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Caring for your baby at night when they are unwell

Caring for your baby at night when they are unwell can be particularly challenging for parents.

Babies tend to have, on average, about six to twelve minor illnesses such as viruses, colds and tummy upsets each year.

……and that’s not even including teething!

After the age of 6 months, when they have lost the immunity given by their mother, it is not unusual for babies to catch some kind of virus every few weeks.

This is especially the case if they are in daycare or have an older sibling.

Exposure to antigens in young childhood builds up their immune system. These illnesses can be tough at the time to cope with, but they make your baby’s resistance to infections stronger in the long run.

Some common signs that your baby is unwell

Usually, you can tell when your baby is not feeling well but sometimes it’s not always clear. They can’t tell you how they are feeling, so you need to look for some signs.

The first sign is usually crying. Their cry may sound different to normal or be very prolonged. If they don’t stop crying when you pick them up and cuddle them, you know that they are probably in discomfort.

Another sign of illness is when they are listless and/or over-sleepy. They might not want to have their milk or their food if they are unwell.

If they have diarrhoea and/or vomiting this could be a sign of infection or allergy.

Other signs of illness are that their skin feels hot or clammy or they have a rash.

If your baby has a temperature above 38C, seems very unwell, has a rash or has a different cry, you should seek prompt medical help.

feeding baby medicines

Before bed

Give them a painkiller if needed, about 20 minutes before their bath. Ibuprofen is a good choice, as it needs to be taken with food. Then if another painkiller is needed during the night, you can give Paracetamol or Tylenol. This can be taken without food and is a different “family” of painkillers.

Bathe them if they are well enough and then dress them quickly and take them through to their sleep space. Be aware that if they are unwell they might not want to be over handled. Keep your touch gentle and brief.

After their bath time, offer their usual milk feed. 

Don’t be too stressed if your older baby refuses their usual milk or doesn’t take it all. If they are poorly, they are very unlikely to wake up hungry, even if they haven’t eaten much during the day. Their body needs to rest and repair at nighttime. If they have lost their appetite, they will soon regain it and catch up with any lost calories when they are better. 

With very young babies, it is important that they feed regularly. If your baby is just a few weeks old and refusing feeds, you must seek medical advice.

If your baby usually self-settles, allow them to go to sleep without help, as usual. It’s fine to return frequently to them to check and reassure them, but rocking them to sleep can become a difficult habit to break once they are better.

If they feel hot or have a temperature, keep the room cool and if you need to, use an electric fan. Position it at the foot of the cot, with air wafting up their body. This is safer and more comfortable than having it directly on their face.

During the night

If they wake up in the night, don’t leave them to self-settle if they’re crying. They will not sleep if left in discomfort.

Even if they were fine when they went to bed, if they wake up during the night, go and check on them. If they seem unwell pick them up and offer a cuddle and a drink of water [not milk if you’ve already dropped the night feeds – even if they didn’t have it at bedtime.] 

Picking them up and giving them a drink can help to unblock the nose. It also helps them clear the small [Eustachian] tubes connecting the back of the nose to the ears. This will make your baby feel more comfortable. 

If they continue crying, and/or if they feel hot, you can give a [second] dose of infant painkiller. Make sure it is a different family of medicine than they had at bedtime. If it is the same one as at bedtime, carefully follow the instructions supplied about the timing and spacing of doses.

You can then remain close by and hold them if necessary, until they are calm and settled. 

Tempting as it might be, it is best if you avoid bringing them into bed with you if they are poorly. This is especially true if they have a high temperature. It is safer for them to stay in their own cot, with you close beside them.

daddy trying to sleep baby

When they are better

It usually takes two or three consecutive nights of your baby coming into your bed for this to become a habit. It is the same for feeds or being rocked to sleep.

It will do no harm to relax the usual rules around bedtime when babies are genuinely unwell.

As soon as they are better, however, it’s time to get back to normal. Allow them to self-settle again at the start of the night and save the cuddles for the morning. If you do this, they will soon get back to sleeping as they did before the illness.

Further help

If you’re struggling with any aspect of your baby’s sleep, I am here to help you.

My books

Andrea Grace book Gentle sleep Solutions

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Andrea Grace gentle sleep course

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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Bedwetting – All you need to know

If your school-age child still wets their bed, you are not alone! Bedwetting is a common issue that many families face, and it can be a normal part of a child’s development.

20% of 5-year-olds wet the bed

10% of 7-year-olds wet the bed

1 in 75 teenagers wet the bed.

Girls tend to be dry at night sooner than boys, but this isn’t always the case.

3 important things to remember:

  1. Your child doesn’t wet the bed on purpose. They are not being naughty or lazy.
  2. The fact that your child is late achieving nighttime dryness is not your fault! Some parents think they’ve left it too late/introduced too many changes in their child’s life/ been too relaxed etc. None of these things have caused your child to wet their bed.
  3. Having dry beds is a developmental milestone that like all the others, children reach at different times.

The biology

During sleep, just as during the day, the brain receives a signal that the bladder is full. For many children, it’s not until they are a bit older that their nighttime brain receives this signal.

Our bodies naturally produce a special hormone called vasopressin. This hormone reduces urine production at night. If your child is still producing a lot of wee during the night especially if it is very dilute, then it’s highly likely that their vasopressin production hasn’t yet kicked in.

Some children have “sensitive” bladders and their nighttime bed wetting is often part of a bigger picture of daytime wetness & accidents too.

Constipation causes bladder problems, due to the enlarged bowel pressing on the bladder and reducing its size and ability to expand.

kid watching smartphone

How to help

Give your child all they need for a healthy bladder and bowel!

  1. Encourage them to drink enough during the day [6-8 glasses.] The bladder needs the exercise of filling up and emptying out!
  2. Avoid fizzy or caffeine-rich drinks which can irritate the bladder. If they don’t like water, give them sugar-free squash.
  3. If they are at school, about half of their liquid intake will happen there, so it is really important that they refill their water flask. Ask your child’s teacher or TA to keep an eye on this.
  4. For good bowel health, give them a diet rich in fibre, plenty to drink and plenty of exercise.
  5. Restricting daytime fluids can cause the bladder to be less efficient so don’t go down this route!
  6. If you are still giving a bedtime bottle, you need to drop it.
  7. An hour before bedtime, discourage them from having a drink
  8. Use the toilet just before bedtime.

