The first six weeks or so …
It is important not to expect too much too soon. New born babies do not understand about night and day, but they can gradually learn it if you are gentle and consistent.
You can’t spoil a baby at this age, so it is always right to attend to your baby when he or she cries, to feed when hungry and let them sleep when they sleep. This stage is often rather tiring for parents! If you are finding it difficult, then there are some ideas to help here.
Getting a sense of day and night
The aim in the first six weeks is to help your baby enjoy activity during the day, and start to feel the difference between night and day. Some books say to try and keep your baby awake during the day, but at this age, they need to sleep when they need to sleep.
So, when your baby wakes in daytime, do play and talk and cuddle. After a feed is a good time for enjoying this. If you are not sure what to do, there are some great ideas in your play@home book. Do interesting things together – go out, visit, whatever is fun for you both. It will help your baby learn that daytime is for activity.
Try and do regular activities (like bath) at about the same time each day. This will help your baby understand how days have a pattern.
Settling down at night
It can really help to have a “winding down” routine at the end of the day – bath, cuddles, night clothes, story (yes, babies like stories – see here for more! Research shows that babies who have this kind of routine from early on are easier to settle as toddlers.
Then help your baby to try and settle – of course enjoy holding and rocking. But the best thing is if you put him or her down while still awake (just awake) so that he/she gets a chance to try settling for themselves. You can still help with gentle talking or stroking – or some babies like to use their thumbs. Your baby might fret a bit on the way to sleep – this is normal and does not need you to do anything.
If your baby really struggles to settle, then check if they need changing, or winding, or if too hot/cold. And repeat the settling. Don’t worry if your baby takes a while to manage getting to sleep – we are all different in how we sleep and some take longer than others.
From about six weeks
SOME babies are ready to sleep for longer during the night by now, but many are not.
Gradual changes can help your baby learn how to sleep longer, though many children still need to call their parents at night until they are toddlers. Also, if there are changes or special excitements, your baby may well “forget” how to settle for a while and need your help. This often happens around the time they learn to crawl.
You’ll find your baby is now alert for longer during the day, so keep playing and chatting and doing interesting things together. This helps to move the sleep patterns onto day/night over the next few months.
At night, don’t leave your baby crying for long periods – he or she is still too young to be able to settle herself all the time. Instead, you want to help your baby settle themselves, with soothing words and touch, and using the favourite toy or blanket – as long as this is safe – see the leaflet on SIDS .