Sleep and your baby

Published by Baby Bunting on Sunday, January 27, 2019

Your baby’s sleep patterns will change dramatically over the first 12 months of their life. It’s important to understand how and why some of these changes are occurring and to manage yourself and your baby accordingly.

Changing sleep patterns

In the first few months of a baby’s life they will sleep from between two to four hours before waking for a feed. This pattern continues until between three and six months when your baby’s sleeps can stretch out up to six hours – a welcome change for tired parents!

Once your baby starts to split their sleep up into fewer, longer stretches, it’s good practice to start a routine. Whether you use a pre-sleep massage, songs, books, a rocking chair or a feed, your baby will start to take these as signals that it’s time to settle.

How much your baby sleeps

Babies’ sleep patterns change for a variety of reasons: their stomachs grow so they need fewer feeds; their brains develop so that they are more easily stimulated; and they become more and more attached to you and might get disrupted by seeking out your attention.

Over the course of your baby’s first 12 months, their sleep patterns will change accordingly:

  • Newborns – young babies can sleep from anywhere between eight and 18 hours a day. They will usually settle after a feed, but will wake at any time – day or night – that they are hungry.
  • Three to six months – total sleep will come down to around 15 hours a day, but the majority of this can start to occur at night with shorter sleeps throughout the day.
  • Six to 12 months – older babies will start to sleep mostly during the night, with total hours spent sleeping coming down to 12 hours per day. Teething discomfort around this age can make it hard for babies to settle or stay asleep.

Object permanence and separation anxiety

Around six months old, babies start to understand that objects and people exist even when they aren’t there. This concept is called object permanence. Babies might wake themselves up and keep themselves awake, crying out for your attention rather than necessarily just to be fed. The flipside of this is the possible development of separation anxiety, which is when your baby doesn’t want you to leave or is slow to settle because they anticipate you not being there.

Co-sleeping

Doctors recommend that babies co-sleep with their parents or caregivers for the first six to 12 months of life. Co-sleeping means that you share your bedroom (but not the same bed) with your baby. This reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndromes (SIDS) and sudden unexpected death in infants (SUDI). You must ensure that the cot or bassinet that your baby sleeps in adheres to Australian safety standards.

Parent and caregiver fatigue

Newborn babies’ sleep patterns are characterised by their short cycles of sleep, wake, feed, repeat. With feeding occurring up to 12 times per day, this pattern is likely to interrupt the longer sleep cycles of adults.

Fatigue is common in parents and caregivers during this time, so it’s important to continue to exercise and eat fresh healthy foods to ensure that you enjoy a good quality of sleep. Sharing feeding duties with a partner, friend or family member can be a great way to catch up on your sleep.

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