Newborn babies sleep a lot, but in short periods of time. They need to feed frequently and so they will wake every two to four hours for milk. Usually, a newborn baby will only be awake long enough for a feed and nappy change, before falling asleep again. During this time, don’t worry about things like “sleep training” your baby, or trying to get her to sleep through the night without a feed. Right now, she is learning about the world around her and you are building a relationship. Plus, she needs frequent feeds. She needs to know that she can trust you, that you will feed her when she’s hungry, and hold her when she’s crying.
After 6 weeks, you and your baby will still have a lot to learn about each other, but now is the time when her sleep periods should gradually lengthen. It’s important you encourage this and guide your baby towards sleeping for longer periods at night.
To do this, your baby needs to learn how to fall asleep by herself. This doesn’t mean leaving her to cry for hours, but to gently guide her towards this goal. You can do this by putting her down when she is drowsy but still awake. You may be surprised to find that she drifts off to sleep without your help.
Once your baby has learned how to self settle, she will gradually start sleeping for longer periods, waking less often for a feed, until she eventually sleeps through the night when she is ready. A baby who doesn’t learn how to self settle – who is rocked or fed to sleep at bedtime, is likely to wake during the night and call for you. If this is the case, and you’re suffering with baby sleep problems, you will need to help your little one learn how to fall asleep without relying on a feed, a bottle or being rocked to sleep.
It is never too early to help your baby learn this, the younger she is the easier it will be. But be aware of your baby’s needs and feelings when you start to teach her. For example, with a newborn baby, you may just try putting her down awake now and then. If she cries, comfort her, and then try again next time. A baby of three months who is used to being fed or rocked to sleep may need you to do this for her at sleep time, but stop just when she is drowsy and then put down to sleep. At first you may need to do this 100 times! But soon she will fall asleep from drowsy and you can work back from there until you can eventually put her down awake when you know she is tired.
After 6 months, if you are still experiencing sleepless nights and you feel you want to take some action, you may prefer to use some baby sleep training techniques in order to help your baby learn how to self settle.