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Getting your baby to sleep

11-minute read

Key facts

  • Your baby needs your help to relax and fall asleep, but as they get older, they will work out how to settle themselves.
  • Before putting your baby to sleep, check that they've had a feed and a nappy change and aren't too hot or cold.
  • It can take time to get into a routine, but 'feed-play-sleep' is a good pattern to follow.
  • Put your baby down to sleep as soon as you notice their tired signs, such as frowning, yawning or jerky movements.
  • A bedtime routine helps your baby know it's time to go to sleep — this might include a bath, story and cuddle.

How much sleep does my baby need?

Babies need plenty of sleep to help them grow and develop. Some babies sleep more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. As your baby gets older, they will sleep less during the day and more at night.

This list shows the average amount of sleep that babies and toddlers need during a 24-hour period:

  • birth to 3 months — 15 to 18 hours
  • 3 to 6 months — 15 to 16 hours
  • 6 to 12 months — 13 to 14 hours, including a longer sleep during the night
  • 1 to 2 years — 12 to 14 hours, including 1 or 2 daytime naps
  • 2 to 3 years — 12 to 13 hours, including 1 daytime nap
  • 3 to 5 years — 12 to 13 hours, possibly with a daytime nap

Read more about sleep patterns for babies and toddlers.

How can I help my baby develop good sleep habits?

Safe sleeping

It is recommended that babies sleep in a cot or bassinet in the same room as an adult for the first 6 months. This lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Always place your baby to sleep on their back, with their head and face uncovered, every time they sleep — night or day. Keep the room smoke-free.

Help your baby get used to night and day being different

It can be helpful to show your baby that night-time is different to daytime from the start.

During the day, talk and play with your baby when they are awake.

At night, you might find it helpful to:

  • lower the lights
  • not talk much and keep your voice quiet
  • put your baby down as soon as they've been fed and changed, without playing

Look out for tired signs

Your baby will show signs that they are getting tired, such as:

  • grimacing and frowning
  • yawning
  • grizzling, fussiness or crying
  • staring
  • jerky movements and arching their back
  • clenching their fists
  • rubbing their eyes

Signs your baby is tired

Guide to establishing a bedtime routine and signs that your baby is tired.

Try to put your baby down to sleep as soon as they start showing these tired signs. This prevents your baby becoming distressed and makes it easier for them to fall asleep.

Establish a daily routine

Newborn babies need to eat and sleep throughout the day and night. It can be helpful to have a pattern, but it's important to be flexible. You can try to time your baby's activities to suit your schedule, but it may take time to get into a routine.

During the day, a good pattern is 'feed-play-sleep'. After a feed and nappy change, your baby will probably be alert and happy. This is a good time to play with them before putting them down to sleep.

At night, you can try waking your baby for a feed just before you go to bed. This might help them — and you — sleep for a bit longer.

Be prepared to change your routine as your baby grows and develops. Don't worry if there are days that don't go to plan. Remember that growth spurts, teething and illnesses can affect how your baby sleeps.

Establish a bedtime routine

You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is 4 to 6 months old. Using a simple, soothing bedtime routine can help your baby feel secure and understand when it's time to go to sleep.

You can try:

  • a warm bath
  • reading a bedtime story
  • a breastfeed or bottle feed
  • giving them a goodnight kiss and cuddle
  • singing a lullaby or turning on some quiet music or a wind-up musical mobile

How should I settle my baby?

Before putting your baby down to sleep, make sure they've had a feed and have a clean nappy. Check they're not too hot or cold.

Your baby might need some help with relaxing and falling asleep. Here are some tips you can try.

Age 0 to 6 months

Swaddling your baby can help them settle. It's safe to swaddle your baby until they start trying to roll. A safe infant sleeping bag is an alternative to swaddling your baby. It can also be used once your baby is rolling onto their tummy.

