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Babies and sleeping

Have you got lots of questions about your baby's behaviour?

You are not alone, and the good news is there is lots of fantastic information and support to help you through this exciting but sometimes scary time.

Babies and sleep

Read time: 3 minutes

We all know that babies need lots of sleep, but sleep is important for you too, so try to take naps when your baby does!

Sleep is a developmental process, so your baby's sleep pattern, like yours, will change as they grow. Babies have their own rhythms. They are unaware of what parenting books might say about ideal sleep patterns!

It can take several months for your baby's day sleep and night sleep pattern to settle. Are you concerned about your baby's sleep? Try not to worry. It might be your expectations about when they should sleep and for how long don't match your baby's needs!

What we do know about babies and sleep is that there are 6 stages - from deep sleep to crying.

  • Deep Sleep. This is when your baby is breathing regularly with their eyes closed. They are quite still (they might give a little startle every 5 minutes or so)
  • Light Sleep. This is when your baby's eyes are closed but breathing is a bit less regular. You might notice their facial expressions change, their eyes fluttering or sucking movements.
  • Drowsy or semi alert. This is when your baby's eyes may be half open or sometimes open and sometimes closed. They might be moving their arms and legs every now and then. Or changing facial expressions. Or they might be quite still.
  • Quiet Alert. This is when your baby looks bright but is not moving arms and legs around much. Your baby is ready to communicate with you and interact when they are in this relaxed state!
  • Active Alert. This is when your baby's eyes are open, and they are really fidgety. Their arms and legs will be moving, and they may give little cries or moans.
  • Crying. This is when your baby's crying is continuous. Their arms and legs are moving, but in an unpredictable way as they struggle with feeling upset.

It is important for your own wellbeing not to carry worries about your baby. For expert advice and support on your baby's sleep please speak to your midwife or health visitor. Or call the Surrey-Wide 0-19 advice line on 01883 340 922. It can really put your mind at rest.

Top tips for settling baby to sleep

Read time: 3 minutes

It's a good idea to help your baby understand that night-time and daytime are different. You can start this straight away.

During the day, make sure that curtains are open and there's light coming in. Daytime is play-time, so make this the time for interacting with your baby. Did you know that getting outside in the afternoon can help your baby sleep at night? If you can get out in the daylight it will do you both good! And don't worry too much about everyday noises when they're asleep.

Make sure the room where your baby sleeps isn't too hot. 16 to 20 degrees Celsius is ideal. The best way to check if your baby is too hot or too cold is by touching their chest or the back of their neck with your hand. Don't use their hands or feet as they always feel cooler than the rest of the body. If your baby is too hot you'll feel the skin is hot, clammy or sweaty. Remove some layers to help them cool down. And of course, if they are too cold, add a layer to warm them up!

When your baby wakes at night keep the lights down low. Your baby needs to learn that night-time isn't playtime! If their cot is in your room, you should hear them wake before they get upset. Try to keep things calm and quiet. And pop them down once they've been fed or soothed.

Your baby's sleep rhythm will develop naturally. This might mean they continue waking at night for longer than you think they should! But remember they have tiny tummies, so needing to feed little and often is natural! Of course, disturbed sleep can be both exhausting and frustrating for you. Buy it can also be a lovely quiet time for you and baby too. Napping in the day when your baby sleeps should make managing disturbed nights slightly easier.

You may feel ready to introduce a bedtime routine when your baby is around 3 months old. Getting them into a simple, soothing bedtime routine can be helpful and enjoyable for everyone! It's also a great opportunity to have one-to-one time with your baby.

Your routine could consist of:

  • giving your baby a warm bath
  • brushing their teeth (if they have any!)
  • changing them into night clothes and a fresh nappy
  • reading a bedtime story
  • dimming the lights in the room to create a calm and cosy atmosphere
  • giving your baby a feed
  • having goodnight kisses and cuddles and singing a lullaby
  • turning on a wind-up musical mobile once you've put your baby to bed

Look after yourself

Having a new baby can feel wonderful, but it can also feel overwhelming, exhausting and scary. A lack of sleep can make being a parent seem even tougher. The NCT shares top tips on coping with a lack of sleep. And there are many helpful websites and support services for you too. Try to stay positive, your baby will start sleeping for longer! If you feel you need a helping hand, reach out. And remember to look after yourself.

