The 10 most commonly asked baby sleep questions – answered!
When it comes to being a new parent, we all share one thing in common: a preoccupation with sleep. Most of us have heard of those babies who are born as sleeping angels, somehow requiring little-to-no guidance. Conversely, we also all know about the horror sleep stories, whereby a 12-month-old baby is continuing to wake several times a night, causing immense sleep deprivation and stress among its parents.
Kiindred’s Mothercraft nurse (and baby whisperer) Chris Minogue suggests that when it comes to sleep, whatever works best for your family and your family’s needs is the right choice. For instance, some families choose to co-sleep with their baby, which may result in a baby waking more times a night than they would if they were asleep in their own cot (the smell of and proximity to mum’s breasts is a powerful thing!).
Other families prioritise fast-tracking their baby’s sleep due to the demands of their schedule (work, siblings at school, etc.). Each choice is valid.
Because sleep is such an important and topical issue for new parents – and is directly related to mental and physical health, in partnership with H&M, we’re answering some of the most commonly asked sleep questions from parents in that first year.
1. When do babies start ‘sleeping through the night’?
Sleeping through the night refers to a baby sleeping between 10-12 hours at night. There is no exact age when babies begin sleeping through the night, but, if they have no health conditions and are gaining weight appropriately for their age, babies can begin sleeping through the night from about 3-6 months old. But, of course, this doesn’t mean they necessarily will.
Your pediatric nurse or doctor will advise you on when it is safe for you to allow your baby to sleep long stretches without an extra night feed. Your baby’s age and weight will factor in heavily here. And don’t worry if your baby is 6 months old and nowhere near sleeping for 10-12 hours straight. Every baby is different. The key, Chris says, is to work with your baby’s unique daily rhythms, become aware of their ‘awake windows’ and establish healthy bedtime routines.
2. How many layers should I dress my baby in for sleep?
This is a tricky one to answer as it will depend on a number of factors such as the temperature where you are, the airflow inside your house (if heating or cooling is available) and the type of clothing your baby is dressed in.
The general rule is to dress your baby as you would want to dress yourself in the current climate – so, comfortable, warm, not too hot but not too cold.
Fabrics should always be natural and breathable; organic cotton is best. Opt for sleeveless bodysuits in summer, and layer up with onesies when the weather is cooler.
If you are using a sleeping bag you should select the TOG rating that matches the temperature of the room. These bags usually come with a guide to help you.
For younger babies who are swaddled, make sure the swaddle is also made from natural, breathable fabrics, and any blankets should also be lightweight to avoid overheating.
3. When can I introduce a dummy?
Introducing a dummy early, in the first 2-4 weeks of your baby’s life (Chris suggests waiting until closer to 6 weeks if you are breastfeeding), can be a useful way to encourage them to sleep for longer stretches (down the line). At a certain point, some babies wake for an unessential additional feed. This feed may be referred to as a ‘comfort feed’. If the baby is accustomed to their dummy, instead of putting them on the breast for a comfort feed, the dummy can provide your baby with the comfort of sucking while sending them back to sleep. It’s a win, win.
4. How long should a newborn sleep each day?
A baby under 3 months old needs a lot of sleep – and so will sleep, quite effortlessly, most of the time. It is recommended that babies should get about 14-17 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. However, some newborns will sleep more than that. More importantly, suggests Chris, is to observe your baby’s ‘awake windows’. While a newborn under 1 month old will have fairly unpredictable rhythms and awake windows and will sleep “around the clock”, by the time your baby is 1-3 months old, their awake window will be between 1hr 15mins – 1hr 30mins.
Your Daily Rhythm will help you determine the correct awake time according to your baby’s age.
5. What is a ‘dream feed’?
A dream feed refers to the night feed you give your baby when they are still either asleep or only half awake, just before you go to sleep yourself. The dream feed is intended to top your baby up with milk, in an effort to help them sleep through the night.
So, if you were to aim to achieve the 7-to-7 routine (bedtime at 7 pm, awake time at 7 am – a long-term goal), you would begin your baby’s nighttime routine at around 6 pm. You would then give them a feed at around 6.40 pm, put them into their cot at 7 pm, let them sleep until around 10/10.30 pm, at which time you would give them a dream feed (it’s OK if they’re still asleep) before putting them back in their cot in the hopes that they continue sleeping until 7 am.
