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Newborn Sleep & Settling FAQ

Newborn Sleep & Settling FAQ

Are you experiencing difficulties with settling your newborn, or your baby is not sleeping well? While new babies do mean less sleep than you are used to, there is no need to suffer stressful days and nights when there are many simple solutions to help you and your baby.

Most newborn sleep & settling problems are very common. These frequently asked questions & answers should give you a good idea of where to start.

In this article

My baby hates being swaddled

My baby keeps escaping from his wrap - help!

My baby is very hard to settle

What are baby tired signs?

Should my baby have a routine?

Could my baby have colic?

My baby will only sleep when I hold her - what can I do?

My baby feeds to sleep, is this a bad habit?

My baby looks asleep, but wakes screaming 10 minutes later

My baby only sleeps for 20 minutes at a time

Where should my newborn sleep?


My baby hates being swaddled

Lots of babies cry or wriggle while Mum or Dad are wrapping them. Often it's because your baby is already over-tired. We encourage you to persevere with swaddling, as it's the simplest way to help your baby settle quicker and sleep longer. Be confident that you know what's best for your baby!

Often using a more secure swaddle will stop your baby struggling against the wrapping, such as using a Miracle Blanket. New babies show they are tired about an hour after waking - listen for grizzling, and read about tired signs below.


My baby keeps escaping from his wrap - help!

It can seem hard to learn to swaddle effectively but our step by step swaddling instructions should help immediately. These instructions are for the 'Down, Up, Down, Up' (DUDU) technique.

Swaddling often comes undone due to the wrap being too small. The majority of wraps sold in baby shops and department stores are far too small to be effective. We recommend 1m x 1m for newborn, and 1.2 x 1.2m for babies over 3 months.

You can also invest in a simple fitted wrap, such as a Miracle Blanket. These great wraps securely swaddle your baby without the baby origami.


What are baby tired signs?

These are the signs your baby shows that she is tired. This is your best indicator of when to put a newborn to bed, rather than sleeping at a set time.  

Tired signs include:

  • Grizzling

  • Jerky leg movements

  • Wriggling

  • Making fists

  • A fixed stare

  • Facial grimacing

  • Looking away from you


My baby is very hard to settle. He screams for ages and I have to rock him to sleep for half an hour every time he is tired

Chances are your baby is already over-tired when you are trying to put him down for a sleep.

Look for early tired signs, such as jerky legs and a glazed look. If he is rubbing his eyes or yawning, your baby is over-tired and needed to be in bed about 10 minutes ago.

Generally, a newborn should be up for no more than an hour. That's an hour out of bed including feeding and changing, not an hour of play-time!

To ensure you can quickly settle your baby, we recommend you watch two DVDs - Sleepytime by Plunket will teach you to recognise your baby's tired signs. The Happiest Baby teaches you incredibly simple techniques to calm your baby's crying and go to sleep in minutes.


Should my baby have a routine? I don't like the idea of watching the clock!

Babies do not read a routine with set times for feeding and sleeping when they are little. But a relaxed structure to your day will mean you know what your baby needs and gives you much more confidence you are doing the right thing, at the right time.

For newborn babies, we recommend Feed, Awake, Sleep (also called Feed, Play, Sleep) as the best possible routine. This means you are watching for your baby to show you when she is tired, about an hour after waking. You feed her when she wakes, when she is rested and hungry.


My baby screams for hours...could she have colic?

Colic is often diagnosed without any discussion about if the baby is over-tired or what calming techniques have been tried.

There are lots of reasons a baby cries or screams, but the most common are:

  • Hunger

  • Over-tired (see information on tired signs above)

  • Missing 'womb service'.

Your baby was very used to a particular environment in the womb (noisy, dappled light, squashed, jiggly, warm, wet) and the usual way of treating a newborn is pretty much the opposite of what they are used to (flat on back, quiet, still etc). No wonder they protest in the only way they know how!

So before worrying about if your baby has colic, focus on learning to switch off your baby's crying. We recommend The Happiest Baby DVD for simple calming techniques using the 5 S's.


My baby will only sleep if I am holding her - what can I do?

