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Getting your baby to sleep

7-minute read

Some babies sleep much more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. Some soon sleep through the night and some don’t for a long time. Your baby will have their own pattern of waking and sleeping, and it’s unlikely to be the same as other babies you know.

It's also unlikely to fit in with your need for sleep. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps. If you're breastfeeding, in the early weeks your baby is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed. Carry on feeding until you think your baby has finished or until they're fully asleep. This is a good opportunity to try to get a bit of rest yourself.

If you're not sleeping at the same time as your baby, don't worry about keeping the house silent while they sleep. It's good to get your baby used to sleeping through a certain amount of noise.

How can I get my baby used to night and day being different?

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

During the day, open curtains, play games and don't worry too much about everyday noises when they sleep.

At night, you might find it helpful to:

  • keep the lights down low
  • not talk much and keep your voice quiet
  • put your baby down as soon as they've been fed and changed
  • not change your baby unless they need it
  • not play with your baby

Safe sleeping — where should your baby sleep?

It's up to you where your baby sleeps, but it is recommended that babies sleep in a cot in the same room as an adult for the first 6 to 12 months, since this has been shown to lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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

Look out for tired signs

Babies will show signs when they are getting tired such as grimacing, yawning, grizzling, frowning, sucking, staring, snuggling in, jerky movements, becoming over active, clenching fists, rubbing eyes, fussiness or crying. Responding early to these tired signs prevents your baby becoming distressed and makes it easier for them to sleep.

Establishing routine with a newborn

Newborn babies will sleep on and off throughout the day and night. It can be helpful to have a pattern, but you can always change the routine to suit your needs. For example, you could try waking your baby for a feed just before you go to bed in the hope that you'll get a long sleep before they wake up again.

Establishing a bedtime routine

You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is around 3 months old. Getting them into a simple, soothing bedtime routine can be helpful for everyone and can help prevent sleeping problems later on. It's also great one-to-one time with your baby. Here are some things to try:

  • a warm bath before bedtime
  • changing into night clothes and a fresh nappy
  • brushing their teeth (if they have any)
  • putting them to bed
  • reading a bedtime story
  • dimming the lights in the room to create a calm atmosphere
  • giving them a goodnight kiss and cuddle
  • singing a lullaby or having a wind-up musical mobile that you can turn on when you've put your baby to bed

Settling babies aged 0 to 6 months

Babies need to learn the skill of going to sleep and parents can help.

In the first 6 months, you could try holding your baby in your arms until they fall asleep. Use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking, talking, or softly singing before putting your baby into the cot asleep. These repetitions signal relaxation and sleep.

You could also try 'hands-on settling', where you place the baby in the cot awake (but calm and drowsy) and gently pat or stroke them till they fall asleep, comforting them with gentle 'ssshhh' sounds.

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

Settling a baby aged 6 to 12 months

As with younger babies, it helps to talk quietly and cuddle your baby to help keep them calm.

Try the 'hands-on settling technique' and, as your baby calms or falls asleep, move away from the cot or leave the room. If your baby starts to become distressed, return and continue to comfort your baby using patting and calming sounds before moving away or leaving the room again. Some babies may need you to stay in the room until they are asleep.

As your child gets older, it can be helpful to keep to a similar bedtime routine. Too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your child up again. Spend some time winding down and doing some calmer activities, like reading.

Check out the Tresillian website for more tips on how you can help your baby learn to settle and fall asleep at different ages.

How much sleep is enough?

Just as with adults, babies' and children's sleep patterns vary. From birth, some babies need more sleep or less sleep than others. This list shows the average amount of sleep that babies and children need during a 24-hour period, including daytime naps.

Birth to 3 months

Most newborn babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be from 8 hours up to 18 hours. Babies will wake during the night because they need to be fed. Being too hot or too cold can also disturb their sleep.

3 to 6 months

As your baby grows, they'll need fewer night feeds and be able to sleep for longer. At this age, most will sleep 14 to 15 hours during the day and night. Some babies will sleep for 8 hours or longer at night, with 2 to 3 shorter sleeps during the day. By 4 months, they could be spending around twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day.

6 to 12 months

At this age, night feeds should no longer be necessary, and some babies will sleep for up to 13 hours at night. Teething discomfort or hunger may wake some babies during the night.

12 months

Babies at this age can sleep for around 12 to 13 hours in total over a 24-hour period.

2 years

Most 2-year-olds will sleep for 11 to 12 hours at night, with 1 or 2 naps in the daytime.

3 to 4 years

Most will need about 12 hours' sleep, but this can range from 8 to 14 hours. Some young children will still need a nap during the day.

Coping with disturbed nights

Try to resist the urge to rush in if your baby murmurs in the night. Depending on their age, you could leave them for a few minutes and see if they settle on their own. Having said that, newborn babies invariably wake up repeatedly in the night for the first few months and disturbed nights can be very hard to cope with.

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 occasionally give a bottle of expressed breast milk during the night. If you're on your own, you could ask a friend or relative to stay for a few days so that you can sleep.

Sleep problems

All new babies change their patterns. Just when you think you have it sorted and you've all had a good night's sleep, the next night you might be up every 2 hours.

Be prepared to change routines as your baby grows and enters different stages of development. And remember, growth spurts, teething and illnesses can all affect how your baby sleeps.

If your baby is having problems sleeping or you need more advice about getting into a routine, speak to your doctor, midwife or maternal child health nurse, or call the Tresillian helpline on 1300 2PARENT (1300 272 736).

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 436 882 or try video call to speak face-to-face with one of our maternal child health nurses. Video call is available 7am to midnight (AEST), 7 days a week and is free of charge. To find out more, visit our video call page.

Baby crying

If your baby is not sleeping and is also crying or seems distressed, despite your usual care and nurturing, then you might ask a doctor's opinion since there are some medical conditions that can disturb a baby's sleep and cause distress.

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

Last reviewed: September 2020


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