Your baby's sleep
Baby sleep advice
Reducing the risk of cot death
Baby sleep advice
Some babies sleep much more than others. Some sleep for long periods, others in short bursts. Some soon sleep through the night and some don’t for a long time.
Your baby will have their own pattern of waking and sleeping, and it’s unlikely to be the same as other babies you know.
It’s also unlikely to fit in with your need for sleep. Try to sleep when your baby sleeps. If you’re breastfeeding, in the early weeks your baby is likely to doze off for short periods during a feed.
Carry on feeding until you think your baby has finished or until they’re fully asleep. This is a good opportunity to try to get a bit of rest yourself.
If you’re not sleeping at the same time as your baby, don’t worry about keeping the house silent while they sleep. It’s good to get your baby used to sleeping through a certain amount of noise.
How can I get my baby used to night and day being different?
It’s a good idea to teach your baby that night time is different to daytime from the start.
During the day, open curtains, play games and don't worry too much about everyday noises when they sleep.
At night, you might find it helpful to:
- keep the lights down low
- not talk much and keep your voice quiet
- put your baby down as soon as they’ve been fed and changed
- not change your baby unless they need it
- not play with your baby
Soon, your baby will learn that night time is for sleeping.
Where should my baby sleep?
For the first six months your baby should be in the same room as you when they're asleep, both day and night. Particularly in the early weeks, you may find that your baby only falls asleep in your or your partner's arms, or when you're standing by the cot.
You can start getting your baby used to going to sleep without you comforting them by putting them down before they fall asleep or when they’ve just finished a feed.
It may be easier to do this once your baby starts to stay alert more frequently or for longer.
Is it important to have a routine from the beginning?
Newborn babies will sleep on and off throughout the day and night. It can be helpful to have a pattern, but you can always change the routine to suit your needs. For example, you could try waking your baby for a feed just before you go to bed in the hope that you’ll get a long sleep before they wake up again.
Establishing a bedtime routine
You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is around three months old. Getting them into a simple, soothing bedtime routine can be helpful for everyone and can help prevent sleeping problems later on. It's also great one-to-one with your baby. The routine could consist of:
- having a bath
- changing into night clothes and a fresh nappy
- brushing their teeth (if they have any!)
- putting to bed
- reading a bedtime story
- dimming the lights in the room to create a calm atmosphere
- giving a goodnight kiss and cuddle
- singing a lullaby or having a wind-up musical mobile that you can turn on when you've put your baby to bed
Leave the room while your baby is still awake, happy and relaxed and they will learn how to fall asleep on their own in their cot. Try to avoid getting them to sleep by rocking or cuddling them in your arms. If they get used to falling asleep in your arms, they may need nursing back to sleep if they wake up again.
As your child gets older, it can be helpful to keep to a similar bedtime routine. Too much excitement and stimulation just before bedtime can wake your child up again. Spend some time winding down and doing some calmer activities, like reading.
Avoid bedtime feasts
Leave a little time between your baby's feed and bedtime. If you feed your baby to sleep, feeding and going to sleep will become linked in your baby's mind. When they wake in the night, they'll want a feed to help them go back to sleep.
How much sleep is enough?
Just as with adults, babies’ and children’s sleep patterns vary. From birth, some babies need more sleep or less sleep than others. This list shows the average amount of sleep that babies and children need during a 24-hour period, including daytime naps.
- Birth to three months: most newborn babies are asleep more than they are awake. Their total daily sleep varies, but can be from eight hours, up to 16-18 hours. Babies will wake during the night because they need to be fed. Being too hot or too cold can also disturb their sleep.
- Three to six months: as your baby grows, they’ll need fewer night feeds and be able to sleep for longer. Some babies will sleep for eight hours or longer at night. By four months, they could be spending around twice as long sleeping at night as they do during the day.
- Six to 12 months: at this age, night feeds should no longer be necessary, and some babies will sleep for up to 12 hours at night. Teething discomfort or hunger may wake some babies during the night.
- 12 months: babies will sleep for around 12-15 hours in total.
- Two years: most two-year-olds will sleep for 11-12 hours at night, with one or two naps in the daytime.
- Three to four years: most will need about 12 hours sleep, but this can range from 8 hours up to 14. Some young children will still need a nap during the day.
Coping with disturbed nights
Resist the urge to rush in if your baby murmurs in the night. Leave them for a few minutes and see if they settle on their own.
Having said that, newborn babies invariably wake up repeatedly in the night for the first few months and disturbed nights can be very hard to cope with.
If you have a partner, ask them to help. If you’re formula feeding, encourage your partner to share the feeds. If you’re breastfeeding, ask your partner to take over the early morning changing and dressing so that you can go back to sleep.
Once you’re into a good breastfeeding routine, your partner could occasionally give a bottle of expressed breast milk during the night. If you’re on your own, you could ask a friend or relative to stay for a few days so that you can sleep.
All new babies change their patterns. Just when you think you have it sorted and you've all had a good night's sleep, the next night you might be up every two hours.
Be prepared to change routines as your baby growns and enters different stages. And remember, growth spurts, teething and illnesses can all affect how your baby sleeps.
