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.
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.
Baby sleeps 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 sleep for short times, while others 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.
Babies who have only short sleeps may become overtired. Your baby may show tired signs after a feed, or a nappy change, or play time and cuddle. It is easy to mistake these tired signs for wind or hunger. Put your baby to bed before they become overtired, because it’s harder to settle overtired babies.
A tired baby may:
Rub their eyes
Have poor eye contact, seem to stare into space (not looking at anything)
Have clenched fists
Have tense movements
Settling baby to sleep in their own safe place on their back, with their face clear helps reduce the risk of SUDI (SIDS or cot death). Some newborn babies fall asleep being cuddled, rocked or fed, and then have a good sleep. But they may develop a pattern of needing you to feed them or rock them to sleep, and then they wake crying, soon after being put to bed.
Try some of the following tips to help your baby sleep:
Put your baby down awake so their bed becomes a familiar place, especially when they show signs of being tired.
Have a quiet period before bed, such as a cuddle, talking in a quiet, soothing voice or singing.
Keep your baby warm, but not too hot in bed. One more layer than an adult would wear is enough.
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.
You don’t need to be quiet in the house. Most babies sleep through household noises, like a vacuum cleaner or music.
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 breathing problems in a car seat if 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, and quiet cuddle.
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, your midwife, doctor, or your Well Child nurse.
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 to help, so you can sleep or have a rest.
It’s said that the first three months of life are like the fourth trimester of pregnancy. Find out how to simulate a womb-like experience for your new baby on the Raising Children In New Zealand website, Sleeping: The First Few Weeks. You can also read more about keeping baby warm in safe in bed.