At bedtime

Explain to your child that you’re going to help them see if they can manage to have a dry bed. Try not to make them feel bad however about the fact that they still wet the bed at night. They might already be feeling embarrassed about wetting their bed and they might also feel like they are letting you down. So keep the conversation positive and encouraging.

Have a calming and familiar bedtime routine.

Use waterproof bed protection and have spare bedding to hand in case of accidents.

Leave a soft light on and if the toilet is not easily accessible or if they are scared at night, have a potty or wee bucket in their room.

Many parents choose to lift their children and put them on the toilet later in the evening when they are asleep. Nowadays this isn’t considered to be a good idea, as the child doesn’t learn about bladder control, and it just teaches them to wee in their sleep. 

From a sleep point of view, it is not good to disrupt that very special and precious deep sleep that happens at the start of the night either. There is also the risk that rousing a child out of deep sleep can cause distress and confusion.

When they wet their bed

If they wet their bed, remain calm and if they wake up, change the sheets, encourage them to go to the toilet to see if they have any more wee left and then re-settle them to sleep. 

Let them know it’s okay, it’s not their fault and you’re not cross. 

 If your child manages a dry night, praise them gently but don’t overdo it, or they might feel they’ve let you down if they wet their bed next time.

Do not use a reward chart, as night-time dryness or wetness for that matter is not something that is entirely within their control. You can, however, praise them for the things that they have done to help themselves achieve dry beds. Waiting until morning to have a drink or going to the toilet when you ask them to, and so on are all things to be praised.

Expect just the occasional dry night at the first few attempts without a nappy.

If they don’t manage a dry bed after 3 – 4 weeks of trying, you should give up and try again a few weeks later or when they start to have dry-ish nappies in the morning.

Bedwetting

When to get professional help

If they are still regularly wetting their bed after the age of 5, talk to your GP or school about getting a referral to a bedwetting clinic. These clinics will only see children over the age of 5.

The bedwetting clinics offer both assessment and treatment, often with a bedwetting alarm or medication. They also offer advice about sleepovers, school trips etc.

The important message here is that even if bedwetting goes on for a long time, children do achieve dry beds in the end and until that happens, neither they nor you should feel embarrassed or ashamed.

Further Help

If you’re struggling with your older child’s sleeping, such as bedtime fears, night waking or falling asleep too late, I am here to help you.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

teething pic

Baby Sleep – Teething

It so often happens that just when a baby starts to sleep through the night, their sleep gets disrupted by teething. If your baby has teething pain during the night, they will need your care and attention. This doesn’t mean that any sleep progress they have made has to go out of the window.

For most babies, this period of extra need is temporary. You should not feel bad about giving them more attention if they are poorly at night. Realistically, you have little choice in the matter! Babies will not sleep if left in discomfort, and leaving them to cry is not only unkind but also unsafe. It could also lead to them developing an unhappy association with the cot.

Teething is a natural process and not an illness but it can often cause pain and general discomfort. Babies typically cut their first tooth at around 6 months old, but for some, this might not happen until much later. Some babies cut their teeth earlier than this, and some are even born with some teeth.

Teething symptoms

If you are not sure whether your baby is teething, the symptoms are:

  • Red and sore-looking gums.
  • Wanting to chew on everything.
  • Dribbling & drooling.
  • Red cheeks
  • Diarrhoea/loose stools
  • Ear pulling
  • Blocked nose
  • Being generally quite irritable or teary.

Please note that some of these symptoms can be indicators of more serious illnesses, so if your baby has a temperature [above 38C or 100F] or seems very unwell or has a different cry, you should always seek medical advice. 

Not all babies suffer during teething, but many do, and the discomfort of teething is usually much worse during the night when they are laying flat and not chewing or swallowing as much as they do during the day. 

How to help

During the day

Give them lots of opportunities to bite and chew. If they are old enough, encourage them with finger foods. Try crusty bread, bagel and toast which has been allowed to cool and go soft but tough.

Because cold has a numbing effect, keep a teething ring as well as whole peeled or scrubbed carrots in the fridge [never the freezer!] for them to chew on. 

Encourage them to put safe toys etc. into their mouths, as any kind of biting is helpful with teething. 

When babies are teething they tend to drool and this often leads to the skin around the chin and neck becoming very chapped and sore. To help with this, change bibs frequently, or use soft dry muslin cloths. 

After meals and drinks use warm water and soft dry cotton cloths to clean them rather than wipes that might sting. 

Don’t forget to clean and dry the soft skin folds under the chin and neck. Often food and moisture can easily become trapped here. Use a gentle barrier cream here to protect them even further.

Pulling at their ears is often a sign of discomfort and inflammation within the ear. This is common during teething, but to be safe, you will need to visit your GP surgery team. They will establish the cause of the pain and recommend a suitable painkiller if needed.

Babies often have loose bowel movements when they are teething, so make sure that you check and change them regularly. If their bottom gets sore, use plain water for cleaning and a barrier cream.

At bedtime

If your baby is unwell at bedtime, try to follow your normal bedtime routine as closely as possible. Be aware that they may be irritated at being handled. Before bath time give a dose of infant Paracetamol or Ibuprofen if they need it for pain. These medicines will also help to lower your baby’s temperature.

Many parents prefer to give Ibuprofen at bedtime, as it is long-acting but needs to be taken when there is something in baby’s tummy. Then if a second dose of painkiller is needed during the night; give Paracetamol, which is gentler on an emptier stomach. 

Neither Ibuprofen or Paracetamol are sedatives.

If you’re not 100% sure and confident about giving medicine to your baby, speak with a pharmacist, doctor or health visitor.

After bath time, offer a bedtime feed but do not be too worried if your baby refuses it or doesn’t take it all. If they are poorly, they are unlikely to wake up hungry – especially if they are over 6 months old. 

If your baby usually self-settles, you should allow them to go to sleep without help, as usual. Rocking them to sleep when they don’t really need it can become a difficult habit to break once they are better. 

However, if they do need extra cuddles, don’t hold back!

During the night

If your baby wakes in the night and is clearly unwell, you should go to them and pick them up and offer a drink of water [not milk if they’ve already dropped their night feeds.]

This helps to unblock the nose and the tiny tubes connecting the back of the nose to the ears and makes them feel more comfortable. 

If they carry on crying, and/or feel hot, offer a dose of an infant painkiller if it’s needed. If the teething pain has been severe enough to wake them up, gels or granules may not always help.

