How Do I Get My Baby To Sleep?

One of the most overwhelming things about being a new parent is the dramatic change in your sleep schedule (which is a fancy way of saying you'll be absolutely knackered). Here are some of the most common questions mums and dads ask about getting baby to go to sleep - and stay asleep!

How much sleep do babies need?

It varies, but most newborns will be sleeping anything up to 18 hours a day, with no real division between day and night. By three or four months, the length of sleep should have reduced, with more sleeping hours through the night and fewer during the day.

This pattern will continue until waking for night feeds ceases altogether, somewhere between six months and a year. Even year-old babies will still be sleeping somewhere in the region of 12-15 hours every night.

When should I try to get my baby to sleep?

In a nutshell, you can't. Every baby's sleep schedule is different, but they have one thing in common – it's extremely unlikely theirs will line up with yours in the first few weeks and months. If you can, try to line your sleeping schedule up with theirs – nap when they nap.

As they get older, babies will naturally progress to sleeping more steadily at night and less during the day – you can help this process along by following a consistent bedtime routine.

How can I establish a routine?

NHS Choices recommends trying to introduce a bedtime routine from the age of three months (before the, you'll just have to hope for the best!).

Don't be afraid to have a goodnight cuddle, but try to resist the idea of rocking or cradling your baby to sleep.

Su Laurent, paediatrician and author of Your Baby Month By Month, says: "Put babies down to sleep when still awake, that way they learn that when they wake up at night they don't need a parent to get them back to sleep.

When they are old enough to sleep through the night without feeds, don't go to them immediately when they fuss, they will often settle quite quickly."

Some of the tips for getting your baby in the mood for bed aren't too different from the ones we use on ourselves. Try:

  • a bath
  • a few pages of a bedtime story
  • dimming the lights
  • singing or humming
  • for a modern twist, some parents swear by white noise or soothing music apps on their phones

What about leaving my baby to cry?

In recent years, there's been a resurgence of the 'controlled crying' school of thought - letting your baby cry a little rather than rushing to comfort which, advocates argue, creates a dependency on being 'put to sleep'.

However, although current evidence suggests this method does not cause psychological harm, as feared, the relevant studies only looked at babies over the age of seven months. The NCT doesn't recommend trying controlled crying until at least six months.

Essentially, 'controlled crying' is a matter of personal preference which may work for some parents, not a miracle cure-all – but it isn't proven to have any negative effect on babies over seven months. You'll just need to figure out what works for your family.

They still won't sleep! Could there be something wrong?

"If a baby is vomiting, arching her back and screaming at night she may have reflux, which is worth discussing with your GP or health visitor," says Su Laurent. "But most babies who wake and cry frequently do not have a medical problem."

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