If your baby is having problems sleeping or you need more advice about getting into a routine, speak to your GP, midwife or health visitor.
Reducing the risk of cot death (sudden infant death syndrome)
It's not known why some babies die suddenly and for no apparent reason from what's known as cot death or sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Experts do know that placing a baby to sleep on their back reduces the risk and that exposing a baby to cigarette smoke or overheating a baby increases the risk.
Cot death is rare, so don’t let worrying about it stop you enjoying your baby’s first few months. Follow the advice below to reduce the risks as much as possible.
To reduce the risk of cot death:
- Place your baby on their back to sleep, in a cot in the room with you.
- Don't smoke during pregnancy or let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby.
- Don't share a bed with your baby if you've been drinking alcohol, if you take drugs or if you're a smoker.
- Never sleep with your baby on a sofa or armchair.
- Don't let your baby get too hot.
- Keep your baby’s head uncovered. Their blanket should be tucked in no higher than their shoulders.
- Place your baby in the 'feet to foot' position (with their feet at the end of the cot or pram).
- The safest place for your baby to sleep is on their back in a cot in a room with you for the first six months.
Place your baby on their back to sleep
Place your baby on their back to sleep from the very beginning, for both day and night sleeps. This will reduce the risk of cot death. It's not as safe for babies to sleep on their sides as on their backs. Healthy babies placed on their backs are not more likely to choke.
When the baby is old enough to roll over, don't prevent them from doing so.
The risks of bed sharing
The safest place for your baby to sleep for the first six months is in a cot in a room with you. Don't share a bed with your baby if you or your partner:
- are smokers (no matter where or when you smoke and even if you never smoke in bed)
- have recently drunk alcohol
- have taken medication or drugs that make you sleep more heavily
- feel very tired
The risks of bed sharing are also increased if your baby:
- was premature (born before 37 weeks), or
- was of low birth weight (less than 2.5kg or 5.5lb)
There's also a risk that you might roll over in your sleep and suffocate your baby. Or your baby could get caught between the wall and the bed, or roll out of an adult bed and be injured.
Never sleep with a baby on a sofa or armchair
It’s lovely to have your baby with you for a cuddle or a feed, but it’s safest to put your baby back in their cot before you go to sleep.
Don’t let anyone smoke in the same room as your baby
Babies exposed to cigarette smoke after birth are at increased risk of cot death. Nobody should smoke in the house, including visitors.
Anyone who needs to smoke should go outside. Don't take your baby into smoky places. If you're a smoker, sharing a bed with your baby increases the risk of cot death.
Find help and support if you'd like to quit smoking.
Don’t let your baby get too hot (or too cold)
Overheating can increase the risk of cot death. Babies can overheat because of too much bedding or clothing, or because the room is too hot.
- When you check your baby, make sure they're not too hot. If your baby is sweating or their tummy feels hot to the touch, take off some of the bedding. Don’t worry if your baby’s hands or feet feel cool. This is normal.
- It's easier to adjust for the temperature by using lightweight blankets. Remember, a folded blanket counts as two blankets.
- Babies don't need hot rooms. All-night heating is rarely necessary. Keep the room at a temperature that's comfortable for you at night. About 18°C (65°F) is comfortable.
- If it's very warm, your baby may not need any bedclothes other than a sheet.
- Even in winter, most babies who are unwell or feverish don't need extra clothes.
- Babies should never sleep with a hot-water bottle or electric blanket, next to a radiator, heater or fire, or in direct sunshine.
- Babies lose excess heat through their heads, so make sure their heads can't be covered by bedclothes during sleep periods.
- Remove hats and extra clothing as soon as you come indoors or enter a warm car, bus or train, even if it means waking your baby.
Don’t let your baby’s head become covered
Babies whose heads are covered with bedding are at increased risk of cot death. To prevent your baby wriggling down under the covers, place them in the ‘feet to foot’ position. This means that their feet are at the end of the crib, cot or pram.
- Make the covers up so that they reach no higher than the shoulders. Tuck the covers in securely so that they can't slip over the baby’s head. Use one or more layers of lightweight blankets.
- Use a baby mattress that's firm, flat, well-fitting and clean, and waterproof on the outside. Cover the mattress with a single sheet.
- Don't use duvets, quilts, baby nests, wedges, bedding rolls or pillows.
Feeding and dummies
Breastfeeding your baby reduces the risk of cot death. See Why breastfeed? for more information.
It's possible that using a dummy at the start of any sleep period reduces the risk of cot death. However, the evidence is not strong and not all experts agree that dummies should be promoted. Don't give your baby a dummy until breastfeeding is well established, usually when they're around one month old. Stop giving them the dummy when they're between 6 and 12 months old.
If your baby is unwell, seek medical help promptly
Babies often have minor illnesses, which you don't need to worry about. Give your baby plenty of fluids to drink and don't let them get too hot. If your baby sleeps a lot, wake them up regularly for a drink.
It can be difficult to judge whether an illness is more serious and requires prompt medical attention. See Spotting the signs of serious illness for guidance on when to get help.