When a baby is born, the parents will naturally want to know how much sleep does a baby need. A rough estimate of how long a baby sleeps between feeds can be obtained by observing them when settled and seeing what time they stop feeding and falling asleep.
This article will guide you on the average number of hours a newborn may sleep a day. There is no fixed number that fits all babies as it will depend on several factors, including whether the baby has been fed or had any nappy changes during their sleep cycle.
A newborn should wake every 2-3 hours for feeding during the day and at least once to be settled in the night. There may also be times when a baby is unsettled and does not want to sleep.
This may occur at any time during the day or night, and it is important to help them settle back to sleep as quickly as possible so they do not become overtired. Overtiredness is a common cause of worsening sleeping patterns in babies.
How much do babies sleep?
Babies sleep around 50% of their time sleeping, and an average newborn may sleep for about 17 hours in 24. This includes nighttime and daytime sleeps. In the first weeks, babies rarely stay awake for more than an hour at a time.
Newborns wake easily and often need to be reset if they fall asleep during feeds. They also tend to spend much of the day sleeping, building up their energy levels for nighttime feeding.
During the first few weeks, it is normal for newborns to sleep long hours each day, with 3-4 naps for between 3-5 hours during the day. It is important to ensure they are not allowed to sleep for longer than this, as otherwise, they will soon start to wake more frequently later on.
How much sleep does a baby need during the day and night time?
Newborns will usually need between 8-12 feeds each day. Most babies will feed every 1-2 hours during the first week. As they get older, they may gradually start to stretch out their feeding times, which is normal as long as it is not happening too frequently.
National sleep foundation found that infants 6-12 months get 12-15 hours of sleep a day, and children over 18 require between 10-11 hours.
For many newborn babies, feeding times will go through periods of 2-3 hours during the day and 1-2 hours at night for around three months or so. This is normal as babies need to learn how much they need to feed.
It would be helpful to let your baby finish the first breast before switching sides to make sure they are feeding enough. It may also be helpful to gently offer the second breast instead of automatically switching breasts if your baby shows signs of being full after a few minutes on one side.
This can be managed by waiting until the end of the first burp before offering the second side. However, it is important to ensure that your baby feeds frequently enough.
Babies sleep for longer periods during the day than at night. This is normal as they are usually awake more during the night. While sleeping patterns vary, most newborns will have 3-4 naps of around 3 hours each day in the first few weeks.
After this, they may gradually start to stretch out their daytime sleep until they sleep for around 5 hours between feeds during the day at around four months of age.
Babies vary in their sleeping patterns just as adults do. Some will be happier to play awake independently, while others may need more help settling back to sleep after waking up. It is important to remember that all babies need time to learn to settle by themselves.
If your baby is feeding around 8-12 times per day and seems happy between feeds, then you can be confident they are getting enough milk
What are some challenges with getting babies to sleep?
It can be normal for babies to wake during the night, and there is no need for concern if this happens 2 or 3 times a week. However, it may be helpful to focus on trying to get your baby back to sleep as quickly as possible so they do not become overtired. Overtiredness can cause increased night wakings, so keeping your baby awake during the day can help reduce this.
How much an infant sleeps also depends on their age. For example, newborn babies need to sleep for over 16 hours a day. Six-week-old infants need 12 to 16 hours of sleep daily. However, at 4 months of age, this goes down to around 14-15 hours, and by the time they’re toddlers, it is between 11 and 12 hours per night.
You can also keep a sleep diary for your baby, where you write down when your baby wakes up, how long it takes to resettle, and what you do to help soothe the baby. You can look at this diary a few weeks later and pinpoint any patterns or differences in your approach to different problems.
National Sleep Foundation says:
“Everyone is different, and most people would love more hours in the day. But babies, especially newborns, need a lot of sleep, and not having enough can affect the way they grow and develop. After 4 months of age, most healthy babies will be happy to sleep through the night.”
Natural ways to settle a crying baby?
Newborn babies tend to have unsettled periods throughout the day and night. They will often be more settled if held and/or rocked, as this can help them feel some of the reassuring movements they experienced in the womb.
Where possible, it is best to hold your baby close and try any rocking or bouncing before resorting to other forms of settling, such as feeding or using a dummy.
If you find your baby is feeding all the time, it can be helpful to try to “space out ” their feeds a little. This will help ensure your baby is not taking in too much milk too quickly. It may also be helpful to burp your baby after every 1-2 ounces of milk or after 15 minutes if they don’t seem to need to burp.
If your baby is feeding every 1-2 hours, it can be helpful to try to keep them awake for longer in between feeds. This will help prevent them from becoming overtired, leading to increased night wakings. It can also be helpful to start winding down towards sleep before they go to bed by dimming the lights and keeping the room quiet.
Once your baby is asleep, it can be helpful to move them into their cot as soon as possible. This will help remind them of where they are sleeping and reduce crying. It may also be helpful to try not to wake your baby too much once they are asleep for naps or at night unless there is a problem.
Babies vary in how easily they wake up, but many are used to being left to settle themselves in the womb, and this is the best way to help them learn to do it again once they are born.
What are some common causes of a baby crying?