This is a general guide and may take several months to achieve, if at all. It’s not about perfection, it’s about establishing rhythms and working toward a sleep schedule that works for you and your baby.
6. What is a sleep regression?
Just when you thought you had this sleep thing mastered, the gods grace you with a “sleep regression”. Although we don’t like to refer to the word as regression because of the negative associations that come with it. Due to the extraordinary amount of brain and body development happening inside your baby – and the awesome amount of stimulation they are enjoying in their awake windows, it is perfectly normal for babies to go through these phases of transition.
According to pediatrician and child development expert, Dr. T. Brazelton, sleep regressions are a normal phase of ‘disorganisation’ in a baby’s body and brain that happen right before, or in the midst of, exciting developmental growth.
Signs that your baby is having a “sleep regression” include:
- Increased appetite and frequent feeding
- New and frequent waking throughout the night
- Taking short naps or refusing to sleep during the day altogether
- Increased fussiness
Because our sleep and wellbeing are so interconnected with our baby’s sleep, these phases can be really disheartening for parents. But remember, these periods don’t last – you and your baby will get back on track soon enough.
7. Is it safe for my baby to sleep on their stomach?
To reduce the risk of SIDS, it is recommended that you always put your baby to sleep on their back with their feet at the bottom of the mattress. Typically, at around 4-6 months, your baby will start to learn to roll – an exciting milestone! But this also means it’s time to remove your baby from the swaddle so their arms are mobile.
Once your baby has mastered the skill of rolling from back to front and back again, then you may allow them to find their preferred sleep position. Often this will be around 5-6 months.
Some babies will have a preference for sleeping on their stomach, despite it making us feel nervous! If possible, a baby monitor with a camera is a good way to keep an eye on your sleeping baby, especially if you know that they are a stomach sleeper.
In the first 7-12 months of your baby’s life, keep their cot free of any additional pillows, bedding, blankets or toys.
8. When should I ditch the swaddle?
It’s often recommended to swaddle your baby when they are a newborn because a swaddle makes them feel as tight and snug as they were in utero, and so helps them drift to sleep with ease. It’s also a great way of pinning down their arms to avoid them from waking themselves up too regularly or scratching their face (you’d be amazed at how long and sharp a newborn’s fingernails can be!).
Some parents don’t swaddle their baby at all, while others start and stop swaddling quickly because it doesn’t seem to make much difference. Many parents choose to swaddle their baby and continue doing so until their baby is able to roll over on their stomach and/or until their baby is resisting the swaddle and appears more content without it.
Generally, the recommended age to stop swaddling is between 3-6 months old.
9. When should I introduce an evening routine?
You can introduce an evening routine to your baby from the very first day you bring them home if you choose. It can be as simple as dimming the lights around their 5 pm feed, giving baby a bath, maybe a gentle massage and reading them a book before popping them in their cot. In the early months, this is more about bonding time.
Around the 3 month mark can be a good time to think about introducing a routine if you haven’t already, and this is when you can start following their daily rhythms.
10. Will my baby sleep through the night once they start solids?
This is a seriously common question – or rather hope – for many sleep-deprived parents. Often they are keen to start their baby on solids as soon as possible because they think it is the secret ingredient for that precious 12-hour sleep.
For babies who haven’t been feeding well, solids may have a positive impact on their sleep. However, the introduction of solids can actually tend to have the opposite effect and their sleep can become more disrupted.
Typically, babies will start on solids between 4 – 6 months – with Chris recommending 5 months as the ideal starting point, and easing in slowly.
Starting solids too soon, or with too much enthusiasm, can interrupt your baby’s milk feeds – and disrupt their delicate digestive system. Finding a nice balance between milk feeds and solids is key. Baby can start to wake more at night if they’re getting too much of the solids during the day – and not enough milk. So they’ll wake overnight to make up for it.
Navigating the world of sleep (and sleep deprivation) with a baby can be overwhelming. It can often feel like you’re trying to solve an unsolvable riddle. But remember that every day is another chance to try again; go easy on yourself, reach out for support and know that this phase won’t last forever.
This is a paid partnership between Kiindred x H&M
Your baby’s Daily Rhythm…
It’s not always easy to remain calm and patient if you have been up all night or have siblings running around. By being aware of your baby’s Daily Rhythm in the app, you will have a sense of control in knowing what to expect with things such as awake windows, which sleeps are best for resettling and timings for feeds and sleep.