Supporting your baby’s sleep

Emerging Minds, Australia, October, 2022

Resource Summary

This resource aims to help you support your baby’s sleep. It will help you understand where your baby is at developmentally and what might be causing any sleep issues. It offers strategies you can use to settle your baby and help them to develop good sleeping habits.


Emerging Minds acknowledges that families come in many forms. For the purposes of easy reading, the term ‘parent’ encompasses the biological, adoptive, foster and kinship carers of a child, as well as individuals who have chosen to take up primary or shared responsibility in raising that child.

Caring for an infant can be incredibly rewarding. But it can also feel frustrating and demanding at times, especially when your baby is having trouble sleeping. These feelings are very normal – particularly when you don’t know why your baby is struggling to settle or won’t sleep for more than half an hour at a time. The following information is designed to help you better understand and support your baby’s sleep.

What do we know about babies and sleep?

Sleep is important for babies’ development. Many families find this area of parenting one of the most challenging, but just because your baby is having trouble sleeping at the moment, it doesn’t mean they’ll struggle forever. It also does not mean you’re a ‘bad parent’ or doing something wrong. Sleep issues in infancy are common.

‘Waking every couple of hours at night, I’m afraid to say, throughout the first year of life and even into toddlerhood…is developmentally normal. We want to support parents to have the best possible quality of life, which is a full and meaningful life around developmentally normal night waking, but many families are struggling with excessive night waking.’

– Dr Pamela Douglas, general practitioner (GP)

What can be challenging for many parents is to know when your baby’s sleep problems require further strategies or help from a professional.

‘So, patterns of waking every hour, every 45 minutes, and the baby takes forever to get back to sleep at night. You’re awake for big blocks of time in the night. You know, the baby seems to be ready to start the day from 4:00am. These are signs of disrupted sleep patterns.’

– Dr Pamela Douglas, GP

Understanding your baby’s development and sleep needs

As you get to know your baby, you’ll learn to recognise when they are tired, how much sleep they need and what works best for them (and for you). But while every baby is different, it can be useful to have an idea of the common infant sleep patterns and needs at different developmental stages.

For example:

  • Newborn babies sleep on and off during the day and night, mostly for a total of 14–17 hours each day.
  • As they get older, babies sleep less in the daytime and longer at night. Many still wake at night and this is quite normal.
  • At around 3–6 months old, a baby’s night-time sleeps get longer, and they might start having two or three daytime ‘naps’ of a few hours each. At this age, it is still normal for babies to wake once or twice at night.
  • While newborns can sleep through most things, babies become more sensitive to light and noise. They learn to keep themselves awake if something interesting is happening. How much these things affect your baby’s sleep will vary from child to child.
  • By their first birthday, most babies sleep for 11–14 hours in each 24-hour period.

You can find more information about infant sleep patterns and duration at different ages on the Raising Children website.

It’s important to keep in mind that some babies sleep more or less than the ‘norm’. A good way to tell if your baby is getting enough sleep is to look at their mood and wellbeing. If they’re often ‘grizzly’, they may not be getting enough quality sleep.

Sleep issues in infancy are common. Just because your infant is having trouble sleeping now doesn’t mean they’ll struggle forever or that you’re doing something wrong.

Common causes of sleep issues in babies

At this young age, there can be many reasons why your baby is more unsettled than usual. The following are some common factors that can contribute to infant sleep problems:

Changes in routines

Your baby is learning more about their world every day. They’re beginning the transition from walking to crawling, starting to form words, and their afternoon nap may be getting shorter and shorter.

Your infant’s routines may be changing as you take them out to explore more of their community. If your daily routine changes often, it can affect your baby’s sleep and they may become more unsettled.

Frequent late-night feeds and overtiredness are also common causes of sleep issues in babies and toddlers, which can occur when their routine is changed.


Teething occurs differently for every child. But when the new baby teeth break through the gums, it can be very uncomfortable for your infant. This can cause them to be more unsettled when it’s time to go down for a sleep, or they may wake during the night because of the pain.

Signs your baby might be teething include:

  • Their gum is red where the tooth is coming through.
  • They have flushed, red cheeks.
  • They have a rash on their face.
  • They’re dribbling more than usual.
  • They’re rubbing their ear.
  • You notice they want to chew on things more than normal.

