Sleep - birth to 3 months
sleep; baby; babies; settle; routine; settling; unsettled; rituals; birth; 3; months ;
In the first few weeks, many babies sleep much of the day and night. They have little idea of day or night and most wake regularly around the clock every two or three hours needing a feed and attention. As a guide, many babies sleep 14–20 hours a day in the first weeks. Babies have shorter sleep cycles than adults and wake or stir about every 40 minutes.
By three months, many babies will have settled into a pattern of longer times awake during the day, and longer sleep times (perhaps four to five hours) at night. Most babies of this age still require one or two night feeds. By three months many are settled into a pattern of longer sleep times. When a baby sleeps about five hours straight this is considered sleeping through the night. There is more information in the topic Babies - day and night patterns in the early months.
Some of the content of this topic comes from the Parent Easy Guide 34 Sleep (children 0 - 6 years) developed by Parenting SA.
Sleeping in the same room with parents is safest for young babies. Sharing a bed with a baby has led to the deaths of some babies. See Sudden unexpected deaths in infancy (including SIDS). Deaths of infants are very rare, but there are things you can do to make sleep safer for your baby.
Babies need parents to respond to them. Attachment is the strong, long lasting bond which develops between a baby and his or her caregiver. This enables a baby to feel safe and free to learn and explore, and helps with forming relationships throughout their lives. It is important not to leave your baby to cry (see the topic Attachment) .
There are many more topics on this site about sleep, including
Watch your baby’s signals for when they are alert and wanting to play and when they are sleepy. It might take you some time to learn the signs that your baby is tired. Signs can include yawning, random jerky movements, crying or rubbing their eyes. After a feed, babies are often relaxed and sleepy. Some babies are awake for a short time before showing signs that they are tired and ready for sleep.
Even with young babies you can start a bedtime pattern. You may sing a little song, kiss goodnight, feed and bath your baby and then give a gentle kiss with some special soft words of love when you put them into bed.
Some young babies tend to be more wakeful in the evening or night rather than during the day. It helps your baby learn about day and night if you settle them at night in a quiet, dark place and don’t play or do anything that makes them more wakeful. There is more information in the topic Babies - day and night patterns in the early months.
Put your baby on their back for sleep. Often a tired newborn will accept being put into their cot while awake and fall asleep on their own. Some new babies settle best in a quiet, dark place, others settle more easily in noisier, lighter places. Some babies are harder to settle than others and many need help to relax into sleep.
Very young babies do not always settle well in a large space – many parents use bassinets for the early weeks.
Some tips for settling your baby:
have some constant noise such as humming, singing a little song, relaxing music or household noise. Many babies love the vibration noise of the washing machine or dryer
wrap baby in a thin cotton sheet or use a safe sleeping bag that has no hood or arms (see Wrapping babies
- settle baby in the cot and pat them gently. Start patting quickly and then slow down as they calm, usually at about the pace of your heartbeat
- rock baby in a pram, crib or your arms for a short period and then settle them into bed (you must stay with your baby at all times if they are in a pram - see Prams and strollers)
- push baby in a pram back and forth over a bumpy surface such as the edge between your carpet and tiles or over footpath bumps
check that they are not too hot or cold, and that clothing is not too tight
- a warm bath
offer another feed (often called a ‘top-up’ feed)
allow baby to suck on a dummy or thumb. It is not a good idea to use a dummy before breastfeeding is working well around 4–6 weeks
use a baby sling so your baby is close and can hear your heart beat. This may help them settle and allow you to do a few household tasks.
Having a relaxing bed time routine helps babies and young children to relax into sleep. It is never too early to start a routine you can adapt to your child’s changing needs.
As you get to know your baby you will start to learn when he is sleepy and needs to be put down for sleep. Long before they can talk babies have tired signs or sleep cues in their behaviour that show you what they need. Your baby will have his own special sleep cues but here are some that most babies have that will give you a start in watching for your baby’s cues.
- Jerky movements
- Becoming quiet, not wanting to play
- “Grizzling” or fussing
- Rubbing their eyes
- Making a sleepy sound
- Facial grimaces i.e. pulling faces
- Clenched fists
- Waving arms and legs about
If you miss the tired signs and don't help your baby to settle your baby may get more alert and overtired and be very hard to get to relax and sleep. Signs that the baby has got overtired included being very overactive, stare-y eyes, and being very quick to cry.
Almost all adults find interrupted sleep makes them feel tired and irritable, and relationships can suffer.
Caring for babies and young children is tiring and demands a great deal of tolerance, understanding and patience. Most parents say that their need for sleep in the early years is one of their greatest needs. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help from family and friends.
If you feel that you might hurt your child make sure they are in a safe place and leave until you have calmed down. Contact someone immediately if you feel unable to manage.
You will get lots of advice. Some people may suggest that you let your baby 'cry it out' or that you use controlled crying/comforting. This is not good for babies. Babies need you to respond when they need you. This helps them to feel safe and secure.
- Try to keep your own life not too hectic when the baby is young.
- Take breaks when you can.
- Catch up on sleep. Sleep or rest when your baby sleeps, day and night.
- Take the phone off the hook or let the call go to answering machine. Switch your mobile phone to 'silent'.
- Ask for and accept help when it is offered.
- Put a DO NOT DISTURB sign on your front door.
- Remember to get some exercise – walking is good.
- Join a group of other new parents.
- 24 hour Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100.
- Talk with a Child Health Nurse - call 1300 733 606 for an appointment.
Books to download (PDF)
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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.