Richmond Practice - Sleep for babies

Sleep for babies
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How much sleep do babies need? 

How much sleep a child needs depends on the individual, and this factsheet can only serve as a guide. You may have a very active child, who doesn't need much sleep. Trying to change a child's sleep patterns to what somebody else claims is 'normal' will only cause trouble.

Newborns usually sleep between 16 and 19 hours a day, often waking every two to three hours to eat. Since hunger will usually wake them up, babies will not normally sleep for more than four or five hours at a time. Some babies sleep more than this, maybe for eight or 10 hours at a time. This is fine, provided your child is normal, healthy and growing. On the other hand, if your baby has lost weight or is not gaining enough weight, you may have to wake them every two or three hours for a feed.

Babies three months old usually sleep between 13 and 15 hours a day. Around five hours of this will be during the day and the rest at night. Your baby may still wake up once or twice every night. If your baby does wake, try the following:
  • First see if your baby will fall quickly back to sleep. If they have kicked the duvet off, cover them with it again. Rub their body gently, just to reassure them that you're there. This may be sufficient to send your tot back to sleep, so let a couple of minutes pass before doing anything else.
  • If you need to feed or change your baby – do it quickly and quietly, without turning on the lights. Don't talk to your baby or play with them at this time. This will teach your baby that nothing exciting happens in the night and that talking and playing only happen during the day.
  • Babies don't care whether they sleep at night and stay awake during the day, or the other way around. It's up to parents to teach them which is better.
Infants from 6 to 12 months old usually sleep between 12 and 14 hours a day. If your baby wakes up at night, it's now all right to let five minutes pass before you go to them. By now you will probably recognize their different cries for when they are hungry, tired or in pain.

At this age babies are starting to make 'sleep associations'. So, if you go in and interact with them, they will soon expect that to happen. On subsequent nights they will cry until you do go in. So, if you're happy that your child is not hungry or dirty, try not to stimulate them at all and leave them to settle on their own. If you do have to go in, rub your baby gently and speak softly to reassure them that you're there. They may have a favourite soft toy or blanket to snuggle up to at night. Such familiar things make them feel safe.

Consult your doctor if:
  • your baby is sleeping very well but has lost weight or is not gaining enough weight
  • you have any concerns about your child's sleeping habits.
If your child looks rested and is developing normally, they are probably getting enough sleep. Do you or your partner sleep less than normal (six to eight hours)? The need for sleep is often passed on from parents.

Ask to see either of our doctors or our paediatrician for further assessment and advice.


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