What you need to know

  • By about three to four months of age babies are starting to, or have learned, the difference between day and night. That means many babies start sleeping more at night and less during the day. 
  • More than a third of parents report problems with their baby’s sleep when they're between six and 12 months as they start teething and missing you when you're not there.
  • If you’re unhappy with your baby’s sleep patterns, ask your Plunket nurse for suggestions that may help. Sometimes sleep problems don’t have an easy answer, and what works for one whānau may not work for you.  

Sleep from four to six months old: what to expect

By about three to four months of age babies are starting to, or have learned, the difference between day and night. That means many babies start sleeping more at night and less during the day. 

You can help your baby learn the difference between night and day by:   

  • keeping night-time activities quiet and calm, and the environment darker in the evening and at night. 
  • starting to encourage wakefulness during the daytime by doing things like: 
    • increasing the length of play times  
    • spending time outside each day. Being outside also helps babies understand that daytime is active, social time, and night time is dark and quiet inside time.  

Around this age, babies start to stretch out during the night, possibly rolling or moving around in their bassinet. Some babies may need to be moved them into a cot if they are waking themselves by banging their arms on the side of the bassinet. 

Building a sleep routine 

When you and your baby are ready, it might help to try building a simple sleep routine so they get to know when it’s time to unwind and prepare to go to bed.  

Before you put your baby to bed at night you could try doing things in the same order. For example: 

  • a warm bath 
  • a gentle massage 
  • a feed 
  • and a quiet cuddle before you put them into their own safe sleep space. 

When your baby wakes in the night, you might want to try: 

  • quietly feeding them  
  • changing their nappy 
  • settling them back to sleep. 

Settling at night three to six months 

As your baby develops and changes, it can take a little longer for them to settle as they try out their new skills, and you may need to continue helping them settle at night.  

You can teach them to settle themselves by doing things like:  

  • putting them to bed when they’re relaxed and tired, but still awake. 
  • giving them time to settle. It’s normal for them to grizzle when you first put them into bed, so leave them for a couple of minutes to let them start settling themselves. If your baby keeps crying or seems distressed, pick them up and comfort them, feed them if they're hungry and then try putting them back to bed. If they get too wound up, they'll need your help to settle again. 
  • encourage them to self-soothe.  

Sleep from six to 12 months old

More than a third of parents report problems with their baby’s sleep at this age as they grow and develop new skills. 

New abilities and sleeping 

At around six months, your babies develop lots of new abilities that can affect their sleep – including the ability to keep themselves awake. This combination means they may wake more often in the night and be more reluctant to go back to sleep. 

Teething and sleep 

Babies start teething at around six months, too. This might make them uncomfortable, and you may find they don’t settle down to sleep easily.  They could also be less likely to settle back to sleep when they wake up during their normal sleep cycles. When they’re sore and feeling sad, they may need extra cuddles and care before settling back to sleep.

Object permanence and sleep 

By around eight to nine months old babies start understanding you exist and are around, even if they can’t see you – a concept called are “object permanence.” This important cognitive development can affect sleep, because it means if babies wake in the night they may cry for you because they know you’ll come to them.  

Crying leads to action 

Around this time, babies also start realising if they cry or fuss, they can make things happen.  

Mobility and sleep 

You might find your baby’s sleep habits change as they become more physically mobile. They might start being harder to settle as they learn to do things like crawling, learning to sit, and pulling themselves up to stand in their cot. Excited to practice these new skills, your little one may take a while to lie down and go to sleep.  

They should still be put down to sleep on their backs, but from six to 12 months some babies choose to roll onto their tummy to sleep. By this age, their risk of SUDI (sudden unexpected death in infancy) is lower, but to protect them at this wriggly stage of development, they need a cot with no pillows, toys or loose covers so that they are safe when they move around.

Separation anxiety  

From six to 12 months, it’s also common for babies to begin to experience separation anxiety, getting upset when you leave the room and wanting to be with you. Your baby may resist going to sleep, and may temporarily wake up more in the night.  

Tired signs six to 12 months 

At this age, signs of tiredness can include:  

  • clumsiness 
  • clinginess 
  • grizzling 
  • crying 
  • demands for constant attention 
  • boredom with toys 
  • fussiness with food.  

Settling at night six to 12 months 

Between six to 12 months, some families want older babies to settle quickly and sleep during the night without needing help to resettle after they wake. Other families prefer to help their babies to settle during the nightThere’s no right and wrong way to do things – it’s depends on what’s best for your child and whānau. It’s a decision only you can make. 

In addition to the steps in the sleep routine suggested aboveif your baby’s unsettled you could try going into the room every few minutes for a second or two to let them know you’re still there.

Remember, this is a learning process and takes time. Usually if a baby is crying strenuously, it’s better to reassure and comfort them.  

Safety in bed

Make sure your baby has a safe space to sleep

Around eight months, your baby may become attached to something like a blanket, a toy, or maybe a piece of clothing belonging to whānau. Maybe they suck their fingers or thumb. Having a special object they’re attached to can help them calm down, relax, and settle.  

Make sure your child is safe in bed by: 

  • checking special soft toys aren’t so small they can stick them into their mouths, or so large they could be suffocated by them. Toys shouldn’t have pieces they can pull off. Choose one safe toy they can take to bed with them.  
  • checking there’s nothing they can reach around their bed. Long cords from toys, clothes, blinds or curtains can cause strangulation.  

Sleeping problems – what’s not normal

Babies can be snuffly or noisy sleepers. It's common for babies to have irregular breathing patterns when they sleep, like 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 
  • separation anxiety 

call PlunketLine any time day or night on 0800 933 922, or talk to your midwife, doctor, or Well Child nurse.

What to do when you find your baby’s sleep patterns difficult

Sometimes it can feel as though you’re never going to have a good night’s sleep again. Lack of sleep can be very stressful for parents, and it can affect their health too. There’s a strong link between baby sleep problems and symptoms of postnatal depression in women and in men who aren’t getting enough sleep themselves 

It’s important you try to rest when you can, even if this means leaving the housework or the chores for another time. Ask whānau, or friends for help – they may be able to watch your baby and other children so you can have a break.  

If you’re unhappy with your baby’s sleep patterns, ask your Plunket nurse for suggestions that may help. Sometimes sleep problems don’t have an easy answer, and what works for one whānau may not work for you.  

Read more about baby sleep 4-12 months
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