After your intervention, you can then comfort them until they are calm and settled then put them back in their cot. Try to avoid bringing your baby into bed with you if they are poorly. If you need to stay close, it is much safer for you to go and sleep in their bedroom instead. 

It usually takes two or three consecutive nights of your baby coming into your bed for it to become a habit.

It’s fine to relax the usual rules around bedtime and during the night when babies are teething. As soon as they are better, however, you need to allow them to self-settle again at the start of the night.

Draw back on any new nighttime rituals which may have been needed during teething, but aren’t needed now.

Further help

If you’re struggling with teething or any other sleep-related problem, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

1694787602Untitled design

Reflux & Sleep

Managing sleep for babies with reflux can be challenging. Reflux is a condition that is most common in the first six months to one year of life.

What we call ‘reflux’ is actually ‘gastro-oesophageal reflux’ [GORD or GERD in America.]  

The valve between the oesophagus and the stomach* sometimes doesn’t work very well when babies are little. With maturity, however, it becomes more efficient. Usually, reflux gets better after about 6 months. Sometimes, but rarely, it can take a year or a little longer.

*The lower oesophageal sphincter

Reflux is when the contents of a baby’s stomach leak back into their oesophagus (food pipe or gullet) and cause posseting (bringing up small amounts of milk), vomiting and/or burning pain (heartburn) due to the acidity in the stomach. 

Some babies with reflux don’t vomit or posset and this is called “silent reflux.” 

Diagnosis can sometimes be difficult, as reflux is easily confused with colic.

Reflux symptoms

  • Vomiting or posseting [although in “silent” reflux this might not happen.]
  • Crying, especially when they are lying flat.
  • Coughing.
  • Swallowing & gulping.
  • Their vomit and/or breath can smell a little bit sour and acidic because of the acidity in their stomach.
  • Poor weight gain because of not keeping their feeds down.
Managing sleep for babies with reflux

Cows milk protein allergy

Sometimes reflux is caused by a CMPA [cows milk protein allergy.] This isn’t the case for every baby who has reflux, however. Equally, not all babies who have CMPA have reflux!

CMPA has other symptoms such as skin rashes,  blood in their poo and constipation.

If a baby has a milk allergy, you may be advised to cut dairy from your diet if you are breastfeeding, or if you are formula feeding, your baby will probably be prescribed a special non-dairy feed.

They might also be prescribed medicine to limit their stomach acid production or to neutralise their stomach acid.

Some reflux medicines can cause constipation so you will have to make sure to give them plenty of fluids and if they are taking solids, fibre in the form of fruit & vegetables.

Reflux and sleep

Babies who have had reflux [or colic] in the early weeks, whether simple “mechanical” reflux or caused by CMPA often develop sleep problems later.

The reason is that they have usually needed to be held and comforted to sleep, and now they don’t know any other way.

Whether your baby is still suffering from reflux or is better now but has sleep problems, here are some tips to help them.

baby sleeping

Early weeks

  • For the first 3 or 4 months, try not to worry about holding your baby too much or getting into bad habits. You’ll find more information about settling younger babies in my new babies and sleep article.
  • Get a comfortable baby carrier so that you can keep them upright for naps if that helps.
  • After the first few weeks, try to separate feeding from sleeping.
  • Elevate the top of the cot, so that it slopes down at the foot, and place younger babies with their feet at the foot of the cot.
  • Give any prescribed medication in good time for it to work before bedtime.
  • When they are over 3 or 4 months, support them to fall asleep aware that they are in their sleep space. See my guidance on bedtime routines.

Bedtime routine

  • Give their milk about half an hour before bath time and hold them upright. Then by the time they go to bed, the milk should no longer be sitting heavily in their stomach.
  • Follow a familiar and predictable routine, to help them feel safe and secure.
  • Encourage them to settle to sleep aware that they are in the cot, with as little assistance as possible from you. 
  • Follow the principles of good sleeping generally, with a familiar and well-timed routine.

Night feeds

  • Older babies who are over about 7 kg in weight, don’t need a tummy full of milk to see them through the night, so long as they are generally well-fed and hydrated during the day.
  • Drop night feeds as soon as possible, so that they are not struggling to digest unnecessary feeds when they are lying down during the night.

Most importantly, please ask for and accept help from your family & friends. Having a baby with reflux means that your circumstances are special and you will need more support than most parents.

tips to manage reflux & sleep

Further help

If you’re struggling with reflux or any sleep issues, I am here to help you.

My books

Andrea Grace Gentle Sleep Solutions guide

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Gentle Sleep Course course

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

Andrea Grace talking about Managing sleep for babies with reflux

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

moving from cot to bed

A step-by-step guide to moving your toddler from the cot to a bed

When is the best time to move a toddler from a cot to a bed?

Moving from cot to a bed marks a significant milestone in your toddler’s development.

There is no set time that is right to move a child.

Often the decision is prompted by them climbing out, or you need the cot for a new baby.

If your child is ready to come out of nighttime nappies, they will need to move to a bed, so they can use the potty or toilet. 

Most children move out of the cot and into a bed somewhere between the ages of two and three and a half. If they are happy in the cot, it is big enough for them, and they’re still in nappies, there is no reason to move them.

If you are moving your toddler out of the cot to make room for a new baby, leave a few weeks between moving your older one out and the younger one in. 

babies plying

Making the move

Explain to your child that they are going to sleep in a big bed and let them help you move the cot from the room and put the new bed up.

Or if they are in a cot bed, let them be involved in converting it to a toddler bed. 

Involve them in choosing their bedding and any other bed-related objects such as a cup for their bedside water. Allowing them to take ownership of their new bed will give them positive sleep associations around it.

Make it fun!

During the day, before your child sleeps in the new bed themselves, encourage a game where they put their toys into the new bed. Leave the room and let the toys go to sleep alone. Then praise the toys for lovely sleeping in their bed! Through this little play, they will receive the subtle message that you will be happy if they do the same. 

kid from from a cot to a bed

Other changes you can make

If there are any other changes that you’d like to make, such as getting rid of their dummy or their white noise device, this is your opportunity!

It is also a good time to drop their bedtime bottle if they’re still having one.

A change in environment can help with a behaviour change or a change in routine. If you’ve been used to staying beside them as they fall asleep in their cot, this could be a perfect opportunity to change that!

If they usually wear a sleep bag, you can replace it with a toddler duvet, or sheet and blanket. 

