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0 to 6 months - Helping your child get back to sleep when they wake

Waking up during the night is sometimes called ‘night wakening’. It mostly happens to babies and toddlers.

What to do when your baby wakes up

  1. Do not leave your baby crying for longer than a few minutes.
  2. Settle and soothe them by talking softly and holding them.
  3. Feed them if they are hungry.
  4. You do not need to change your baby’s nappy during sleep time unless it is dirty or very wet.
  5. Speak in a quiet calm voice – talking loudly may encourage them to stay awake.
  6. Use a dim light when you feed your baby at night as a bright one may overstimulate them - yellow or red light is best. Avoid blue light and bright screens in the bedroom.
  7. If possible, put your baby back into the cot drowsy but awake so that they wake up where they fall asleep.
  8. Make sure you put them on their back to sleep.

Why babies wake at night

Newborn babies do not know the difference between day and night. They will wake up a few times each night during the first few months.

You might start to notice your baby sleeping for longer at night from 3 months of age. You can start to introduce a bedtime routine at this age.

Babies under 6 months may wake up for feeds during the night.

You can start introducing solid foods to your baby at around 6 months. When babies are fully established onto solid foods, you can phase out night feeds.

Newborn babies (0 to 3 months)

Newborn babies will nearly always wake up repeatedly in the night for the first few months. This is normal.

Newborns don't know the difference between day and night.

Newborn babies are too young to follow strict bedtime routines. Techniques that can help older babies go back to sleep will not work with newborns. You will need to stay awake with them.

Regular wakenings can be difficult for parents as you will get less sleep than your baby during the day. Use the time they are asleep as a chance to rest yourself.

Sleep patterns begin to develop from around 3 months of age. From this age babies will start to sleep for a little longer.

Babies aged 3 to 6 months

Babies can begin to sleep more at night from aged 3 months. They may also have longer wake periods during the day. This is called sleep consolidation.

You can start to introduce a bedtime routine from about 3 months of age.

From 3 months, babies usually fall into a deep sleep within 5 minutes of going to sleep.

Babies start to have a longer period of sleep from about 3 months. This usually happens between 12am and 5am.

It is normal for your baby to wake briefly during the night.

Why your baby cries when they wake up

Crying is a form of communication. Your baby is telling you something. They may simply be tired. Make sure they are not hungry and that they have a clean nappy.

Crying can also happen when they are used to you being there or doing things like rocking or rubbing their back when they go to sleep.

You may need to repeat this again to help them go back to sleep. Things like rocking or rubbing to sleep can become sleep associations between 6 and 12 months of age. When your baby is 6 months old, you can start to phase these out using the ‘gradual retreat’ technique.

Feeding to sleep can also cause your baby to rely on milk to fall asleep again when they wake in the night. You can help by trying to make sure your baby does not fall asleep while feeding. It is best to put your baby to sleep while they are drowsy but still awake.

Page last reviewed: 22 April 2021
Next review due: 22 April 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.