What are baby sleep habits?
Baby sleep habits are the things babies need to settle for sleep.
Sleep habits can be dummies, music, mobiles, fan noise or other white noise, night-lights, rocking, cuddling, feeding and so on.
Baby sleep habits, settling and night waking
Baby sleep habits are usually the same at the start of the night and after waking during the night. So if your baby’s sleep habit is being rocked to sleep at the start of the night, your baby will want to be rocked back to sleep in the middle of the night.
Sleep habits aren’t necessarily something you need to phase out or change. But some babies are difficult to settle or wake a lot at night. If this sounds like your baby and it’s something you’d like to change, you could look at your baby’s sleep habits and think about whether a change might help with sleep and settling.
On the other hand, if you’re happy to resettle your baby each time they wake during the night, that’s just fine.
Babies and children need sleep to grow and develop well. You also need sleep for your health and wellbeing. And when you’re physically, emotionally and mentally well, it helps your baby thrive.
Phasing out your baby’s sleep habits: what to expect
Most babies cry while they’re getting used to a new way of going to sleep. That’s because they like their usual way of getting to sleep and might be upset by change. Be prepared for crying for the first few nights.
It might take anything from three days to three weeks to change baby sleep habits, depending on the approach you use and your baby’s temperament.
After that, sleep usually improves for everyone.
Identifying your baby’s sleep habits
If you want to phase out your baby’s sleep habits, the first step is to work out what they are. For example, to settle for sleep your baby might need:
- a dummy
- music or a mobile above the cot
- breastfeeding or bottle-feeding
- cuddling or rocking
- a particular place in your home, like the family room.
When you know what your baby’s sleep habits are, the next step is to work on phasing them out. There are tips below for different baby sleep habits.
A positive bedtime routine helps your baby settle to sleep.
Dummies can be a tricky sleep habit, especially if your baby loses the dummy during the night and needs you to find it and put it back in.
Music and mobiles
If your baby’s sleep habit is going to sleep with music playing or a mobile moving above the cot, it’s probably best to stop using music or mobiles at bedtime – especially if you have to get out of bed to turn the music or mobile back on in the night.
You can phase out these sleep habits gradually. For example, you could use music as part of your bedtime routine, but turn it off when your baby starts to look drowsy.
If your baby routinely falls asleep at the breast or with the bottle, your baby might depend on feeding to get to sleep.
From six months of age, if your baby is developing well, it’s OK to think about night weaning for breastfed babies and phasing out night feeds for bottle-fed babies.
But if you’re comfortable with feeding your baby during the night, there’s no hurry to phase out night feeds. You can choose what works best for you and your baby.
Rocking, cuddling or going to sleep in the family room
Some babies are used to being rocked or cuddled to sleep. Or they might want to be with the rest of the family until they fall asleep – for example, in the family room. These babies might find it hard to resettle when they wake up in a different place from where they went to sleep.
It can help to put your baby to bed drowsy but awake. This gives your baby the chance to associate falling asleep with being in bed. And it means your baby will be more likely to settle themselves when they wake in bed in the night.
The patting settling technique is one way to help babies learn to go to sleep in their own beds.
Looking after yourself
Phasing out baby sleep habits can be tiring, so it helps to look after yourself. You could try resting during the day when you can, going to bed early and asking family and friends for help.
The right support for baby sleep problems can really help. Talk to your child and family health nurse if you feel things aren’t working. They can refer you to an early parenting centre. You can also call a parenting helpline.