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Getting baby to sleep

Moses basket or cot? Co-sleep or not? If you're struggling to decide what’s best for your family when it comes to sleep, we provide some helpful information here.

Once your little one has arrived there’s one thing that will dominate your conversations … and that’s sleep! How much you’re getting, how much your partner’s getting and how much your baby is too. Your questions might not only be about how much your baby sleeps, but how to help them settle for sleep and where the safest place for them to sleep is.

Where should my baby sleep?

There are lots of places babies can sleep including cots, Moses baskets, travel cots, slings, and their parents’ bed. Young babies also often fall asleep in a car seat or buggy, but these have downsides for longer sleeps. For instance, babies can be constricted and in danger of overheating if dressed for the outdoors in their car seat or buggy but then moved indoors. It’s also important to say that most young babies don’t just sleep in one place; it varies with the time of day, and what their parents or carers are doing.

Where babies sleep is also a cultural issue; for some parents there’s no doubt that their baby will sleep in the same bed as them. For others, the opposite might be true and they may feel that they can’t relax or sleep properly if their baby did sleep with them.

Wherever your baby sleeps, up until six months, it’s recommended that parents:

  • Keep their baby in the same room as an adult looking after them during the day as well as at night.
  • Put babies to sleep on their backs.
  • Take steps to ensure that babies cannot wriggle down under covers and have their head covered by the bedding.
  • Do not smoke anywhere near their baby.
  • Ensure that cots conform to safety standards so that babies cannot become trapped between the bars and be free from bumpers and pillows.
  • Parents and carers should also try to guard against falling asleep on a sofa with their baby as the risk of accidents happening is greater.

Read more about cot safety features here.

Safe co-sleeping

We also know that many parents sleep in the same bed as their baby at some point in the first six months or so. Our research found that:

  • Approximately a quarter of babies (26%) were sleeping in a cot in their parents’ room.
  • Around one in six (17%) started the night in a cot and then came into their parents’ bed during the night.
  • 10% were regularly sleeping in their parents’ bed throughout the night and 24% of babies were regularly sleeping in the parents’ bed at some point during the night.

It’s therefore really important to make parents aware of the guidance for safe bed-sharing. The Department of Health specifically advises that bed-sharing should be avoided if one or both parents:

  • Is a smoker
  • Has consumed alcohol
  • Has taken any drugs, prescription or otherwise, that affect perception, cause drowsiness or affect depth of sleep
  • Is excessively tired to the extent that this might affect being able to respond to the baby

If you're thinking of co-sleeping with your baby, read our article about safety.

Sleep strategies

Our research shows that parents used a number of strategies to settle their baby: making the room dark and a regular routine of activities being the most common. Most parents also considered bathing and feeding their baby as part of their routine for settling their baby at bedtime. A few parents (4%) said that they regularly left their baby to cry themselves to sleep and some also resorted to taking them for a car ride to help them sleep at night.

To find out more about different strategies to encourage your baby to sleep, such as placing them sleepy, but awake, in their cot at bedtime with a favourite toy, take a look at our article about babies and their sleeping patterns.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.

The Lullaby Trust has lots of useful information and support for parents about safe sleep.

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.