For many parents there’s nothing more peaceful than a sleeping baby. Learning about baby’s sleeping patterns and how to settle baby may help you cope better, and help your baby develop good sleeping habits.
Baby’s sleep cycles
A baby’s sleep cycles are a mix of light and deep sleep. During deep sleep they hardly move. During active dreaming (light sleep) they may twitch, have irregular breathing, smile or make sucking motions with their mouth.
It’s common for babies to move about, open their eyes, cry or wake during their lighter sleep cycle, then settle themselves back to sleep. If your baby wakes during lighter sleep, wait and give them time to resettle themselves.
How long baby sleeps for
At 1 month
Babies sleep for about 16 hours in a 24-hour period. The length of each sleep varies.
Every baby has their own sleep pattern, but this may not become regular until they’re older.
- At first, your baby may wake wanting frequent feeds. For breastfed babies these feeds help to establish and maintain breastfeeding.
- During the day some babies may only sleep for short times, while others sleep more and wake for feeds every 3–4 hours.
- Babies usually have a wakeful time in the evening, and may want to feed more frequently.
- Some babies sleep for long periods at night.
After 6 weeks
Your baby’s sleep pattern may change as they become more wakeful during the day. Your baby may start having longer sleeps at night.
It’s usual for babies to wake at night for feeds.
If your baby is sleeping in a bassinette, it might be time to move them into a cot.
To find out more, see Safe sleep.
Signs baby is tired
Babies who have only short sleeps may become overtired. Your baby may show signs of tiredness after a feed, a nappy change, play time or cuddle. It is easy to mistake these signs for wind or hunger.
A tired baby may:
- rub their eyes
- have poor eye contact
- seem to stare into space (not looking at anything)
- have clenched fists
- startle easily
- have tense movements.
Put your baby to bed before they become overtired – it’s harder to settle overtired babies.
Settling baby to sleep
Settling your baby to sleep in their own safe place on their back, with their face clear, helps reduce the risk of suffocation. Go to Safe sleep to find out more.
Some newborn babies fall asleep being cuddled, rocked or fed, and then have a good sleep. But they may develop a pattern of needing to be fed or rocked to sleep, and then waking, crying, soon after being put to bed.
Don’t take baby into bed with you to settle them – if you’re tired and fall asleep with them, they could end up suffocating.
Try some of the following tips to help your baby sleep.
- Have a quiet period before bed, such as a cuddle, talking in a quiet, soothing voice or singing.
- If your baby goes to sleep in their car seat, always take them out when you get home and put them in a safe place to sleep. Babies can have trouble breathing if they’re sleeping in a car seat and their head falls forward.
- Teach your baby the difference between night and day. Make day feeds fun with time talking and cuddling. Make night feeds quiet with no play or talking, and keep the lights dim.
- Have a regular routine before bed, like a bath, massage, feed or quiet cuddle.
Settling baby in bed
- Put your baby down awake (especially when they show signs of being tired) so their bed becomes a familiar place.
- Relax your baby by patting, stroking, talking to them quietly or using a musical mobile. You can stay with them while they go to sleep, or leave the room when they are calm but still awake.
- If your baby starts to grizzle or cry when you put them to bed, gently stroke them.
- If your baby continues to cry or seems distressed, pick them up, comfort them, feed them if they’re hungry and then try putting them back to bed.
Once baby is in bed
- Keep your baby warm, but not too hot, in bed. One more layer of bedding or clothing than an adult would wear is enough.
- You don’t need to be quiet in the house. Most babies sleep through household noises, like a vacuum cleaner or music.
When baby is having problems sleeping
Babies can be snuffly or noisy sleepers. It’s common for babies to have irregular breathing patterns when they sleep, such as breathing quickly followed by short pauses. This is normal.
If you’re worried about your baby’s sleep because:
- you can’t settle them
- they sleep for long periods
- they’re too tired to feed
- they don’t wake for feeds
- they’re not feeding well or not having many feeds
- they’re breathing more quickly than usual
- they’re wheezing or grunting
then contact PlunketLine on 0800 933 922, or your midwife, doctor or Well Child nurse.
Swaddling can reduce crying, and help babies sleep better. It can also stop baby being able to move freely and affect their temperature control.
How you swaddle your baby can make it a safe or unsafe practice.
If you do swaddle your baby make sure:
- baby is on their back
- you use a lightweight wrap
- the wrap is not too tight (or it could stop baby from moving easily)
- the wrap is not too loose (or it could cover baby’s face)
- baby is only swaddled when sleeping in their own bed.
Once baby tries to roll over then stop swaddling, or swaddle with arms free.
Getting your own sleep
If you’re tired, try to rest during the day when your baby is asleep, rather than rushing around or doing housework.
If you’ve got older children, ask trusted friends or family/whānau to help, so you can sleep or have a rest.
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