They can also now have a small flat pillow if you like. However, from a physiological point of view they don’t really need one.

Get rid of the cot

Avoid keeping the old cot in their room if you can, as this can cause confusion and night-time bed swapping. If their room is the only space for the cot, fill it with their stuff and use it as a toy box. This is unless the cot is being used for a younger sibling!

Keep everything as simple as possible and don’t give too many choices at night-time. This helps toddlers cut down on bedtime procrastination, tears and delay.

Putting them into their new bed

On the evening of the new bed change, keep up your usual, reassuring bedtime routine before saying goodnight to them just as you normally do. Don’t expect any changes, and if you can demonstrate by your manner that all is as normal, your child is more likely to feel ok about the new bed.

Leave the room on a very positive note, even if they do seem to be a bit unsure, over excited or very wakeful. If they don’t want you to leave, tell them that you will be back very soon to check that they are cosy. Return to them shortly afterwards and praise them for being in bed. [If they are still in it!] Only stay for a few moments before leaving again, “I’m going to wash my hands now [for example] but I’ll be back in a minute.” 

If they get out of bed

If they get out of bed and come to find you, it is very tempting to laugh or hug them, as they will look so cute. But if you do this, they may keep on doing it to get the lovely feedback and entertain you. Quite understandably, they will then be upset and confused when you are no longer finding it funny.

It is better to show them that you are surprised [not angry] that they are up. Quickly and quietly take them back to bed and then, give them the good feedback and praise them warmly. 

Leave again even if they are not happy about it but reassure them that you’ll be back.

If they don’t stay in bed

If they don’t go back to bed, go into their room and close the door behind you. Stand with your back to the door, facing your child. Tell them just once to go to bed and then wait quietly until they move towards the bed. Don’t get sidetracked or involved in any delaying requests. If they ask for more stories/cuddles/food, you can respond with, “We’ll do that/see to that/get that/you can tell me about that…….in the morning.”

It might take them a long time, but they will go back to bed if you wait quietly. Don’t repeat the instruction, but you can say, “I’m waiting, my love.” Then when they show even the slightest signs of going back to bed, praise them warmly. This will encourage them and let them know that you are proud of them. 

 If you’re in a couple, it’s a good idea for both of you if possible to alternate going in and settling/praising them. This is to reinforce the message that even though their bed has changed, the “sleep rules” are the same.

Safety gates

If your child continues to not stay in bed, and you are worried about them wondering about at night, you could fit a safety gate to their bedroom door. Introduce it in a positive manner, “This is your gate, to keep you safe!”

It is better to have a safety gate than closing the door and not letting them get out.

You will also need to have a dim light to keep them safe if they DO wander in the night. Choose one with a red glow which will not limit their sleep hormone [melatonin] production.

If they wake and come to you or call for you during the night, help them back into bed as you did at the beginning of the night. Go to them every few minutes if they are upset.

If they keep getting up or are standing at the gate, take them back to their bed each time. Try not to be in the room as they go to sleep, as this is very likely to become a habit.

Moving from a cot to a bed

It might take them longer to get to sleep

You can expect it to take longer than normal for them to go to sleep, and this is natural because children like things to be predictable and familiar. The changes that you are making may make them unsure and wakeful at first. 

Don’t panic and stay in the room with them to speed things up. If you do this, they will think it needs to happen every night. Unless they are upset, it’s better to let them settle alone, even if it takes a long time.

Once the novelty has worn off, they will be able to fall asleep more quickly.

Praise them in the morning

In the morning, offer them lots of specific praise, for example, “You slept in your big bed!” “You went back to bed when I asked you to!” This will affirm the positive bed/sleep associations for your child.

Further help

If you’re struggling with toddler bedtimes or any other sleep problem, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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Early Waking Advice

It is normal for babies and young children to wake from time to time during the night, and their sleep is more fragile and broken from about 4 am onwards.

So when your little one wakes up at the crack of dawn or before, don’t presume that something must be wrong.

Early waking can be one of the most tricky sleep problems to tackle, as most little ones are naturally early risers. But there are things that you can do to help them sleep for longer

1 – Prevent overtiredness (Expert advice for early waking)

One of the main reasons for babies and children waking up too early is over-tiredness.

Why? Because, when little ones become over-tired, they can produce extra cortisol which is an “awake” hormone.

When dawn approaches, there is a natural drop in melatonin [sleep hormone] levels and a rise in cortisol. Then because of the cortisol already in their system when they fall asleep, the process of melatonin/cortisol crossover can happen too soon.

You can help avoid over-tiredness by extending the day time nap[s] or putting them to bed a bit earlier – which may sound a bit counterintuitive but works for lots of little ones!

2 – Avoid dawn rituals

Does your baby or child come into your bed at dawn?

Do they have a bottle or breastfeed before getting up for the day?

Perhaps you go and lie next to their bed or cot etc. at dawn?

If any of these things are happening, your little one may be waking early expecting this ritual to happen. They may even wake earlier in the night looking for their ritual.

Once they are old enough to go through the night without a feed, give their morning milk in the living room. Make sure you’ve opened their curtains and said good morning first. These are very important daytime signifiers.

If you want to bring them to your bed for their morning milk and cuddle, open your curtains beforehand. When they come to you in the dark and you’re lying there trying to sleep, they will think it’s nighttime.

It is good to keep them in their own bed or cot until morning and give them a reassuring but minimal response when they wake either during the night or at dawn.

3 – Give the right response when they wake up early

When your baby or child wakes very early, leave them alone if they are not upset. They may just be taking time to transition to their next sleep cycle.

As dawn approaches, falling back to sleep can sometimes take an hour or more. As long as they are not upset, and you’re confident that they are safe and well, you can give them as long as they need.

If your little one is crying or calling for you, it’s not good to leave them. It’s possible that they won’t manage to go back to sleep, and this is not a good start to the day. It is far better to go to them before they become upset and tell or indicate that it is still sleep time. 

Then you can either remain beside them or keep popping in and out to them until they either go back to sleep or until you reach an acceptable getting up time. 

Giving them a feed, cuddling them back to sleep or bringing them into your bed etc. might help in the short term, but longer term, it might reinforce the early waking.

When you first start to keep your baby or child in their bed when they wake early, they might not go back to sleep. You will be merely teaching them that when they wake it doesn’t necessarily mean that they get up. Over time, though, when they learn to remain in their bed/cot, they will have a much better chance of going back to sleep.