Underlying illnesses

Illnesses, such as reflux, ear infections, fever or sore throat can often disrupt a baby’s sleep. Because your infant is unable to tell you what’s bothering them, it can be hard to know if they’re unwell. See your GP or child health nurse if you’re not sure. (To learn more about the role of a GP, watch this video.)

It’s also important to think about any common health issues your baby has had in the past (for example, reflux), and whether they might have returned and be affecting your baby’s sleep.

Struggling to falling asleep by themselves

As your infant grows, there may be a transition period from rocking and patting them to sleep, to them being able to fall asleep by themselves. Your baby may find this change difficult at first.

Having a predictable and calm ‘wind down’ time and routine helps babies transition from being engaged and active to being ready for sleep.

Strategies to improve your baby’s sleep

There are lots of different views about how best to help babies learn to settle, self‑soothe and sleep better. You will be offered lots of different advice from well‑meaning friends and family – some helpful and some not. Be patient with yourself, your baby and the rest of your family as you work out what is best for you all.

Changes in routines

To help prevent sleep disruptions caused by changes in routine, you can:

  • start the day at the same time, no matter how the previous night has been
  • try to keep bedtime routines consistent – both the time you put your baby down for their afternoon nap, as well as the time they go down to sleep at night
  • keep interactions during the night as quiet, short and fuss-free as possible. For example, if you’re still providing a late-night feed, keep the lights off or dim and don’t play or talk with your baby at this time
  • make sure your baby’s room or place of sleep is comfortable – not too hot or cold – and can be made dark.


If you think your baby is teething, you can:

  • see your GP or ask a pharmacist about soothing gel for gums or pain relief
  • try to avoid picking your baby up after you’ve put them down to sleep. Instead, offer them a teething ring that has been in the fridge, and some soothing words and pats
  • remind yourself that teething is temporary and will pass, so try to stay patient.

Underlying illnesses

If your baby has been unwell in the past, think about what you did to treat them last time and whether that might help them again now. For example, if your baby experiences reflux, feed them at least 30 minutes before their nap or bedtime. Burp them and keep them sitting up to help with digestion. If you think they may have an illness, visit your GP or an after-hours clinic or emergency department.

Once your baby is well again, try to get them back into a good sleep pattern. It may take a few nights but stick with it; your baby will soon understand what to do.

Trouble falling asleep by themselves

Rethink your bedtime routine. For example, if you feed your baby until they fall asleep, start the last feed 30 minutes before you want them to settle down. Then, when your baby is tired but not quite asleep, transition them to bed. This will help your baby to learn to settle themselves.

Some parents prefer structured routine, while others prefer being more flexible and following your baby’s rhythm and cues. Whatever your preference, it can be helpful to develop a bedtime routine or ‘pattern’ that suits your family, and stick to it. For example, give your baby a bath, put their pyjamas on, read to them, sing a song and then put your baby into their cot/bed.

During the day when your baby shows signs of tiredness, have a consistent ‘time to sleep’ plan. For example, take you baby to the room where they usually sleep, close the blinds, talk quietly, give them a cuddle and maybe sing them a song, and then pop them into bed. Having a predictable and calm ‘wind down’ time and routine may help your baby to transition from being engaged and active to being ready for sleep.

Restless sleep due to frequent late-night feedings

If your baby is sleeping restlessly, it may be due to late-night feeds. Try the following:

  • Wean your baby off middle-of-the-night feeds (when they’re old enough; newborns need to be fed frequently, even during the night).
  • Avoid feeding your baby to sleep when they are no longer a newborn. As previously mentioned, try to feed them 30 minutes before the start of their sleep time.


If you think your baby might be overtired, the following tips might help:

  • Put your baby down to sleep when they first show signs of being tired – for example, rubbing their eyes, yawning, looking away or starting to fuss.
  • Resist the urge to have them stay up late, thinking they’ll be ‘more tired’.

If your baby is having trouble sleeping, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone. Sleep issues during infancy are common, but with the right strategies and support, you can help your baby to sleep more soundly, for their benefit and yours.

More information and support

If you’re worried about your baby’s sleep, talk to your child health nurse or GP. They can rule out any medical causes, explain what ‘normal’ sleep patterns look like at your infant’s age, and explore common reasons your baby might be more unsettled than usual.

The following resources offer more information and strategies to support infant sleep:

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