How Much Sleep Does a Baby Need?

When you have your baby the only time you can relax and do other important things is when your baby sleeps. Sleep deprivation is very common during the first few months and it is important that you are prepared for this! You will become cranky, confused and may not have any energy to do anything. When your baby does go to sleep you will undoubtedly have one hundred and one other things to do than go for a sleep yourself.

All newborn babies are different and the amount of sleep and the pattern in which they sleep varies however there are guidelines that you can follow.

Sleeping is a necessary requirement and believe it or not every baby goes to sleep eventually! Some babies are angels and these babies sleep through the night almost from the word go. This is an extreme and not the norm.

The middle ground is a baby that sleeps for round about four hours in the night before requiring a feed.

The other extreme is a baby that only sleeps for very short periods leaving you exhausted, frustrated and barely able to function!

By the time your baby is six months old, they should be sleeping through the night however this may seem to long a time to wait and so there are a few handy hints to help you achieve this aim.

Adults have sleeping patterns and so therefore do babies and children. The problem is that these patterns need to be learned and don’t come naturally therefore it is up to you as a parent to teach your baby.

A baby’s initial sleep cycle lasts only about an hour and this means that they become restless and may waken. Some babies can get back to sleep by themselves whilst other babies may need some reassurance and comfort or some may simply need food.

As your baby develops the cycle lengthens resulting in longer periods of sleep.
A newborn is unable to understand the difference between night and day therefore their sleeping pattern is split roughly half during day and half during the night. It is up to you as a parent to teach them that night is for sleeping and several short naps is all that is required for daytime.

It is important that during the first few months that your child is left no longer than four to five hours between feeds. A baby needs to eat frequently and often which is especially true if you are breastfeeding. When a baby cries it is because they need or want something. A baby needs a lot of reassurance and love. They need to feel safe and comforted and the environment in which they are sleeping is all important.

A Moses basket or crib is all that is required when you have your baby. These provide the right level of support for your newborn. A baby may feel swamped and ‘lost’ in a cot. Some babies may take time to get used to sleeping without you but it is extremely important that you do not take your baby into bed with you as not only will this become a hard habit to break for both of you. There is a risk of SIDs if this happens and also a risk of squashing your baby. Some babies just may not settle and so sleeping in the same bed as their parents is the only way anyone gets any sleep.

To help get your baby to sleep at night there are a few things which can help such as taking your baby for a long walk prior to bedtime, giving him a bath and ensuring they have had enough to eat. It is also important for you to establish a routine as early as possible so that your baby learns that after his bath he goes to bed.

Ensure the room is the right temperature and that there is not a lot of noise prior to bed time, however some noise in the room your baby is sleeping in ensures that they will get used to other household noises.

During the day try and ensure that they have a nap at certain specific times. Some babies like a nap in the morning prior to lunch whereas others have one just after. It doesn’t matter which but if your child follows one pattern then try and ensure that this is adhered to. Babies can have three naps a day but this drops off to around one main nap and eventually tails off to none!

If your baby cries when you put them to bed then there are various schools of thoughts as to the best way to get your baby to sleep. You can leave your baby to cry and they will eventually fall asleep unless there is an underlying problem such as colic and teething. Your baby may cry for a long time and you may want to pick them up to soothe them but it is extremely important that unless the crying is disturbing that you leave them until they sleep. The other school of thought is that you have to pick up your baby as soon as they cry and soothe them until they fall asleep.

The middle ground of these will probably be nearer the mark for most parents and will ensure a good nights sleep.

Most newborns need some form of comfort in order to fall asleep. This could be a breast or a dummy and so it is important that these are gradually reduced so that eventually your child falls asleep on their own and without you. Therefore when they waken up during the night they can fall asleep without any prop or comforter.

If despite everything your child is still unable to sleep without waking up then perhaps it is time to contact your GP or midwife and they can put you in touch with the correct resources.

To ensure a good night’s sleep for everyone it is essential that a bit of work is done by you as a parent during the early days so that by the time your baby is a few months old they are in an established routine and can sleep on their own without the need for any assistance. This is an achievable reality if you follow some of the above simple steps.

Alan Murray is the webmaster of a baby names site which covers a wide range of baby topics including a giving birth section.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents of sleeping babies.

Image courtesy of Schwangerschaft via Creative Commons license, some rights reserved.

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18 Responses to “How Much Sleep Does a Baby Need?”

  1. Baby Wrap says:

    Overall a good post, but I can’t leave without commenting on some fundamental differences of opinion.

    First, babies from birth to about 6 months only cry when they need something. They have not learned manipulation and therefore it is my (and others’) belief that you should not let a young baby cry for more than a few minutes. They need you, and letting them cry for a long time is only teaching them that they cannot always have their needs met. To me, this is tragic. The most important things for a newborn are comfort, security and love… just give it to them.

    Second, I disagree that sleeping with your baby is dangerous – it doesn’t have to be. If you do any research at all on ‘Attachment Parenting’ you will learn a lot about co-sleeping and it’s many benefits. A few of which include, happier, more confident children, and a profound benefit to your child’s physical and emotional development. There are numerous studies on this subject. I encourage your readers and Alan Murray to do some research.

    Thanks for letting me share my views.

