You were warned that you would be tired for the first few months, but no one could have prepared you for the extreme fatigue that goes with parenting a little one. You are understandably looking for a clue as to what to expect in terms of sleep and specifically when you will get a good night’s sleep!

Sleep and your newborn baby

In the early days, most babies wake two to four hourly for feeds at night, especially breastfed babies. The night wakings gradually reduce and within a few weeks (usually at around 6 weeks of age) your newborn should start to stretch for one long stretch of five or more hours once at night. Usually, the first stretch to develop will be from bedtime to around midnight, as your baby drops the late evening feed first. Don’t be tempted to wake your baby up earlier, to feed, in the hope that it will do away with the 2 am feed – they are usually too tired to feed efficiently and this can cause longer-term sleep problems!

If you are having sleep problems at this age it is usually one of the following issues:

  • Your newborn may have their day and night muddled up.
  • Newborns can be too sleepy to feed well, fall asleep at the breast and therefore need to feed more frequently.
  • At 2-6 weeks, many newborns become more wakeful and hard to settle to sleep, especially during the afternoon and early evening.

Sleep and your baby 3m – 6m

Your baby’s sleep has probably been improving since those newborn days. Close to three months of age, you can expect your baby to be waking once or twice at night. Then just when you think you are getting there, the wheels may fall off – he starts waking incrementally earlier and earlier. Your baby does this between four and six months of age because his nutritional needs are changing. Up to this age, milk will be satisfying but at around this time, your baby needs a little more to get him sleeping through the night. There are three possible solutions:

  • Your baby needs nutritional support at night, so feed him when he cries if three or more hours have passed. Don’t be tempted to ‘dummy’ him because it will impact on sleep later if habits develop.
  • Give your baby a top-up feed of formula or expressed breast milk in the evening. Treat this as a cluster feed just before bedtime.
  • Start looking at introducing solids. Recent research shows that we can introduce solids between 4 and 6 months of age.

Sleep and your baby 6m – 12m

From 6 months, if your baby is on a full solids diet and has learnt to self-sooth, he can be expected to sleep through (10-12 hours without waking for a feed).

After 6 months of age obstacles may present themselves:

  • If your baby is still waking is may be because he has developed a habit and expects to be resettled in the night in the same way as he falls asleep at bedtime.
  • Alternately night wakings can be due to nutritional needs – your baby now needs specific essential fatty acids for brain development. These nutritional essentials are found in the fats in proteins. So now is the time to introduce protein in the form of dairy, meat, beans and chicken to your baby’s diet.
  • At this age, teething can also disrupt sleep for a few nights. If your baby is definitely teething at night – and make this decision during daylight hours when you can actually see the tooth. If there is evidence of teething, use teething powders or painkillers as necessary. Remember though that we tend to blame teething far too quickly and the reality is that it is rarely teething that is the problem and if so only for two to four nights as the tooth erupts.
  • Separation anxiety also affects sleep especially around 8-10 months – as your baby develops object permanence, he may become insecure when you are not around. Spend time playing hide and seek and peek-a-boo games so he gets to know that you exist even if he can’t see you. A soft doodoo blanky or soft toy helps in this regard.