If they have managed to go back to sleep after an early wake-up, it’s best to gently get them up an hour or so later. This is to keep them on a reasonable daytime schedule.

4 – Manage their naps

Avoid a very early or long morning nap, as getting into a pattern like this can “secure” or enable early waking to continue

Give them an early cat nap of about 15 minutes if they are struggling to stay awake in the early morning. , Keep in mind, however, that when babies are more than a few months old, good napping later in the morning, at midday or in the afternoon encourages better nighttime and early morning sleep.

Younger babies need a late afternoon nap, usually a short one to see them through to bedtime without becoming over-tired.

Check out the chart below and make sure that your child is getting enough [but not too much] daytime sleep.

5 – Give them time clues

Little ones have no sense of how long they’ve been asleep and how close it is to morning. They need you to provide these time clues. You can do this by offering them daytime and nighttime signifiers, such as darkness at bedtime and light in the morning.

Change your voice to a low and soothing tone when you want them to sleep and a brighter tone when it’s wake time.

In the morning, open the curtains, and if it’s still dark outside, put the light on too before you get them out of the cot. This will give them a visual prompt/signifier that it is now getting up time. 

If you do this every morning, they will soon come to realise that when the curtains are closed it means that it is sleep time. If at the beginning of the night, you make closing the curtains before they go into the cot part of the settling routine, you will further reinforce this message.

These visual time clues and routines are very important for babies, who obviously are not yet able to tell the time.

Over twos can be helped to recognise when it’s getting up time by the use of sleep training clocks/lights.

Sleep clock rules

Choose one that has a red or orange glow. Some sleep training clocks have a blue back light, which interferes with melatonin production.

Set the clock to “wake up” at a time just a few minutes after your child’s natural wake-up time, even if this is very early.

Then gradually move the time forward as your child understands the principle of waiting in their bed. If they learn to wait in their bed, they have the opportunity to fall back to sleep.

With a very young child, there is no need to explain the principle of how the clock works. They will learn it by experience.

You must obey the clock if you expect your child to! It’s no good setting it for 7 am and then getting your child up before then, while the clock is in sleep mode. If you do this, they will learn that waiting for the clock to wake up is optional.

Don’t let your child play with the clock! They may alter the wake-up time – which defeats the object!

Always praise your child for waiting for the clock to wake up.

6 – Get their sleep space right

Keep your child’s sleep space as dark as possible, as this helps them to keep producing sleep hormones. If you need a night light, use a red one, as this is more melatonin-friendly.

During sleep, the body temperature drops, slightly and this is a natural part of sleep. If a baby or child is kept too hot at sleep time, they will not sleep as well. It is also important from a safety point of view that their room is kept at a cool 16 – 20 degrees centigrade.

Here’s a guide to help you keep your little one cool and comfortable. 

7 – Build up your child’s general sleep skills

If your child is an early waker and is also struggling with settling at bedtime and waking during the night, you need to work on building better skills overall. You can do this by helping them fall asleep as independently as possible at bedtime. This is the time when they’re full of sleep hormones and they have a lovely build-up of sleep pressure.

Often, the key to solving early waking lies in how a child falls asleep at bedtime.

Sleep cycles get lighter and more broken as morning approaches and unless a baby or child has well-practised and secure sleeping skills, they can struggle to join these lighter sleep cycles.

If they wake up too early and can’t resettle, they miss the final one or two sleep cycles of the night. This isn’t because they’ve had enough sleep but because they don’t know how to get themselves back to sleep.

So if you’re rocking, nursing or sitting with them as they go to sleep at bedtime, you may be preventing them from learning these essential sleep skills.

My Gentle Sleep Course can help you get your baby or toddler to improve their sleeping, whether they have a simple early waking difficulty or difficulties with sleep generally.

Your own sleep matters

Early waking in babies and young children is a phase that most of them go through and it will pass.

Whilst it’s happening, you need to go to bed as early as possible. If you’re in a couple, share the early starts.

You need sleep so that you’ve got the energy to deal with this phase and also to protect your own mental and physical health.

Further Help

If you’re struggling with early waking or any other sleep problem, I am here to help you.

My Books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

Expert advice for early waking

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

Expert advice for early waking

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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Coming out of nappies at night

Night-time dryness comes after a child is toilet trained during the day. Often there is a considerable period in between before they will be dry at night.

Only look towards helping your child to become dry at night when they are reliably dry during the day. As a rule, most children are daytime toilet trained by the time they are 3 years old, but many are older.

Signal from the brain

To be dry at night, children need to receive a signal from the brain to let them know their bladder is full. It can take a while for them to get the hang of reading and responding to that signal. This is especially the case when they are asleep and it is not at all unusual for a four- or five-year-old to still be in night-time nappies.

Vasopressin

Vasopressin is a hormone that reduces urine production at night. It is produced in the Pituitary gland and levels of this hormone increase with age from birth. Until its action kicks in your child might not be ready to come out of their nighttime nappy. 

If your child has a very wet nappy in the morning and is no longer taking a night bottle, it is a sign that they might not yet be producing enough vasopressin. If they are over five years old, your GP practice, school nurse or health visitor will be able to advise you.

Help them with nighttime bladder control

•   Offer them plenty of fluids during the day. 

•   Stop them from having a drink an hour before bedtime

•   Drop feeds or big drinks during the night.

Are they confident with using the potty or toilet during the day and have dry or nearly dry nappies fairly consistently in the morning? If so, you can take this as a signal that it is time to start night-time potty/toilet training.

Make a start

Helping your child to become dry at night is more effective if you keep the whole process as relaxed as possible. Suggest that they might like to have a go at sleeping without a nappy. Make sure that you have a waterproof mattress cover on their bed. Then encourage them to use the toilet before they go to sleep. Don’t make a big deal about it or over-pressurise them, however. 

Should I ‘lift’ them?

Many parents choose to lift their children and put them on the toilet later in the evening, just before they go to bed themselves when the child is asleep. Nowadays this isn’t considered to be a good idea, as the child doesn’t learn about bladder control, and it just teaches them to wee in their sleep. 

From a sleep point of view, it is not good to disrupt that very special and precious deep sleep that happens at the start of the night, either, and there is also the risk that rousing a child out of deep sleep can cause distress and confusion.

If they wet their bed

If your child wets their bed, try to remain calm. Quickly change the sheets and their nightclothes if they have woken up. Then encourage them to go to the toilet to see if they have any more wee left. After this, re-settle them to sleep. 

