Sleep: the first 12 months

Nap time ... Your baby needs a lot of sleep to help her grow and develop.
Nap time ... Your baby needs a lot of sleep to help her grow and develop. 

Is there anything more wonderful than a sleeping baby? Possibly a sleeping mother – but in order for one to happen you need the other!

A baby’s sleep pattern dominates your life at first: how much is she supposed to get, how much is she actually getting, how can you settle her and WHY WON’T SHE JUST SLEEP?!

Babies need a huge amount of sleep, and it affects everything from their temperament and behaviour to their growth, so it’s important they get the required amount. But as all parents know, sometimes that can be easier said that done. Some babies will sleep beautifully from birth, settling easily and sleeping though the night from eight weeks old. Others will fight it with everything in them, catnapping during the day and waking numerous times throughout the night. I had one of those!

So how do you get those babies to sleep? Is there a secret to it, or is the torture of sleep deprivation just something you both have to put up with? I’ve done a fair bit of research into this over the years, and consequently there were a lot of things I did differently the second time round, resulting in a much better sleeper!

Firstly, let’s have a look at the recommended sleep amounts for each age under 12 months (you can see a table for older ages groups here).

Remember that guides are exactly that – if your baby isn’t following what she's ‘supposed’ to do, it’s because she hasn’t read the guide!

Age

Day sleep

Night sleep

Total sleep

Newborn

7hrs 30mins (3 naps)

8hrs 30mins

16 hrs

One month

6hrs 45mins (3 naps)

8hrs 30mins

15hrs 15mins

Two months

5hrs 30mins (3 naps)

10hrs

15hrs 30mins

Three months

5hrs (3 naps)

10hrs

15hrs

Six months

3 hrs (2 naps)

11hrs

14hrs

Nine months

2hrs 45mins (2 naps)

11hrs 15mins

14hrs

12 months

2hrs 15mins (2 naps)

11hrs 30mins

13hrs 45min


It can be good to focus on the total hours needed per 24 hours, rather than trying to stick to an exact schedule. Some babies will have more catnaps, and some will have longer day naps and wake more at night, but the main thing is that they’re getting enough over the 24 hour period. And remember that a guide is exactly that – if your baby isn’t following what they’re ‘supposed’ to do, it’s because she hasn’t read it!

In the first few months babies still need to wake during the night to feed, so night-wakings are a normal part of life for a newborn. They also sleep a lot during the day and get tired very easily. Try to look for your baby's tired signs and put her down for a sleep before she gets overtired. These signs can include:

  • rubbing her eyes
  • grizzling
  • pulling at her ears
  • closing her fists
  • jerky body movements
  • arching her back  
  • overall restlessness.
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At 6-12 months, your baby will be overtired after two or three hours of being awake. Tired signs can include:

  • losing interest in playtime
  • rubbing her eyes
  • looking glazed or unfocussed
  • becoming whiny, cranky or fussy
  • losing patience with toys, activities or playmates
  • having tantrums
  • yawning
  • lying down or slumping in her seat
  • caressing a favourite blanket or toy.

When you spot these signs in a toddler, get them ready for a sleep by starting some quiet time – this can mean reading a story, having a bath, cuddles, playing soothing music or turning the lights down low. If they have a favourite stuffed toy or blanket, now’s the time to cuddle up with them.

At this age most parents would like their babies to be sleeping through the night without needing our help, meaning they’re able to ‘self settle’. You can’t really expect this before six months, as they might still need night feeds, but it can start after that.

Until your child can self-settle, there are things you can do to prepare for this stage. These include:

  • emphasising the difference between night and day
  • putting your baby to bed drowsy but awake
  • starting a feed/play/sleep routine.  

Try to form sleep associations for your baby that don’t rely on you being there; that way, when your baby wakes in the night they won’t need you to re-settle them. By all means cuddle them to sleep sometimes (who can resist that!), but put them down to fall asleep on their own when you can. All these things will assist in them learning how to self settle and hopefully getting you both sleeping through the night in no time.

Finally, keep reminding yourself that you’re not going to die from a lack of sleep - you will sleep again eventually!

Has your baby got sleep  issues? Talk to other parents in the Essential Baby forum.