change. There are obviously safety considerations too – it's easy to jump out of a 'big girl's bed' and to roam around the house, so be prepared.
You may start to pick up on some signals that your toddler is ready to move into a proper bed. For example. she may start talking about having her own, proper bed or she might start climbing out of her cot. These can be signs that the time is probably approaching when you'll need to get her a proper bed.
Moving into a proper bed is quite a big step for any toddler, so it's a nice idea to try to incorporate some time into her day for her to play on her new bed in her room. This will give her some time to acclimatise to the new arrangement. But ultimately, don't feel in a rush to do it unless you feel she – and you! – are totally ready.
Q: My toddler doesn't like her 'big girl bed'. Should I insist she sleeps in it?
My daughter is really struggling with the transition to her 'big girl bed'. Do you have any advice?
Maryanne, WellVine baby sleep consultant
Have some play time during the day with your daughter on her bed with some of her favourite toys and books. Make it fun for her, calling it a bed party, and invite some teddies. This can help her get used to her new sleeping environment.
Depending on how old she is, bring her to choose her own 'big girl' sheets for her new bed to make her feel involved in the new arrangement.
If she is still feeling unsure, you may need to give her some extra reassurance at bedtime if this is when the problems arise. Sitting outside her room for a few nights when she falls asleep may just help her settle more calmly.