Let them know it’s okay, it’s not their fault and you’re not cross. 

If your child manages a dry night, praise them gently but don’t overdo it, or they might feel they’ve let you down if they wet their bed next time.

Do not use a reward chart, as this is not something that is entirely within their control. You can, however, praise them for the things that they have done to help themselves achieve dry beds. Examples would be waiting until morning to have a drink or going to the toilet when you ask them to, and so on.

Night-time toilet training tips [once your child is dry during the day]

1. Encourage them to drink enough during the day [6-8 glasses.] No fizzy or caffeine-rich drinks. Restricting daytime fluids can cause the bladder to be less efficient.

2. If you are still giving a bedtime bottle, now is the time to drop it. If your child is well hydrated during the day, a big drink at bedtime or during the night [unless they are unwell or it is very hot] is not necessary. 

3. Do not allow your child to get constipated, as this can affect bladder function.

4. Use waterproof easily changeable protection on the bed to minimize night-time disruption.

5. Use the toilet just before bedtime.

6. Leave a soft light on and if the toilet is not easily accessible, have a potty in their room.

7. If your child wets the bed and wakes up, praise them for telling you and still take them to the toilet to see if they can do a bit more.

8. Praise them gently but warmly when they manage a dry bed and don’t expect this to be every night at first.

9. Expect just the occasional dry night at the first few attempts.

10. If your child doesn’t manage a dry bed after 3 – 4 weeks of trying, give up and try again a few weeks later. Or wait until they start to have dry-ish nappies in the morning. 

Further help

If you’re struggling with any aspect of your toddler’s sleep, I am here to help you.

My book

Book by baby sleep expert

My bestselling toddler sleep book gives you the tools to help your child and yourself get a good night’s sleep. It is full of expert, practical advice and case studies. The book teaches you to create your child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

It is available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Early Waking Course

If your toddler is up before the milkman, you may find this course helpful. The Early Waking Course includes information about sleep training clocks, napping advice and techniques to prevent and deal with early waking. It takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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The four-month sleep regression

Somewhere between about 3 and 6 months, some babies start to wake up more during the night. Welcome to the “four-month sleep regression!”

The regression happens after a period when your baby might have started sleeping for longer stretches during the night.

Suddenly they start to wake more frequently and sometimes to feed more frequently too

Sleep advantages that are happening now

  • They are establishing mature sleep cycles and experiencing deeper sleep
  • They are making their own sleep hormones
  • They are bigger and need less milk at night

Sleep cycles

Around this time, babies settle into a mature pattern of sleep cycles – with light sleep, deep sleep and waking phases. Each sleep cycle lasts about an hour.

This means that they wake up during the night as they go through these sleep cycles.

Sleep hormones

Your baby is now producing their own sleep hormones, such as melatonin. Previously for night time sleep, they relied upon being close to their parent – sharing their circadian rhythm.

Getting bigger

Young babies need to feed regularly, including during the night. They are growing very rapidly and their little tummies can’t hold enough milk to sustain them for long.

At around this age, their rapid growth settles into a slower and steadier weight gain. Many babies of 4 months have the body weight to enable them to sleep for stretches of 5 hours or more at night without getting hungry. 

So given that all this positive stuff is going on, it can be frustrating when babies start to go backwards with their sleeping!

Why does this happen? 

It is because also between 3 and 6 months, babies become more conscious of what is going on.

They start to figure things out and make learning connections. 

These connections, made as they fall asleep, can develop into expectations and preferences around their night sleeping and napping. In other words – habits are formed.

So as an example – if they are fed or cuddled to sleep at the start of the night, they may need or expect those same “sleep triggers” when they wake up naturally after a sleep cycle.

Of course, it is fine to cuddle or feed your baby to sleep if that’s what feels right for you or if that’s what they need. Be aware though that if at this age, they start to wake for feeds and cuddles more than they used to; there is a good chance that they are doing out it of habit rather than need.

This can be disruptive to their sleep and yours also. 

How to deal with it

A good bedtime routine really comes into its own now. You need a repeated series of steps leading up to bedtime that baby will recognise as sleep cues. 

Then unless you’ve chosen to co-sleep, it’s good to help them fall asleep in the cot aware of where they are. A lovely way of doing this is to give the last feed with the light on and follow it with a simple book. Then lights off and put them down into the cot awake. Soothe them there if they don’t like to be left, or leave them to self-settle if they’re ok with that. 

As sleep now happens in cycles; it is normal to wake a few times in their sleep. When your baby wakes up, they will need to have everything around them, the same as it was when they fell asleep. 

So the more independently they fall asleep at the start of sleep, the more likely they are to be able to join their sleep cycles by themselves. 

If they do wake up, try soothing them in the cot for a while rather than automatically picking them up or feeding them. They might just resettle and drift back off, but of course, if they continue to cry, it is best to respond with whatever feeding or cuddling they need. 

Watch out that they don’t feed so much at night that they have no appetite for feeds during the day. This is such a common situation and is called reverse cycling. If your baby feeds a lot during the night you might find that they feed distractedly during the day. You may be constantly trying to tempt them or persuade them to feed during the day! As soon as it is dark and quiet, they will take good sustained feeds. Soon it becomes an established feeding pattern; one that can be difficult to break away from. How can you possibly stop the night feeds if these are the only ones your baby takes?

If you WAIT for your baby’s daytime appetite to improve before reducing night feeds, you’ll be waiting forever! The way to approach this is to cut down on the night feeds and then you’ll find that the daytime feeds will gradually increase.

Will this regression pass by itself?

For some babies, this is a phase and it will pass. For others, the habits which form during the period of regression can stick, meaning that their wakeful nights become the norm. If you’re struggling, you’ll find more help to establish good sleep habits in my Gentle Sleep Course and also in my book, Gentle Sleep Solutions.

Does every baby go through the four-month sleep regression?

No! Many babies naturally sleep for longer periods as they get bigger and older. This is especially true of babies who have a naturally very calm disposition and find it easy to settle to sleep without much help.

In my experience, babies who do go through this regression are usually very alert, engaged and quick on the uptake!

Further Help

If you’re struggling with the four-month or any other sleep regression, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My Courses

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 Consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

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A great bedtime routine to help your baby sleep through the night

When they are newborn

It takes around 6 – 8 weeks for a baby to begin to get their days and nights sorted out. After this time they usually begin to sleep for longer periods during the night.

