They’re past the newborn stage but still figuring out how to get a good night’s sleep. Here are some ways you can guide them in the right direction…
Try to have a regular bedtime...and routine
Find the time, ideally between 6.30pm and 8.30pm, that suits your baby to go to sleep. It won’t always be possible but try and stick to it as often as you can. If they go to sleep at that time most nights, they’ll start to learn what bedtime means (Staples et al, 2015).
A regular night time routine – bath, story, milk or a lullaby in a dark room can help too (Mindell et al 2015). Getting your baby to sleep in the same place at least most of the time can also make a difference.
Watch our video for tips on getting your baby to sleep.
Make day versus night clear
When your baby wakes up in the middle of the night, try and keep the lights dim. Plus, keep talking and playing to a minimum. They’ll eventually start to understand the difference between night and day (Firstcry parenting, 2017).
Frequent feeds are still important for babies at three months (Hunt, 1992; Mosko et al, 1996; Mosko et al, 1997; Horne et al, 2004, 2010). And some parents use feeding as a tool to try and help their baby sleep for longer stretches at night.
They might offer additional feeds during the evening. Or they might semi-wake their baby for a feed between 10pm and midnight - sometimes called 'dream feeding'. Both these techniques can be used by parents who are breastfeeding and/or formula feeding (Dewar, 2018).
Do these techniques help a baby to sleep longer? While some parents say it worked for them the evidence doesn't conclusively suggest it does (Dewar, 2018).
Get some daylight
Babies’ sleep can be affected by daylight and their body temperature. Time spent in daylight, especially the afternoons, seems to help babies to sleep longer at night (Harrison, 2004).
Sometimes parents are encouraged to keep their babies awake during the day so that they will sleep better at night. There isn't much evidence to say this helps, as babies change their sleeping and waking patterns as they grow. Preventing a tired baby from sleeping can also be really stressful in itself.
Baby tiredness: reading the signs
These are some of the signs that might show your baby is tired and ready for a sleep:
• jerky movements
• becoming quiet or not wanting to play
• becoming fussy
• rubbing their eyes
• clenched fists.
(Healthy WA, 2018; Firstcry Parenting, 2017)
Put them down sleepy but awake
Place them sleepy, but awake, in their cot at bedtime. This has been shown in research studies to increase the proportion of babies who go to sleep without a parent being present and the length of time babies sleep at night.
Swaddling might help babies settle to sleep but there have been some safety concerns (van Sleuwen, 2007). See The Lullaby Trust for safety advice on swaddling and our guide on how to swaddle before you do it.
Sleep training approaches
Some parents explore sleep training approaches to encourage a regular sleeping pattern. This is known as controlled crying or letting the baby 'cry it out'. While many studies have shown that sleep training can change a baby's behaviour, they don't show whether they last. There has also been very little research that looks at the effects of sleep training on babies, beyond the effect on their sleep (or crying) (BASIS, 2018).
All babies are different
Some babies need more help than others to soothe themselves and fall asleep. But most babies will develop a regular sleep pattern over time, although these will continue to change as they grow.
This page was last reviewed in February 2018
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
The Lullaby Trust has lots of useful information and support for parents about safe sleep.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
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Dewar, Gwen. (2018) Dream feeding: An evidence based guide to helping babies sleep longer. Available from: https://www.parentingscience.com/dream-feeding.html [Accessed March 2019]
Engler AC, Hadash A, Shehadeh N, Pillar G. (2012) Breastfeeding may improve nocturnal sleep and reduce infantile colic: potential role of breast milk melatonin. Eur J Pediatr. 171:729-732. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22205210 [Accessed 1st February 2018]
Harrison Y. (2004) The relationship between daytime exposure to light and night‐time sleep in 6–12‐week‐old infants. Journal of Sleep Research. Available from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2869.2004.00435.x [Accessed March 2019].
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NHS Choices. (2011) Birth-to-5 development timeline. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Documents/Birth%20to%205%20development%20timeline.htm [Accessed 1st February 2018]
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