From birth to six months your baby will sleep for around 2-4 hours and then wake for short periods and this occurs throughout the night. As your baby gets older (from about 6 months on) they will sleep for longer time periods that can be up to 6 or more hours and most of these longer periods will be at night. Your baby is also better able to self soothe at this age when they do wake.
Newborns wake during the night primarily for a feed or discomfort. Some will sleep four to six hour stretches from six weeks while many will not do this until six months or beyond.
Night – day rhythms are not established until your baby is about three months old. This means your baby may sleep long stretches during the day and then want to catch up on feeds overnight. You can encourage the development of this inner circadian rhythm by waking your baby for feeds every three to four hours during the day and leave them to wake themselves overnight. Allow your baby to sleep in the daylight during the early weeks and keep the light dim when you are attending to them at night.
Other factors that may result in night waking include:
Newborns are unable to effectively regulate their body temperature making it important to not overdress and overheat your baby; and conversely under-dress and chill your baby. Avoid using sleep wear and bed linen made from synthetic fibres as these tend to trap heat. Dress your baby in warm clothes so that your baby is warm without needing to use a blanket. Use what you would wear to bed as a guide. Keep an eye on the room temperature, it should be comfortably warm and not to hot or cold.
During the first few months, the startle reflex can cause your baby to wake. Swaddling helps by preventing arms from flapping and waking your baby and therefore encouraging longer sleep.
Digestive discomfort makes it difficult for your baby to settle and sleep. Discomfort such as oesophageal pain, abdominal bloating or wind trapped in the lower bowel can all make it difficult for your baby to relax and sleep. If this persists or you are worried about your babies comfort you should talk to your health care professional.
With increased activity and movement your baby has a need for increased nutrition. Consider increasing their milk and solid intake during the day to rule out hunger being the cause of night waking.
Teething discomfort can make it difficult for your baby to settle back to sleep if they wake
Illness such as an ear infection or cold may be the cause of your baby not settling. If they are not miserable during the day and have no fever, an ear infection is rarely the cause of not settling at bedtime. Seek professional health advice to make sure your baby is in good health.
As your baby develops and begins to put their world in sequences – routines become an important way of helping them feel secure. Your baby will benefit from cues that indicate sleep time, and set routines will help prevent your baby being hungry and tired at the same time.
Disrupted sleep can often be triggered by new milestones approaching and once the new skill is mastered, sleep improves until the next stage of development.
Learn more about baby sleep patterns.