There are 7 keys things that you can do to help them along with this process:

1 – Feed them on demand. Babies are more settled with a full tummy and lots of cuddles.

2- “Cluster feed” in the evening. This means giving lots of feeds close together. The reason this helps is that in the evening, breast milk contains raised levels of Tryptophan.  Tryptophan is an amino acid which converts to a sleep hormone!

3- Allow them to experience the difference between nighttime and daylight. This encourages the production of nighttime sleep hormones and helps to set your baby’s circadian clock.

4- Wind them well after the final feed. Hold them upright and use deep, circular strokes to the base of their back. This works better than tapping their upper back.

5 – Introduce a bedtime song or poem which will become a sleep association. Spoken or sung cues are lovely portable elements associated with sleep.

6 – Try whenever possible to put them into the cot relaxed but still awake. It’s important that when they wake later, they don’t feel confused about no longer being in your arms. 

7 – At around 6-8 weeks, when your baby starts doing longer stretches of sleep at night time, introduce a lovely consistent bedtime routine. 

What is a bedtime routine?

The best bedtime routines provide a familiar series of steps leading up to them going to sleep. 

Each of these steps will in time become a mini sleep trigger for your baby. 

The routine can be short and sweet, or a bit longer – providing that it works for you and is consistent. 

The best time to begin the routine is when you know that they are nearly ready to sleep. 

The process of the routine is more important than the time at which it is carried out. So if they’ve slept late in the afternoon, you’ll need to start the routine later. Putting a baby to bed with lots of energy to spare is likely to result in crying and calling for you. It can also result in them developing negative associations with bedtime.

Equally, try avoid your baby from being over tired at bedtime. When this happens, they can struggle to settle, as they become stressed.

Here’s the perfect routine!

Don’t start too early! Half an hour before the expected sleep time is enough

Turn the TV or radio off. Put on soft music or just have quietness. Put your phone away.

Take everything that you need for the night with you, to avoid having to come back into the living room.

Follow a similar bedtime “script” by using familiar phrases and actions during the routine.

Bath them every night if you can. If you can’t, still try to have a washing “ritual” each night.

Go directly to the room that your baby sleeps in from the bathroom.

Dress them for bed – don’t worry if they’re wriggly & cross – they usually are at this time!

Give the final feed in the bedroom and don’t let them fall asleep on it.

Keep the light on or curtains open to prevent this

Don’t give them their bottle in their cot.

After the milk, look at a book together – sitting on your knee rather than in their cot.

Put them into their cot whilst they are fully awake.

Kiss them goodnight and then teach them how to fall asleep – knowing that now they are naturally ready to do it!

Other ways to promote good sleep

Many sleep problems are caused by babies being rocked or fed to sleep. 

When babies wake up later, during a natural sleep cycle, they are understandably upset to be in a different place. 

Most parents react by picking their baby up and rocking or feeding back to sleep again. 

Remember: you cannot prevent your baby from waking in the night. What you can do is to teach them to feel comfortable in their cot and to settle back down. 

The best way to do this is to put them down awake at the start of the night. Then leave them to self-settle if they’re ok with that. If they’re not, stay beside them using patting/stroking/kind words/singing etc. until they eventually settle. Give them as long as they need.

From about 2-3 months, they have a build-up of their internal sleep hormone [melatonin] towards the end of the day. 

They also have a natural build-up of “sleep pressure,” which comes from how long they’ve been awake.  

These important factors mean that babies are biologically programmed to sleep at the end of the day. 

Don’t break the sleep pressure by letting them get too drowsy in your arms before putting them in the cot and they will soon go to sleep. Just give them time and don’t lose your confidence.

Further help

If you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep or have any questions, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My courses

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with an individual sleep plan for your child. You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness.

As a qualified health professional, I can help families with medical and developmental issues. My success rate is outstanding, with over 15,000 face-to-face sleep consultations with families from all over the world.

See my reviews on Trustpilot

baby sleep cycle

A Gentle and Practical Guide to Help Your New Baby Sleep Well

“Bad habits” can’t be learned by a baby under 3 months old and it is important to be very close and respond to their needs.


In the past, strict feeding and sleep schedules were very heavily emphasised for very young babies. Whilst this was well meant and successful for some babies, it wasn’t [and isn’t] the best approach for all. A gentle and practical guide to help your new baby sleep well is crucial for many parents.

It’s easy to feel a sense of failure if your new baby doesn’t feed and sleep “by the clock.” But you and your baby are unique and it is ok to do what feels natural and to follow your instinct. No outside advice could ever be better than your inbuilt ability to care for your own baby.

However, if you’re looking for guidance, here is some information you might find helpful. It’s about how things tend to progress sleep-wise with babies. It also has some practical steps that you can follow to help them sleep their best.

0-6 weeks

The most important ways to help your baby sleep well and feel contented and settled are:

  • To feed them on demand.
  • To allow their sleep patterns to develop naturally. Don’t wake them – unless they are tiny and haven’t been fed for a long time.
  • To set their internal body clock by allowing them to experience daylight and darkness.
  • Through holding, handling and gazing at your baby, allow the lovely process of bonding to take place. 
A gentle and practical guide to help your new baby sleep well

In these early, precious but exhausting weeks, sleep is very closely involved with feeding. Your new baby will tend to live life in a milky, dozy state. 

At this age babies’ sleep is quite light and fidgety. They have nearly double the amount of rapid eye movement [REM] sleep than adults do. This kind of sleep, called “active sleep” in babies, is very important for their neurological development. Both babies and adults need REM sleep for memory consolidation and learning.

Feeding

If you are breastfeeding, it is quite usual to feed every 2-3 hours…….and sometimes even more, especially in the evening. In the evening and during the night, breast milk contains high levels of the natural sleep chemical, tryptophan. So “cluster feeding” at this time, not only allows your baby to stock up on food for the night, it also helps to improve the quality of their sleep.

It might not feel like it, but babies of this age sleep for an average of 14.5 hours in 24 hours. [The range however is 9-20 hours.] If you think that your baby isn’t getting this much sleep, why not keep a simple sleep diary? This will give you a clearer picture of their sleep tendencies and will enable you to see if any pattern is beginning to emerge.

Practical steps

To encourage your baby to settle into a good sleep pattern they need:

Enough milk. If you are breastfeeding this means feeding on demand. For formula-fed babies, follow the guidelines on the tin or allow 2 ½ oz [75 ml] in 24 hours per pound  [0.45 kg] of their body weight. 

