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. 
  • Babies develop lots of new skills between six to 12 months, and this may affect their sleep.
  • Lots of children rock on all fours, roll from side to side, or rhythmically bang their heads on the bed as they’re falling asleep. Believe it or not, this behaviour can comfort and soothe them, and help them settle themselves to sleep.

Waking in the night

All pēpi are different, and their sleep habits and behaviour vary a lot. When they’re still so little, it can be hard to tell if your baby’s sleep or settling has become a problem, or if that’s just what’s normal for them.  

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. 

Around this age, pēpi start to stretch out during the night. If they roll or move around in their bassinet, they may wake themselves up if they bang into the sides or ends of their bed.   

Baby’s sleeping patterns may become unsettled if they're ill, teething, or are away from home. At these times they may need extra cuddles and care before settling back to sleep. When your pēpi is well or at home again, try to get them back into their regular routine. If your baby has been having extra feeds when away or unwell, try to settle them without these feeds. 

Your baby may have a sleep problem if your six month-old (or older) baby consistently: 

  • wakes more than three times a night   
  • takes more than 30 minutes to settle 
  • has trouble sleeping and settling that causes you a lot of distress. 

Many of these sleep issues will resolve themselves with time, but talk to your Plunket nurse or GP about them. It's a good idea to check there are no underlying health issues that could be causing these issues.  

There's a lot you can do to help them develop healthy sleep patterns in the first few months. 

Why baby’s sleep changes between six to 12 months old

There’s a lot going on for your baby between six to 12 months: 

  • they develop lots of new abilities that can affect their sleep, and can keep themselves awake 
  • they start teething 
  • they start understanding things exist, even if they can't see them (object permanence) – so start crying out in the night because they know you're around to comfort them 
  • they start understanding that crying helps them make things happen 
  • they become more physically mobile, and may start sitting up or pulling themselves to standing in their cot 
  • they start to feel separation anxiety, missing you when you’re not with them. 

All this adds up to sleep disruption for them, and probably for you too.  

From six to 12 months pēpi can roll onto their fronts, and some choose to sleep this way. To protect them at this wriggly stage of development, they need a cot with no pillows, toys or loose covers so that they are free and safe when they move about. 

Baby sleep, settling and routines

Body-rocking, head-rolling and head-banging in bed

Lots of tamariki rock on all fours, roll from side to side, or rhythmically bang their heads on the bed as they’re falling asleep. Believe it or not, this behaviour can comfort and soothe them, and help them settle themselves to sleep. These behaviours often start between six and nine months of age, and they’re nearly always harmless.  

Most children outgrow the behaviour by age five, but some take longer.  

If you’re really worried about it, talk to your Plunket nurse or GP. It helps if you have a video you can show them so they can see exactly what your child is doing.  

Body rocking and head-banging can be especially intense in children with ASD (autism spectrum disorder), developmental delay, and in blind children too, and they're also more likely to show this behaviour during the day. For these children, the rocking and banging can be harmful. 

Read more about body-rocking, head rolling and head banging

Sleep deprivation and parenting

For parents and caregivers, broken sleep can make you feel exhausted and overwhelmed. If you have other children, it can be even more challenging. Just try to sleep or rest when your baby or children are, rather than rushing around or doing housework. You could arrange for whānau or friends to look after your children so you can get some rest.  

If you’re breastfeeding, you may want to consider expressing breastmilk so someone else can feed your baby while you rest. If you’re formula feeding, show someone else how to make up the formula. 

If you’re feeling desperate, or like you can’t cope, call PlunketLine on 0800 933 922 any time, day or night. We’re always here for you. 

Read more about sleep deprivation and parenting

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