Sound Asleep: Sleep Advice for Young Babies
Updated: May 2020
Helpful Sleep Advice for Young Babies
No matter how many plans you make during pregnancy or how ready you may feel, the reality of becoming a parent can be overwhelming and incredibly daunting.
Aside from the mammoth task that is parenting, the feeling of sleep deprivation is something that can only be truly appreciated when you have had broken or no sleep for days and weeks on end.
A lack of sleep is one aspect of parenting that I think I massively under-estimated. I didn’t appreciate the physical and emotional impact that sleep deprivation.
Our Nursery Practitioners are asked all of the time about any tips or suggestions they may have to help support better sleep.
We are asked questions about our very youngest children, right up to those children in their last year of nursery before they start school.
I have written about my experience to share the things I have found particularly useful with my son.
These tips may not work for you, and you may have additional challenges that I don’t have, such as another child, complicated work arrangements or anything else that make your bedtime routine a little more challenging.
If you’re feeling the struggle of sleepless nights, you can take heart in knowing that there are some simple changes that you can make which may help. It’s also worth keeping in mind that all parents have faced our sleep time challenges. You are not alone.
Your Baby is Unique
The first thing to understand is that all children are unique and are unlikely to share the same routines and sleep patterns as a friend or relatives’ child.
As children grow and develop, there comes the point where it is reasonable to expect them to sleep through the night.
It is also important to remember that children go through developmental stages, periods of sickness, teething or changes in their routine that can cause them to become unsettled.
“How much sleep does my baby need?”
How much sleep your child needs is entirely dependent on the age of your child.
Naturally, when your baby is a few weeks or months old, they spend the majority of their day asleep, as they adapt to the world outside of the womb.
As they grow and develop, their sleep requirements continue to change and do so for many of their childhood years.
When I was pregnant, people advised me to try and sleep when my baby sleeps. If I am honest, I found that this rarely happened. Whenever my baby was asleep, I had to keep on top of all of the other household jobs that needed doing! Some of you may have another child to take care of. Or, quite bluntly, time is just too precious to ‘waste’ on sleep.
I also found that my little boy never slept at times when I almost felt like having 5 minutes to myself. So, in the end, I resigned myself to the fact that sleeping when my baby did wasn’t going to happen.
New-born babies will sleep for the majority of the day. They will likely be asleep for up to 18 hours a day in those first few weeks; however, it is unlikely that many of these hours will be at night.
With new-born babies needing regular feeds every 1-3 hours, it can be an extremely unsettled few months ahead following the birth of your baby.
You may find this information from The Sleep Foundation regarding the recommended amount of sleep for different age groups:
|Age||Recommended||May be appropriate||Not recommended|
|New-born (0-3 months)||14 to 17 hours||11 to 13 hours OR|
18 to 19 hours
|Less than 11 hours OR
More than 19 hours
|Infant (4-11 months)||12 to 15 hours||10 to 11 hours OR|
16 to 18 hours
|Less than 10 hours OR
More than 18 hours
|Toddler (1-2 years)||11 to 14 hours||9 to 10 hours OR|
15 to 16 hours
|Less than 9 hours OR
More than 16 hours
|Pre-schooler (3-5 years)||10 to 13 hours||8 to 9 hours OR|
|Less than 8 hours OR
More than 14 hours
Source: Sleep Foundation
“How can I get my baby to settle?”
I think this is one of those questions that is down to personal choice and preference.
There is a lot of information online, and in parenting books about different methods that can be used to help support self-settling, however, this isn’t for everyone.
I think whatever method you choose, it needs to be something that you are comfortable and confident with, as this will ultimately determine your success in implementing it.
You can try any of these methods with babies as young as six weeks. The key with anything you attempt is to be consistent throughout the week, and this includes weekends.
Give your baby the chance to fall asleep on their own
When your baby reaches six weeks, their sleep/wake cycle will start to develop. They will begin to recognise the difference between day and night.
If I am honest, I started to use this method when my little boy was four months old, as, before that, I felt he was too young.
Firstly, you need to create the perfect sleep environment for your baby, some of these include:
- A dark room
- White noise – There are various teddys or white noise apps that you can purchase
- Swaddling (This is a suitable method for babies under four months old)
- Sleeping bag (For babies over four months)
- Cuddly teddy or Comforter
When it is time for your baby to sleep, take them to their place of sleep and lay them on their back.
It may take a few attempts; however, I found this easier to do when my little boy was very young, and he seemed to respond quite well to this method after a couple of days.
Rocking or feeding your baby to sleep when they are very young is something that we have all done, mainly because we want to embrace and cherish those moments with our new baby. However, in the long term, this can create a very unwanted habit that can be difficult to break.
We see this when children start nursery, the transition from being held and rocked to sleep can sometimes be very difficult for children. Our baby rooms in our nurseries operate on a 1:3 ratio, and can babies struggle if they don’t have 1:1 time when falling asleep.
Create a Bedtime Routine
I have to be honest; while there is little information out there about bedtime routines for the very youngest of babies, I tried to implement a very loose method as soon as I bought my little boy home. By no means was this strict or unrealistic; however, I found that it helped as he got older in understanding the triggers for sleep time.
A routine for your baby helps them to learn when it’s time to fall asleep. From around the age of 3 months, you should start embedding your routine with a consistent approach.
Introduce some quiet time beforehand by turning off the TV, and put away your electronic devices (e.g. phone, tablet, etc.). This will create a calm atmosphere so that your baby can begin to relax.
You could then run a bath for your baby before putting their pyjamas on. A soothing massage or bedtime story may help as well.
Whatever you decide for your routine, it should always end in the room where your baby sleeps. This should be the same room as you during their first six months. Your routine shouldn’t last any longer than half an hour from start to finish.
Hint: It also helps to make your daytime feeds livelier and more active, and your night-time feeds quieter and more relaxed. It will help your baby to learn the difference between day and night.
Wait to see if your baby settles by themselves
Once you’ve put your baby down, give them a few minutes to see if they will settle themselves. If not, feel free to comfort them briefly but explain ‘its bedtime’. For the very youngest of children, this may mean picking them up for a minute or so and then putting them back down to sleep, for older babies it is best to leave them in their cots and reassure them with your touch or soothing words.
If you leave the room and they are still unsettled, wait a few moments before checking on them again. Keep repeating this until your baby settles. I am by no means condoning that you leave your child to become extremely upset and distressed during this time.
Coping with disturbed nights
New-born babies will wake every 1 to 3 hours during the night in the first few months. This can be difficult for many parents to cope.
I found this the hardest adjustment from life before being a parent. I felt anxious before going to bed, not knowing how much sleep I would be getting that night.
If you have a partner, then you should ask them for help. If you’re using formula or bottled breast milk, then you could share the feeds. Or, if you’re only breastfeeding at this stage, then perhaps your partner could do the early morning feed to give you a chance to get some sleep.
It can often be these small gestures that make insomnia a little more bearable.
If you don’t have a partner, then you could always ask a close friend or relative to stay for a few days so that you can sleep more. Whatever you choose its essential to recognise that your wellbeing as a parent is fundamental, and you need to on occasions take some time to catch up from consecutive nights of poor sleep.
If you need more advice, please feel free to speak with one of our practitioners when you visit the nursery. They will be more than happy to help you.