Information from external websites

Surrey Children and Family Health has an informative page on sleep and your baby.

The NCT has 16 informative articles on babies and sleep.

NHS Helping your baby to sleep includes information on where your baby should sleep, coping with disturbed nights and dealing with baby sleep problems

Cry-sis Help for 0 to 3-month-old babies with crying and sleep problems gives quick facts and an in-depth guide on crying and sleepless babies

Cry-sis Help for 3 to 12-month-old babies with crying and sleep problems is an in-depth guide on crying and sleepless babies

The NSPCC has a handy page of parenting tips, including tips for getting baby to sleep

Family Lives Sleep offers advice on babies' sleep patterns, how many naps they need and how to help them sleep through the night.

The Lullaby Trust safer sleep advice gives simple steps for how you can reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) which is commonly known as cot death.

UNICEF shares a handy guide to caring for your baby at night.

Barnardo's Family Space has a helpful article on baby's first year, and another great one on baby massage.

Struggling and need to talk?

Action for Children offer 1:1 chat with a parenting coach (Mon - Fri). If they are closed you can leave a message and a parenting coach will get back to you within 3 working days.

Cry-sis run a help line and offer support for parents with crying and sleepless babies. CRY-SIS HELPLINE 08451 228 669 – the lines open 7 days a week 9am-10pm and cost 2p per minute plus the standard network charge.

Family Lives has a free, confidential helpline, offering emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life. Call the Family Lives helpline on 0808 800 2222 (Monday to Friday from 9am to 9pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm).

NSPCC has a free, confidential helpline for parents looking for advice. Call 0808 800 5000 (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends).

The Surrey Children and Family Health Advice Line is available from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays). They can provide support on all aspects of child health, development and parenting for families with children from birth to 19 years old. Call the Surrey-wide 0-19 Advice Line on 01883 340 922

Face-to-face support

You could also talk to your health visitor or your GP.

Useful videos about babies and sleep

Try watching this NCT video for tips on getting your baby to sleep.

View on YouTube

The NCT has a reassuring video on coping with a newborn.

The NHS has a video you might find helpful on how much sleep should my baby have?

If you need tips on looking after yourself, try tip 1 from the help with difficult behaviour section of the Families Under Pressure video collection.

Helpful tools and apps

Infant Sleep Info app

The Infant Sleep Info app is a free mobile phone app that gives lots of helpful information on sleep, including a handy sleep tracker.

Baby Buddy app

Baby Buddy is an award-winning mobile app, created by mums, doctors and midwives and recommended by Children and Family Health Surrey and the NHS.

The app has lots of helpful information and videos about all aspects of being a new parent.

A web-based version is also available.

Paediatric HANDi App

The Paediatric HANDi App is approved by Surrey Heartlands Health and Care Partnership. It offers straight forward advice and support on symptoms of common childhood illnesses.


DadPad is a practical guide for new dads, developed with the NHS.

New dads often feel excited, but may also feel left out, unsure or overwhelmed. The DadPad can help by giving you the knowledge and practical skills that you need to give your new baby the best start in life.

The NSPCC recognise that all parents can come under pressure or stress from time to time. The Positive Parenting guide shares practical advice and tips for parenting techniques that work well for children of all ages – from babies to teenagers.

Surrey's Family Learning and Adult Learning teams have developed a family wellbeing resource, with lots of tips on looking after yourself and your family during these challenging times.

Online parenting guides

Surrey residents get free access to an online guide that include top tips from childcare, education and NHS health experts

How to register

Registration is quick and easy. Go to the OurPlace website and use the access code 'ACORN' to get your free guide.

Access to the guide is unlimited with no expiry date, so you can return as and when you need and want to. Why not watch the Child and Family Health video to find out more.

Community support, courses and local help

Choose the area you live in for local services. Please note that due to coronavirus (Covid-19) very few community services are currently running.

BETA: We would really appreciate your feedback to help us improve and grow the service. We're listening!

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Date published: 22 Apr 2021