How can I get my baby to sleep?

baby sleeping with mother

If you’ve found yourself wide-eyed in the middle of the night, searching frantically for advice on how to get your baby to sleep, then don’t worry: you’re definitely not alone. Every parent has, at some point, despaired of getting their baby off to sleep. We've pulled together their knowledge to answer some of the most pressing questions about babies' (and parents') sleep habits.

How much does a newborn baby sleep?

Most newborns sleep for around 75% of the day, which sounds like a lot, but it’s often broken up into two to three hour stretches. For this reason, the first few months as a parent can be exhausting. But rest assured, it gets better.

By three months, many babies are sleeping for up to six hours at night between feeds, as well as sleeping less during the day. By six months, they’re often sleeping 11 to 15 hours a day, including 8 to 10 hours through the night and a couple of daytime naps. By 12 months, their night-time sleep should increase to around 11 hours.

Why isn’t my baby sleeping through the night?

There are probably as many reasons for babies waking up in the night as there are babies but needing a feed or wanting a cuddle are among the most common factors. Teething also keeps babies (and parents) up at night but, whatever the cause, not sleeping through the night is a problem that can and must be solved. After all, if your baby’s sleep is interrupted then so is yours and that’s not good because you need your energy.

Baby sleep night

How can I get my baby to sleep through the night?

There is no such thing as a 'better way'. The best way is what works best for your baby and results in everyone in the house having the most possible sleep.

From stroking to swaddling, there are many techniques that will help you get your baby to sleep. One problem that all parents face, however, is that babies don’t come into the world knowing the difference between day and night. So we can hardly blame them for waking up at irregular hours.

You can teach your baby the difference by making daytime feeds fun and energetic, with lots of talking and laughter. At night, keep feeds quiet and leave the lights off – or at least dimmed – if possible. All these techniques will help your baby fall into the day/night rhythm.

Establish a sleep routine with your baby

Babies benefit from a sleep routine so try to get one established from about three months. First, create a calm atmosphere by turning off the TV for some quiet time. Then give your baby their bath before helping them into their pyjamas and reading them a bedtime story or singing them off to sleep with a lullaby. These are both enjoyable activities which will help you bond with your baby.

Try a comforter

My youngest daughter had terrible problems sleeping until, at six weeks, we gave her a comfort blanket. I’m a bit embarrassed about it, but if it helps then that’s ok!

You might want to try giving your baby a comfort object, such as a blanket or even just a piece of muslin, as this can also help them get to sleep. Mumsnetters are divided on the usefulness of comforters, so this is another instance where what works for some babies might not work for others.

Try self-settling

If you’re lucky then your baby will self-settle. This can happen from around five months and it’s always worth trying: put the baby down when they’re sleepy, step back and listen to see if they nod off on their own.

If that doesn’t work then don’t worry, as babies can be stubborn individuals and it’s perfectly normal for them to refuse to self-settle. Try to rest when you get the opportunity and always remember – it’ll be alright in the end.

How much should my baby sleep in the day?

Tough one. On the one hand, if your baby falls asleep then you want to make the most of the peace and quiet. On the other hand, you don’t want them to sleep so much that they’re wide awake at bedtime.

They say sleep begets sleep so, with my seven-month- old, my method was to sort the day naps out first. We're now at three naps a day and two night feeds (at 10.30am and 4pm) and this is the best he's been since birth.

Naps are important and timing is key. Try to figure out when your baby is naturally sleepy and work around this. If they're too awake, or equally if they're over-tired, they're more likely to fight against sleep.

By around four to six months, most babies are ready for a nap a couple of hours after getting up and many like another short nap before lunch. Sounds like an ideal lifestyle, doesn’t it? Some babies will want a third nap later in the afternoon as well, although others plough through the day with very little sleep.

If your baby sleeps well at night and seems to get through the day without much (or any) napping then don't fret. But if your baby seems unsettled during the day, it's worth encouraging napping when they obviously need it.

Is it safe to sleep with my baby?

Mumsnetters (like most parents – and midwives) divide rather rigidly into two camps on the subject of co-sleeping.

Those who oppose it point to some of the very real dangers involved in sharing a bed with your baby and argue that it can be a factor in SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). They also argue that it can make it harder for your child to sleep on their own as time goes on, leading to unwanted bedtime battles when they're older.

There are important rules regarding co-sleeping:

  • Do not sleep in the same bed as your baby if you or your partner has been drinking alcohol or taking medication which makes you drowsy.
  • Do not co-sleep with your baby if you or your partner are a smoker.
  • Co-sleeping is not recommended for babies under three months old or babies who were born prematurely.

Supporters of co-sleeping argue that bed-sharing is of benefit to both the child and parent. Babies can often sleep better alongside their mother, and if you're breastfeeding then not having to get up each time they want a feed can help ease some of your tiredness as well.

Trying to make sense of the arguments for and against co-sleeping can be confusing. If you like the idea of snuggling up with your baby of a night then take a look at some of the things you need to consider – plus other parents' views – when thinking about co-sleeping.

Should I try controlled crying?

crying baby won't sleep

Another controversial technique that’s sometimes used to improve a baby’s sleep patterns, controlled crying involves leaving your baby to cry for a period. It is not recommended for babies under six months old. There are debates about the how long is too long to leave them, but most advocates of controlled crying agree that you shouldn’t let your baby cry for more than ten minutes before soothing them.

It can be difficult at first but many parents say that, after a few nights, they notice the impact on their child's sleep and daytime routine. Critics argue that leaving a baby to cry exposes them to unnecessary stress and trauma that could cause both psychological and physical problems later in life.

Research into the pros and cons of controlled crying is ongoing but, if you're going to try it, you need to be consistent. It's not going to be easy from the outset so be prepared to commit to some stressful hours, at least for the first few nights.

Should I give my baby a dummy?

Parents have used dummies – or pacifiers, if you prefer – since time immemorial. And yet there are still a range of questions about them. To dummy or not to dummy? At what age is it acceptable for a baby to be given a dummy? What sort of dummy is best? Will using a dummy interfere with breastfeeding?

As you’d expect, Mumsnetters have strong views on dummies. The pro-dummies camp argue a dummy is the only way to soothe a baby in some situations, it is preferable to a child sucking their thumb, and can lower the risk of cot death.

Those who are anti-dummies claim that they affect teeth and language development, ignore the real reason behind a child's distress, and create a dependency which is hard to remove – literally in some cases.

Before you make your final decision, it’s worth checking out Mumsnetters' arguments for and against dummies.