Just how much sleep does my baby need?
Babies and children are all different – their sleep habits and patterns depend a lot on their temperaments and sleep routines. But if you’re looking to get a little more sleep into your child’s life – and yours – it might help to know that there are some tried and tested strategies you can use.
How much sleep do babies and children need?
Newborns usually sleep for around 16 hours in every 24. They sleep in short bursts through the day and night, in blocks of up to four hours. Your newborn needs your attention during the night for feeding and settling. It isn’t realistic to expect a newborn to ‘sleep through the night’.
Between 2 and 12 months, babies generally sleep 9-12 hours at night. During the day, most babies sleep for 2-4½ hours during the day, divided between morning and afternoon naps. Your baby might have 1-4 naps during the day, lasting between 30 minutes and 2 hours each.
Toddlers need 10-12 hours sleep a night. Most toddlers can do with an hour or two of sleep in the middle of the day as well.
Babies who get overtired during the day can find it harder to settle to sleep at night.
At 3-6 months, your baby might be tired after 1½ to 3 hours awake. At 6-12 months, your baby might be tired after 2-3 hours awake. At 12-18 months, your baby might be overtired if he misses out on his morning or afternoon sleep.
If your baby or toddler is tired, you might see some of the following tired signs:
- grizzling or crying
- demands for constant attention
- boredom with toys
- fussiness with food
When babies learn to sleep and settle without your help in the first 3-4 months of life, it can help you avoid settling and waking problems later on. There are three things you can start doing in the first 3-4 months of your baby’s life to get him ready for independent sleep:
- Emphasise the difference between night and day.
- Put your baby to bed drowsy but awake.
- Start a feed, play, sleep routine.
Changing baby sleep patterns
If you’re worried about your sleep or your baby’s sleep, you might want to look into changing your baby’s sleep patterns. The key is helping your baby learn how to settle to sleep without your help.
Here are four basic steps to changing baby sleep patterns.
1. Identify your baby’s sleep habits
Usually, the way your baby falls asleep at the start of the night is the way he’ll want to go back to sleep after waking in the night. For example, if he’s fed to sleep at the start of the night, he’ll want to be fed in the middle of the night. Your baby might have other sleep habits, like rocking, music or a dummy.
2. Phase out the problem habit
For example, if your baby routinely falls asleep at the breast or with the bottle, you can change this habit by finishing the last feed at least 20 minutes before bedtime. Or feed your baby outside the bedroom.
3.Set up a positive bedtime routine
A positive bedtime routine can calm and soothe your baby or toddler in the 20 minutes or so before bed. This makes it easier to get your child into bed and settle him for sleep. A bedtime routine is a series of consistent activities, which you do in the same order and at the same time each night. Here’s an example: have dinner, have a bath, brush teeth, read a book together, get into bed and have a goodnight kiss.
4. Seek help
If you’ve got baby sleep problems, you’re not alone. Lots of parents need help from professionals to sort out sleep and settling issues. Your child’s sleep problems will be much easier to manage with the support of a child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician. You can also get help from parenting helplines and early parenting centres.
When a baby dies unexpectedly and for no obvious reason, it’s often described as sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). SUDI is a broad term that includes SIDS and fatal sleeping accidents. These safe sleeping practices can reduce SUDI risk.
1. Put babies to sleep on their backs
Once your baby can roll over (at around 4-6 months), keep putting him to sleep on his back, but let him find his own sleeping position.
2. Make sure babies’ heads can’t get covered while they’re sleeping
Put your baby low down in the cot, so his feet are near the bottom end. Make sure the bed sheets can’t cover his head. You could use a safe infant sleeping bag instead of blankets.
3. Avoid smoking
The link between SUDI and smoking is strong even when parents smoke away from their baby.
4. Use a well-maintained cot that meets current Australian safety standards
Look for AS/NZS 2172:2003 for cots and AS/NZS 2195:1999 for portable cots. Cots that don’t meet the standards could have issues like lead paint, dangerous gaps, or sides that children can climb over.
5. Share a room
Have your baby in a cot in your room for the first 6-12 months.
6. Breastfeed your baby if you can
Breastfeeding more than halves the risk of SUDI.
7. Keep cot bumpers, soft toys, pillows and doonas out of your baby’s cot
Babies have been suffocated by these soft objects.
8. Use a firm and well-fitting mattress
Make sure there are no gaps between the mattress and the edge of the cot, where a baby’s head could get jammed. If you’re using a portable cot, use only the firm, thin, well-fitting mattress that comes with it.
9. Avoid baby sleeping on couches or makeshift bedding
Your baby might get wedged between a mattress and a wall, get stuck between pillows or cushions, or slip down until his head is covered by blankets.
10. Dress your baby in clothing that’s warm, but not hot
Be guided by what you would wear to bed yourself. Keep your baby’s head uncovered indoors. Don’t worry if your baby’s hands and feet feel cool – that’s normal.
11. Make sure your baby’s carers know how to protect against SUDI
For example, it isn’t recommended to leave a baby sleeping in a pram unsupervised.
This story was published courtesy of the Raising Children Network.