Sleep 0 – 3 months
In the first few weeks after birth, babies sleep much of the day and night. Most wake 2 to 3 times during the night for feeds.
Babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults and wake or stir about every 40 minutes. By 3 months, many babies will have settled into a pattern of longer times awake during the day, and longer sleep times (perhaps 4 to 5 hours) at night. Most will still be waking once or twice during the night for feeds.
Sleeping baby in a safe cot next to the parents’ bed for the first 6 to 12 months reduces the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy, including SIDS, as long as the room is smoke free. Sharing a bed with a baby for sleep has led to the deaths of some babies.
Secure attachments in infancy are the base for good mental health. A major need for secure attachment is for a parent to respond to infant needs and cues. It is important not to leave your baby to cry.
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn – please change to suit your child's sex.
Daytime and night time patterns
Very young babies have little idea of day or night and most wake regularly around the clock every 2 or 3 hours needing a feed and attention.
In the first few months it is common for babies to wake regularly at night for feeds at least 2 or 3 times. As a guide, many babies sleep 14-20 hours a day in the first weeks.
By 3 months many are settled into a pattern of longer sleep times – perhaps 4 to 5 hours at night. When a baby sleeps about 5 hours straight, this is considered ‘sleeping through the night’.
Ideas for settling
Routines to get ready for sleep
At this age babies are often relaxed and sleepy after a feed. Some develop a pattern of waking often and needing a feed to settle. Some babies are helped by a daytime pattern of a feed and then settling after a small play, cuddle, talk and touch. Watch your baby’s signals for when she is alert and wanting to play and when she is sleepy.
Some young babies tend to be more wakeful in the evening or night rather than during the day. It helps babies learn about day and night if you settle them at night in a quiet, dark place and don’t play with them or do anything that makes them more wakeful.
Even with young babies you can start a bedtime ritual. You may sing a little song, kiss her goodnight, find the dummy (if she has one) and then give a gentle kiss with some special soft words of love when you put her down.
Tired signs – sleep cues
As you get to know your baby you will start to learn when he is sleepy and needs to be put down for sleep. Long before they can talk, babies have tired signs or sleep cues in their behaviour that show you what they need. Your baby will have his own special sleep cues but here are some that most babies have that will give you a start in watching for your baby’s cues:
- jerky movements
- becoming quiet, not wanting to play
- ‘grizzling’ or fussing
- rubbing their eyes
- making a sleepy sound
- facial grimaces, including pulling faces
- clenched fists
- waving arms and legs about.
If you miss the tired signs and don't help your baby to settle, your baby may get more alert and overtired and be very hard to get to relax and sleep. Signs that the baby has got overtired include being very overactive, glazed eyes, and being very quick to cry.
Put your baby on his back for sleep. Often a tired newborn will accept being put into his cot while awake and will fall asleep on his own. Some new babies settle best in a quiet, dark place, others settle more easily in lighter, noisier places. Some babies are harder to settle than others and many need help to relax into sleep.
Some things to try to settle your baby:
- Some babies settle better if wrapped fairly firmly in a thin cotton sheet with the arms wrapped in too, while others do not like this and settle better if they can use their hands to soothe themselves. The wrap should not be too tight and must allow chest wall, hip and leg movement.
- Rock him in a pram, cot or your arms for a short period and then settle him into bed (a baby should not be left to sleep unsupervised in a pram).
- Settle him in the cot and then pat him with a cupped hand. Start patting quickly and then slow down as he calms. Pat at about the pace of your heartbeat.
- Push him in a pram back and forth over a bumpy surface such as the edge between your carpet and tiles or over footpath bumps.
- Have some constant noise such as humming, singing a little song, relaxing music or household noise – some babies relax if they can hear the vibration noise of the washing machine or dryer.
- Check that he is not too hot or cold, and that clothing is not too tight.
- A warm bath.
- Offer another feed, (often called a ‘top-up’ feed).
- Allow him to suck on a dummy or thumb (dummies should not be used until breastfeeding is established at about 6 weeks).
Look after yourself
Almost all adults find interrupted sleep makes them feel tired and irritable, and relationships can suffer.
- Try to keep your own life not too hectic when the baby is young.
- Take breaks when you can.
- Catch up on sleep. Sleep or rest when your baby sleeps, day and night.
- Take the phone off the hook.
- Ask for and accept help when it is offered.
- Put a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on your front door.
- Remember to get some exercise – walking is good.
- Join a group of other new parents.
Local community, school or child health nurse
- See inside your baby's purple All About Me book.
- Look in the phone directory under child health centres.
- Visit your nearest child health centre.
Local family doctor
- 8.00am – 8.00pm 7 days a week
- Phone: 9368 9368
- Outside metro area – Free call 1800 111 546 (free from land line only)
- Visit the Ngala website (external site)
Raising Children Network
- 9.00am – 5.00pm (Monday to Friday)
- Phone: 9474 3544
- Outside metro area – Free call 1800 199 466 (free from land line only)
- Visit the Red Nose (external site)
© Women’s and Children’s Health Network, reproduced with permission. The South Australian Government does not accept responsibility for the accuracy of this reproduction.
Child and Adolescent Community Health
This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.