A cosy and safe place to sleep. The ideal room temperature should be around 18 degrees centigrade. 

Clothing and cot covers should be made of natural fibres such as cotton or fine wool. For important safety advice about babies’ sleep environment, visit The Lullaby Trust.

During the night, when they wake for a feed, keep the lights down low and speak softly. Settle them back into the cot after feeding and winding.

Don’t change your baby’s nappy during the night unless it is very wet or soiled. Keep a Thermos with warm water and cotton swabs close by for nappy changes.

Introduce a familiar gentle song or spoken ritual that your baby will come to associate with bedtime.

Allow them to experience light during the daytime, and darkness at night. This will encourage the development and production of Melatonin – an essential sleep hormone.

A gentle and practical guide to help your new baby sleep well is crucial for many parents.

6-12 Weeks

By this stage, many babies are beginning to sleep for longer periods and to feed less often. It is usual for a baby of about 8 weeks old to sleep for 6 hours at night without waking for a feed. Many babies have managed to do this earlier and some will be a little later.

Your baby is now bigger and stronger, even though they are not yet taking solid food.

Their total sleep requirement may have dropped slightly, but night sleep will be becoming deeper and lasting for longer periods. They may not yet have an early, set bedtime, however. It is not unusual for babies of this age to settle for the night at the same time as you do.

Practical steps

To encourage good sleeping habits at this age, keep up with the steps above. In addition, encourage your baby to sleep without falling asleep on the bedtime feed. 

Do this by giving the final feed with the bedroom light kept on and preventing them from dozing. 

A “split feed” where you give one-half of the feed before bath time and the other half after it, can often help to prevent a baby from falling asleep on the last feed of the day.

Once they start to get sleepy and/or you think they have had enough; take them off the breast or bottle and hold them upright against your shoulder. Move gently from side to side whilst humming, shushing or singing. Stroke the base of their back to bring up any wind and then when they are relaxed [not too drowsy] and awake, try placing them in the cot. If you need to, continue to soothe them by stroking, singing etc. 

There is no need to prevent your baby from falling asleep over every single feed. Try at first, just for the one closest to your baby’s bedtime.

A gentle and practical guide to help your new baby sleep well

12 – 16 Weeks

At this lovely age, your baby is becoming much more active in the daytime and may even begin to sleep through the night for between 6 – 12 hours at night, with 3-4 daytime naps. This should total about 13-14 hours. Rather than going to bed at the same time as you do, they will now be producing their own sleep hormones and will start to need an earlier bedtime. This is usually sometime between 6 pm & 8 pm.

Practical Steps

To encourage positive sleep associations at this age you need to establish a bedtime routine.

A good bedtime routine is a repeated series of steps leading up to bedtime, each of which provides a ‘sleep clue’ which tells your baby that sleep time is coming. If repeated consistently, it will help them to feel safe, comfortable and sleepy.

The best bedtime routine

  • Offer a final [short] daytime nap at around 5 PM. This will help to prevent them from becoming over-tired at bedtime.
  • Tidy up the daytime things and prepare all that you need for the night.
  • Turn off the TV, radio etc. and take everything that they need for the night to the bedroom.
  • They will need an awake window of 1.5 – 2 hours, depending on their age and/or their natural pattern, before settling down for the night. 
  • Bath them every night if you can. Even if your baby is clean, it is good to bathe them as a very powerful sleep clue. It also allows them to expend reserves of energy. 
  • Introduce an ‘action’ song in the bath, you will both enjoy it and it will serve as another [highly portable] sleep clue.
  • If you can’t or don’t want to bathe them, still have some kind of washing ritual.
  • After this, go directly to the bedroom. Don’t be tempted to take them back into the main living area, or you’ll find that rather than making them sleepy, the bath has left them ready to play!
  • When you’re in the bedroom, keep the atmosphere calm, with soft lighting etc. If you normally give a massage, now is a good time to do it.
  • Give your baby a bottle or breastfeed [still with the light kept on] and then afterwards, look at a simple book together, sing a familiar lullaby or repeat a consistent goodnight phrase. 
  • Then place them in the cot – whilst they are still awake and relaxed. 
  • If they are in the cot awake but not crying, just watch and wait. 
  • Babies have an inbuilt natural ability to sleep if we let them. It may take several minutes of fussing, arms flying and legs kicking before they eventually get themselves off to sleep. It’s really good to give them as long as they need and try not to intervene.
  • If your baby struggles to settle, stay with them, patting and stroking, singing and rocking until they are calm enough to sleep. Pick them up every few minutes if they need it.
  • It is better to gently ease them into falling asleep independently rather than letting them cry intensely.
  • The sequence of your routine is more important than the time at which it is done. If 6-8 pm is too early for your baby, just follow the routine a little later.
  • Most babies, as they get bigger and older start to feed less during the night, and some, by the time that they get to this age, will have dropped night feeds completely.
  • If your baby starts to feed in the night more rather than less as they get older, they may be developing a feed/sleep dependence.
  • Unless you’re both happy with the way the nights are, you might want to look at one of my other posts either about the 4-month sleep regression or helping them to safely drop their night feeds.

Further help

If you’re struggling with your baby’s sleep either now or in the future, I am here to help you.

My books

My bestselling books give you the tools to help your baby and yourself get a good night’s sleep. They are full of expert, practical advice and case studies. Each book teaches you to create your baby or child’s personal sleep plan and is written in a clear and accessible style.

They are available in all formats from Amazon and other booksellers.

My courses

When your baby is a bit older if you need help with their sleep, have a look at my sleep courses.

My courses are a mix of video, graphics and easy-to-read text. They are a great way to access my expert help – from your phone, tablet or laptop. The courses have no expiry date and are updated frequently. The Gentle Sleep Course is very comprehensive, easy to dip in and out of and is very empowering.

The Early Waking Course is concise and accessible – it takes around an hour to complete and it may be the best hour you’ve ever spent!

Both of the courses contain helpful schedules for day and night time sleep.

My 1:1 consultations

If you choose to book a one-to-one consultation with me, you will receive my expert advice along with a copy of my Gentle Sleep Solutions book and four follow up support emails.

You will be in very safe, experienced hands and I treat every parent and child with kindness. As a qualified health professional, I can help if your baby or you have medical needs. I have helped over 15,000 families from all over the world to get a good night’s sleep.

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