  2. Jason says:

    In my opinion I think a baby will do exactly what comes natural and it’s up to the parent to listen to and understand the baby’s needs. If it’s hungry or thirsty a parent should know and as far as sleep goes I let my baby sleep as long as much as it needs to.

  3. Amy says:

    Shannon, thanks for your input. 🙂 As you can see from Alan’s post, he doesn’t necessarily espouse the “leave your baby to cry” plan. He simply said it was one of the schools of thought and concluded that most parents wouldn’t take that route.

    As the mother of multiples I can tell you that no matter what you do, there will be times when your babies cry because you just can’t get to them fast enough. It wasn’t fun, but it was a fact of existence that they’d wake up and cry while I got the bottles ready. The best I could do was talk to them and try to let them know I was coming as fast as I could. I have no idea what it’s like to deal with a singleton. 🙂

    Co-sleeping is often enthusiastically discussed by its proponents, and I say good for them. However, it’s not for everyone, and it’s not the only way to wind up with happy, confident children. The longer I work at this parenting gig, the more clearly I realize that what works for my family may not work for another. We couldn’t co-sleep for a few different reasons. Topics like this can get tricky; it’s easy for proponents to inadvertently send the message that anyone doing things differently is somehow wrong.

    Your views are most welcome here, up to and including your own guest post if you’d like to share the research with us. I’m always willing to learn more and I admit that I’ve never looked at the Attachment Parenting stuff. I was just busy surviving the first year.

  4. Amy says:

    Jason, I like what you said. I did keep the boys on a rather strict schedule when they were tiny only because it was the only way to survive. Letting them do demand feedings and sleep as long as they wanted resulted in total exhaustion and frustration in less than a day. If I’d had someone here to help that would be different. With 2 babies and one adult, a schedule was the only way I could make it.

    That said, I do strongly believe in letting kids sleep as long as they need and I do that as much as possible around here. We only wake the boys up in the mornings if there’s some kind of special event. Otherwise they sleep until they wake up.

    We’ve actually gotten fairly good at a regular bedtime around here as well. 😀

  5. Baby Wrap says:

    Thanks for your comments Amy, I did not mean to give the impression that someone is a bad parent if their child cries for more than a few minutes. Obviously, there are times when it just doesn’t work out that we can get to them right away. The reality of parenting is quite different than the theory, and in fact there were times when my baby just wouldn’t stop crying no matter what I did. So, for my own sanity, I just had to put him in his crib and leave the room to calm my nerves! However, as a general practice I don’t think it’s beneficial to the child to let them cry themselves to sleep just because you’re trying to teach them to sleep according to your schedule. But again, that’s my opinion.

    Also, with co-sleeping… you’re right that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a personal choice and I think it’s had a bad rap overall. It’s not a “bad habit” if it’s what you choose to do. My point was that there are lots of benefits to it, so don’t be afraid of it, if it’s what you feel is right. Personally, it didn’t work in our family, even though I wanted it to. Nobody got any sleep with my son in our bed, so instead he was in a small cot right beside the bed and then in his crib in our room for a year. I suppose some might still consider this co-sleeping. It was nice to have him close – I didn’t worry as much, and he always slept well, crying never lasted long because I was right there when he woke.

    Finally, I’ve got to hand it to you, Amy – and other mothers of multiples – I don’t know how you do it! You must have the patience of a saint and nerves of steel! I think you need your own superhero costume! 😉

  6. Adwido says:

    I agree with Jason.

  7. What a wonderful post on baby’s sleeping habits! This is definitely useful stuff, most especially for the first-time moms who would need all the guidance and help since they’ll be adjusting still.
    Great post, kudos to Allan Murray 😀

  8. nu heat says:

    Wow!! really good contribution. But One thing I'm confused about is giving bath to baby before sleep. Is it applicable for both day & night? as one of my friends advised not to give bath to babies after sunset or in the night time.

  9. bioidentical hormone doctors says:

    Dr. Alan Murray you did great job. This post is the best source of information about babies and their sleeping habits for new mothers. As a fellow doctor I appreciate you for posting useful information about babies sleep. I will recommend this post to all who are in need for this kind of information.

  10. commercial fire alarm says:

    Thank you for sharing this good article about babies and their sleeping habits. I never read such brief and useful information about babies and their sleeping habits. The tips you mentioned are really useful to make baby comfortable while sleeping. Thanks once again.

  11. ski resort says:

    Very good and informative information about the babies and I liked it a lot. The post is really very useful for the mom's who want to know about their new born babies.

  12. Every mom has a question like how much sleep does a baby need? Now after reading your post they all will know about this as I know. 🙂

  13. securitysystems says:

    Every parent will be hammering their heads to make their babies sleep. After reading this article they have peace of mind for sure. Great Job!

  14. spiderveintreatment says:

    Very nice and informative article about babies and their sleeping habits. Very helpful for new mothers. Keep posting.

  15. This article is one of the best source of information to each and every parent. I appreciate Dr. Alan for writing this guest post here

  16. chronic fatigue doctors says:

    I visited many parenting websites searching about babies and their sleeping habits but, never seen this information. Nice one.

  17. It is most important to know about babies sleeping habits. Alan I like your article. You did a great job.

  18. chronic fatigue doctors says:

    I referred this article to many of my friends who are new mothers. Keep posting . Good job

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