When a baby is brand new, it's natural for her to get tired so quickly she is bound to fall asleep on you. However, this can quickly get tiring for you, as you can't rest when she is sleeping. And it is also likely to lead to her catnapping as she gets older, as she is not learning to fall asleep by herself or sleep for a decent length of time in her cot.

There are a number of reasons babies fall asleep on mum or dad:

  • Your baby may be missing the feeling of being inside mum, and is most settled next to her. You could try wearing a sling or front-pack, so she sleeps for longer and you can move about if you need to. Or use an electric baby swing, which is excellent for helping baby sleep without needing you holding her.

  • She is up for too long - look for early tired signs after about 30-45 minutes, and put her in her bassinet.

  • She falls asleep while feeding - this is fine while baby is newborn, but by 2 months we recommend always using the feed/play/sleep routine and putting baby into bed awake.


My baby feeds to sleep - is this a bad habit to get into?

This is fine and really common while baby is newborn, as babies are awake for such a short time and it takes a long time to feed when you are learning to breastfeed.

However, by 2 months, we recommend you always use the feed/play/sleep routine and put your baby into bed awake. You can start by putting baby into bed drowsy or relaxed from feeding and using patting to help her fall off to sleep.

If you continue to feed your baby to sleep (with either breastfeeding or a bottle) this is likely to lead to your baby developing a sleep association with feeding. This means she thinks she needs to be feeding or sucking to fall asleep, and will also need this to resettle in the night. This is fine as long as you are happy feeding your baby to sleep every time she wakes in the night, but can get exhausting as the months go by!

The earlier you start to use feed/play/sleep the better, as your baby will learn quickly that she can fall asleep without feeding.


My baby looks to be asleep but wakes screaming 10 minutes later

Chances are your baby has wind and needs to be burped. This can happen at bedtime and during the night, when your baby hasn't had her normal awake time and been upright long enough for any wind to come up.

Keep her swaddled, pick and burp over your shoulder. Then put her back into bed and pat or sssh to help her get back to sleep if needed.

After her next bedtime or night-time feed, try to ensure you get all possible burps up, even if you sit for a few extra minutes with her upright to allow wind to come up more easily.

If you are having this issue we recommend the Baby Whispering DVD which covers burping techniques really well.


My baby only sleeps for 20 minutes at a time

This is a basic sleep cycle for a newborn and is not nearly long enough for a sleep. This type of catnapping is exhausting for mum and also means your baby is not getting the rest she needs to grow, feed effectively and develop well. Effective swaddling and playing white noise can help to reduce catnapping.


Where should my newborn sleep?

Like lots of questions with babies, there are many opinions on this question! Some parents like their baby to sleep in their room while others prefer baby to sleep in a nursery from early one.

Here are some points for you to consider when deciding where your baby will sleep:

  • The Ministry of Health now recommends that having baby sleep in the parent's bedroom for the first 6 months will reduce the risk of SIDS.

  • If baby is sleeping in the parent's room, you can all disturb each others sleep.....babies can be very noisy with grunting, grizzling, snuffling etc.

  • A baby sleeping in their own bedroom will often 'sleep through the night' sooner than a baby sleeping in the parent's room. This is because mum and dad won't hear every little grizzle and baby will have more opportunity to learn to put themselves back to sleep.

  • However, in the first couple of months, all babies need to be fed at least once, if not more times, during the night. So if baby is in another room, that means more walking about the house to get baby.

  • We do not recommend co-sleeping (baby sleeping in the parent's bed), as there is an increased risk of SIDS for co-sleeping, particularly if you smoked in pregnancy, you are excessively tired (who isn't with a new baby!), either parent has been drinking or taking drugs.

  • Also, babies who co-sleep are often far slower to sleep through the night, as they are often very reliant on breastfeeding or parental help to resettle during the night. The longer babies co-sleep, the more the habits of needing parents help to resettle are formed.

  • It can work well to have baby in the parent's room for the first few months while baby needs night-feeds and the SIDS risk is highest, then move baby to their own room.

  • If baby is sleeping in the parent's room, we advise baby sleeps in their own bassinet or cot. You can have cuddles and feed in your bed, but put baby back to their own bed for sleeping.

Where your baby sleeps is a very personal decision and not one that we can advise you on! These are just some of the factors you may wish to take into consideration when making your decision.