By Raising Children Network
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A comforting bedtime routine can lead to a better night’s sleep for your baby and for you.

Baby sleeping
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Average sleep pattern for babies

By the time babies are three months old, they tend to sleep more at night and stay awake longer during the day. But it’s amazing just how different babies can be – some will sleep for hours on end, while others hardly seem to sleep at all. There’s no such thing as normal when it comes to sleeping babies.

All guides to babies’ sleep patterns are just that – guides. You know your baby best. If your baby is awake and happy, he’s had enough sleep. If he’s awake and unhappy, more sleep might be needed. Sleep needs for babies vary, but a little extra sleep can be all that stands between a contented baby and a grumpy one.

On average, babies aged:

  • 3-6  months have 2-3 days sleeps of up to two hours each, and might still wake at least once during the night
  • 7-12 months sleep up to 2-3 hours in the day, usually taken as a morning sleep and an afternoon sleep, and might go to sleep between 6 pm and 10 pm and sleep until 5 am or later.

Baby asleep in cot

Sleeping with you
There are benefits to sharing your bed with your baby (also called co-sleeping). Researchers agree babies who sleep near their mothers are more likely to breastfeed successfully and to continue breastfeeding for longer. 

But sharing a bed with your baby is associated with an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and fatal sleep accidents in some circumstances.

Sleeping in a cot
It’s recommended that babies sleep in their own beds, with the safest option being a cot in your room for the first 6-12 months. This has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS.

Make sure that your baby’s cot is set up for safe sleeping. If you’re looking at portable cots, it’s important to find one that’s safe and easy to use.

Dropping off to sleep is one thing most babies can cleverly do for themselves. But if your baby is having trouble falling asleep or settling, you could try the patting settling technique. If you’d like your older baby to be able to resettle himself when he wakes in the night, you can help your child to sleep independently.

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To learn more about the basics of baby sleep, you can read our article on baby sleep 2-12 months.

Bedtime routine

By the time babies are six months old, they often appreciate the soothing ‘sameness’ of a bedtime routine. Babies love routine, and it won’t take long for your baby to understand what’s expected. A typical bedtime routine might look like this:

  1. Give your baby dinner.
  2. Give your baby a bath.
  3. Have a short play.
  4. Give your baby the last feed of the day (breast or formula).
  5. Change his nappy.
  6. Give him some quiet time with you in the bedroom (reading a book or telling a story).
  7. Put him into the cot while singing a lullaby, such as Rock-a-Bye Baby.
  8. Say goodnight.
  9. Turn the lights out or a night-light on (whatever baby is used to).
At six months, there’s usually no need for a feed during the night. Some parents find that a feed around 10 pm (a rollover feed) helps their baby sleep longer through the night. You can read more about phasing out night feeds.

Night waking

All babies wake during the night as part of their normal sleep cycle. Problems start when they can’t get back to sleep without your help. Once a baby knows how to fall back to sleep independently, everyone in the house can enjoy nights of relatively unbroken rest.

Help your baby learn how to go to sleep independently by putting your baby to bed sleepy but still awake. If she can learn to go to sleep without you, she’s more likely to drop off again after waking during the night. This means putting her into her bed before she falls asleep on your lap or on the bottle.

Nearly 50% of babies under 15 months wake at night. But if regular night waking is becoming a problem for you, try using the tips in our guide to solving sleep problems.

Sleep tips

  • Help your baby learn to settle and fall asleep independently by emphasising the difference between night and day, putting him to bed drowsy but awake, and starting a feed, play, sleep routine.
  • You can help your baby to associate darkness with sleep by minimising activity, noise and light when you’re feeding or changing a nappy during the night.
  • Bottle-feeding in bed isn’t a good way to help your baby get to sleep. It can cause illness if milk goes down the wrong tube. Later, as your baby develops teeth, it can also cause severe tooth decay.
  • Some parents find dummies helpful. But there can be downsides. Babies can become dependent on dummies to get to sleep. Getting up to replace your baby’s lost dummy at night can be very tiring. But the good news is that from around eight months, most babies can learn to manage their own dummies during the night.
  • To sleep well and safely, your baby needs to be dressed in bedtime clothes so she’s not too hot or too cold.
  • Lots of babies share a bedroom with older siblings. This can make getting your baby to sleep a little more complicated, but there are ways to work around this.
  • Help your child to feel comfortable about sleeping away from home, so as not to disrupt your child’s routine.
  • Camping out is a strategy for dealing with persistent settling and waking problems in young children. 

Young children get overtired easily. When they do, they find it harder to get to sleep. Once you can spot the signs of tiredness, you’ll be able to settle your baby to sleep before grumpiness sets in.

Children’s sleep problems are one of the most common reasons parents seek help from professionals. Pills and potions aren’t usually the answer – there are better ways to deal with your child’s sleep difficulties. Your child’s sleep problems will be much easier to manage if you get help from a child health professional.

Video: Encouraging baby sleep

Download Video  28mb

In this short video, parents talk about encouraging baby sleep. They share tips on:

  • identifying your own baby’s sleep cues
  • finding out what helps your baby sleep
  • being consistent with sleep and settling techniques.

Every baby is different. These mums and dads make the point that you might need to experiment to find out what works for your baby.

 
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  • Newsletter snippet: Baby sleep: in a nutshell

    By Raising Children Network

    All babies are different but there are average sleep patterns.

    • Up to three months: your baby might be sleeping more during the night and staying awake longer during the day.
    • 3-6 months: your baby might be having two or three sleeps of up to two hours each during the day, and perhaps waking at least once during the night.
    • Six months: there might be no need for a night feed.
    • 7-12 months: your baby might be sleeping 2-3 hours during the day, split between morning and afternoon sleeps. At this time, many babies also start sleeping from between 6 pm and 10 pm until 5 am or later.

    Night waking

    Your baby needs to learn to go to sleep independently. Encourage this process by putting baby to bed while baby is sleepy but still awake, rather than letting baby drop off while feeding or cuddling. Baby might then be more likely to go back to sleep after waking during the night.

    This article is an extract only. For more information, visit raisingchildren.net.au/sleep/babies_sleep.html.

    Sourced from the Raising Children Network's comprehensive and quality-assured Australian parenting website www.raisingchildren.net.au.


 
 
 
  • Last Updated 26-10-2012
  • Last Reviewed 26-10-2012
  • Mindell, J.A., Telofski, L.S., Wiegand, B. & Kurtz, E.S. (2009). A nightly bedtime routine: Impact on sleep in young children and maternal mood. Sleep, 32(5), 599–606.