To settle a young baby to sleep, try one of the following ideas:

  • Hold your baby in your arms and pat, rock or stroke them while talking or singing softly to them. Once they are calm, put them into their cot. Very young babies might need to fall asleep in your arms before you can put them down.
  • 'Hands on settling' — place your baby in their cot when they are awake, but calm and drowsy. Gently pat or stroke them until they fall asleep, comforting them with gentle 'ssshhh' sounds.
  • Rock your baby in their pram until they are calm, then move them to their cot. It can help to rock the pram back and forth over a gentle bump, such as the edge of a rug.
  • Put on some background noise, such as quiet music or the hum of the washing machine.
  • Hold your baby on their tummy across your lap or forearm.
  • Give your baby a massage.
  • After about 6 weeks, you might choose to give your baby a dummy to suck on.

If your baby becomes upset, pick them up for a cuddle until they are calm or asleep before putting them back in their cot. Stay with them until they fall asleep.

Many mums over the years have found breastfeeding their baby to sleep, particularly in the early months, a natural and quick way to settle their baby (If this is you're chosen feeding option). This gives your baby food, comfort and helps them to relax. There is no evidence to suggest it will give them 'bad habits' or stop them being able to settle in other ways as they mature and their sleep needs change.

Age 6 to 12 months

Try these ideas with older babies:

  • Try 'hands on settling' — putting your baby in their cot and patting or stroking them while making 'ssshhh' sounds — then move away from the cot or leave the room when your baby becomes calm. If your baby becomes distressed, return and comfort them and then try moving again.
  • If your baby becomes distressed when you leave the room, try 'camping out'. Put your baby in their cot and comfort them until they're calm, then sit or lie down next to the cot where they can see you. Pretend to be asleep. If your baby wakes up or cries, make comforting noises so they know you're there. Once they are sleeping for long stretches, try leaving the room before they fall asleep.
  • Spend some time winding down and doing calm activities, like reading a story or giving your baby a warm bath or a massage.

What should I do when my baby wakes up during the night?

Newborn babies need to wake for feeds several times a night. They will often go back to sleep quickly after a feed.

Try to resist the urge to rush in if your baby makes a sound during the night. They might settle back to sleep on their own. If they start crying, they need you close by to comfort them.

As your baby discovers how to fall asleep by themselves (typically at about 4-6 months), they will get better at settling themselves when they wake up during the night.

How can I get enough sleep?

Disturbed nights can be very hard to cope with. Try to rest when your baby is asleep.

If you're formula feeding, you might like to encourage your partner to share the feeds. If you're breastfeeding, you could ask your partner to take over the early morning changing and dressing so that you can go back to sleep. Once you're into a good breastfeeding routine, your partner could give a bottle of expressed breast milk during the night.

If you don't have a partner, you could ask a friend or relative to stay for a few nights so that you can sleep.

When should I seek help?

If your baby is crying a lot and having trouble sleeping, see a doctor. Most of the time there's nothing wrong, but there are some health problems that can disturb your baby's sleep and cause distress. Your baby's doctor can check for any problems and reassure you if everything is normal.

Talk to a doctor or child health nurse if you feel that you can't cope with your baby's crying, or if it's affecting your mood or your relationship with your baby or partner.

What should I do if my baby won't settle?

If your baby is not settling no matter what you do, you might feel frustrated or angry. If this happens, the most important thing is keeping your baby safe. Put them in their cot and leave the room while you calm down.

Call a friend or relative or one of the following resources for help.

It is never okay to shake your baby. This can lead to brain damage and death.

Resources and support

If your baby is having problems sleeping, or if you need more advice about getting into a routine, speak to your doctor, midwife or child health nurse.

Visit Tresillian or Karitane for more tips on helping your baby settle and fall asleep at different ages. You can call the Tresillian parent's helpline on 1300 272 736 or Karitane's careline on 1300 227 464 to speak to a nurse.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association also has lots of helpful information about sleep.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: August 2022

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