Sleeping Problems in Babies

Night-time wakefulness in babies, especially during the first months of life

  • More common under the age of 12 months
  • An unsettled environment is a risk factor
  • Gender and genetics are not significant factors

Most newborn babies take time to establish a sleeping pattern that fits in with their parents’ sleep and a normal 24-hour day. A baby’s sleeping pattern will depend on how frequently he or she needs to feed. Premature babies tend to feed more often than full-term babies and therefore sleep for shorter periods. In older infants, problems may be caused by temperament, an unsettled or stressful environment, or a minor illness such as a common cold. Some sleeping problems are inevitable with a baby, but they can be stressful for parents.

What can I do?

Although your baby will have an irregular sleeping pattern at first, there are some self-help measures that may be useful. During the day, give your baby plenty of stimulation and try to nap when your baby is asleep. If you are breast-feeding, lactation is established, and your baby is gaining weight at the expected rate, from 6 weeks onwards you can express milk so that you can share night feeding with your partner. When your baby is about 10 weeks old, you can begin to establish a bedtime routine. Give your baby’s last feed in a quiet, darkened room. Check that your baby is comfortable, not hungry, and wearing a clean nappy. Put your baby to bed before he or she has fallen asleep so that your baby gets used to going to sleep without being held. Do not play with him or her during night-time feeds. If you think your baby’s wakefulness may be due to an illness, consult your doctor.

In most babies, night-time wakefulness will improve with time. However, a few may develop sleeping problems later in childhood (see Sleeping problems in children).

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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