Babies can often be unsettled for several reasons. Some common causes include tiredness, pain from teething, wind, an uncomfortable nappy/diaper, or general fussiness due to developmental leaps. It is essential to consider other causes before assuming your baby is hungry.
Bedtime routine disruptions, teething problems, or life changes such as a new sibling or relationship transition can also cause increased fussiness.
It is important to ‘tune in’ to your baby instead of asking what the problem is… Most babies lack verbal skills to explain what exactly is wrong.
Infant sleep problems can be divided roughly into five categories:
- Unsettled at bedtime
- Unsettled during the night
- Taking a long time to get to sleep
- Interrupting sleep several times a night
- Problems remaining asleep
Sleep schedule problems often occur due to some disruption to their usual routine. This could result from traveling, teething, developmental leaps, or transitioning/moving house.
Babies can develop sleep associations that require intervention. Sleep schedule problems are often related to issues with self-settling.
Self-settling is the ability for a baby to settle down to sleep without help or ‘assistance.’ This can be affected by developmental issues, previous experiences, parental expectations, and demands.
Soothing techniques that can be used to help a baby settle?
Parents may use many different soothing techniques to try to settle their baby. The best way to settle your baby is to follow your instincts. If something helps, continue with it; if it doesn’t work, try something else until you find something that does work for you both.
It is helpful to have a variety of strategies in your back pocket so that whatever works best at that time can be used.
Soothing techniques are not always needed, but some ideas may help settle your baby. These include swaddling, white noise, rocking, feeding, or offering a dummy or feeding.
It may be helpful to try breastfeeding your baby in different positions if you are breastfeeding, including laying on their side against your body with their feet towards your head.
However, some babies are more likely to fall asleep when held upright following a feed, which can work well. Other options include offering the breast in various positions and using a breast pump or bottle to offer the milk.
It is also helpful to allow enough time for your baby to settle themselves. It may take them some time, and it can be upsetting if they cry as you may worry that they are unhappy. They will also need more time than adults before they learn to self-settle effectively, so it is important to remember this as you help them learn.
What are the signs of a baby being overtired?
Some babies can be very fussy at times due to normal developmental stages, but if your baby seems especially unsettled, they may be overtired. It is also worth considering that some babies may wake up too early in the morning, which can mean that they are too tired to settle well in the evening.
In general, if your baby has been awake for more than 2 hours, they will likely show signs of being overtired, such as increased crying and difficulty settling.
Signs of over tiredness include:
- Rubbing their eyes.
- Being floppy, unable to focus and sleep for very short periods.
- Becoming easily frustrated/angry.
In many cases, tired babies have a harder time settling themselves and may cry more often. Suppose your baby is crying a lot or has not been settled in a while. In that case, it can be helpful to try them again after a brief period rather than continuing to try to settle them.
Is there a difference between a baby who cries a lot because they are hungry and one that does so for other reasons?
Sometimes babies can be unsettled due to hunger. Babies will often let you know when they are hungry by either rooting (opening their mouth, moving their head towards the direction of the food source in preparation for taking in that food) or by bringing their hands near to their mouth. They also tend to be much fussier when hungry before a feed.
How can I tell if my baby's crying is due to hunger?
There are some easy ways of determining whether your baby may be hungry. One way is to feel their tummy when they are crying to see if it feels hard or feel the shape of their ribs. If your baby’s stomach is soft and caved in at all, this may mean that they are still digesting their last meal.
Nighttime sleep can also be a sign of hunger. If you notice that your baby is becoming increasingly difficult to settle, they may need feeding just before their usual bedtime. Child sleep also tends to be lighter in the last hour before their regular bedtime.
Nighttime sleep is very important for a baby’s development. This is not something we would want to interfere with early on in a child’s life. It is thought that babies need to feed at night to have long periods of uninterrupted sleep as this is necessary for brain growth and development.
Another way is to try offering them only 5ml (1 teaspoon) of milk initially. If your baby is hungry, they will often take most (if not all) of this small amount. If they refuse to drink most of the milk, it may indicate that their tummy is still full from a previous feed.
Some babies are very alert around meal times and seem wide-eyed when allowed to latch. If this is the case, it may be helpful to offer them a feed at another time of day when they are more settled.
What are the healthy sleep habits for babies?
Babies can have their individual sleep preferences, but they will generally wake up every 2-4 hours during the night. However, some babies may need more or less frequent feeds than others.
Parents should try to work out what is best for their baby and do not necessarily need to follow guidelines regarding how long their baby should be sleeping.
If your baby’s sleep is manageable, it is best to try to leave them to settle by themselves at the breast or in their cot without any intervention. This can take some time, but it will allow your baby to learn how to self-settle effectively and reduce night waking as they know how to do this.
Establishing healthy sleep habits is very important for babies to develop good feeding patterns. If you start to limit night feeds too early, your baby may learn that they will not get fed when needed and begin taking in less milk. This then sets them up for later life issues with weight gain and an unhealthy relationship with food.
However, if you are concerned that your baby is waking up too often during the night or that their sleep associations might be impacting how long they are sleeping, please speak to your IBCLC lactation consultant (IBCLC).