bond with baby

Baby's Not Sleeping

Night-time Waking & Re-settling

During the early months babies need to be fed regularly, including through the night. Accepting that Baby will wake at night for feeding during these months, it goes without saying that most parents DO crave for a full night's sleep. So, in the eyes of parents the magic milestone for a young baby's early development is 'Baby is sleeping through the night'! While this 'achievement' may begin as a five-hour stretch (approximately) what has to be taken into account is the fact that each baby is individual ... there are some babies who are better at this than others .. and realistically may not 'sleep through' until some time into the second half of the first year. However, getting Baby into good sleeping habits can help.

As babies gradually begin to sleep for longer periods at night, they still continue to stir often, making little sounds and may wake momentarily BUT without becoming distressed (discussed in Caregiving routines → Sleep-time). Problems can be created when parents rush and fuss to comfort Baby just because she has stirred. This can interrupt the self-soothing process, which is Baby learning to settle herself back to sleep.

Some parents also try to manage their baby's night-time waking by putting Baby into bed with them without knowing the risks. Co-sleeping (Baby and parent/s sharing the same sleeping space) is not recommended because of its association with the increased risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Sudden Unexpected Death In Infancy (SUDI) and other fatal sleep accidents (as discussed in Babies' Safety → During Caregiving Routines).

There are factors however that can cause babies to occasionally wake and be distressed e.g. they could be ill or uncomfortable, hot/cold or miserable from teething or simply, they may have pooped! Of course if Baby is suffering you need to attend to her immediate needs and comfort her ... and how you soothe Baby is really about what she responds to. This can take time to learn what suits your baby (see Baby's Crying → Soothing Baby).

And, while a baby's waking does not 'distress' some parents, other parents are looking for ways to re-settle her. Let's work through two common scenarios of nighttime waking with suggestions for re-settling.

Scenario 1: Baby has roused. He is not ill ... with no other signs of discomfort.
  1. If your baby rouses and is awake but not distressed, wait a few moments ... listen ... allow for him to self-soothe ... and to drop back to sleep. You don't want to further disturb Baby by taking him out of bed to resettle just because he has roused, and especially if he is not distressed.

  2. If he begins to grizzle, get to him before he gets distressed and reassure him without picking him up and turning on the bright light that further wakes him. Give him a gentle stroke if he enjoys this and a slow whisper of words. For example ... Shhh, Shhh, sleep now. Continue with the stroking for a moment. Ease off ... he may grizzle a little ... just give him time to re-settle.

  3. Of course, if he has not settled and has become distressed you need to pick him up and comfort him. Hum, rock, soothe, change the nappy if need be, and when he is calm and drowsy put him back to bed while he is still awake (as discussed in Caregiving Routines → Sleep-time). Then whisper a few words, stroke/pat gently for a moment.  Gradually ease off ... wait a moment ... leave him to re-settle.

  4. Expect that after an episode of being distressed, Baby is likely to stir. If he fully wakes again and starts to fuss, get to him before he gets to the distressed stage of you needing to take him out of bed. Repeat with the whisper/patting actions ... ease off ... wait a moment ... leave him to re-settle.

  5. This takes some practising ... so hang in there.


Scenario 2: Baby is 6 months old and healthy but has started waking during the night after sleeping through since he was 3 months.
  1. Below are some possibilities that can cause night waking at this age:

    • Physically active: By this age most babies are rolling over, learning to sit and some beginning to crawl. Such physical activity can cause overtiredness.

    • Overtiredness: Ensure that Baby is getting enough sleep during the day (usually at this age it will be 2-3 naps) and there is some routineness to it. Also, you may need to get Baby down for his night sleep earlier so he is not 'battling' with over-tiredness as discussed in Caregiving Routines → Sleep-time

    • Uncomfortable: He could be getting into a position in the cot as he moves about. Make sure his sleeping space is uncluttered, giving him space for movement in bed. If he needs to be repositioned do it with as little disturbance as possible.

    • Hungry: Many babies begin solid food at this age as a supplement to their milk intake which can help to satisfying a hungry tummy and settles them back into sleeping well at night. Also, if breastfeeding, has your supply dropped?

    • Teething discomfort: Check for changes in his gums, redness in his cheeks, grumpiness, off his food.

    • Separation anxiety: Babies at this age are beginning 'separation anxiety' (discussed in Development and Learning → Social & Emotional Development) which can affect their sleep and feeling secure. Previously he may have roused at night but put himself back to sleep. Now he has developed, he may wake up frightened - wondering where you are. You just need to reassure him - a stroke or a whisper may be all he needs.

    • Disruption to routine: e.g. been away for a holiday. Getting Baby back into a routine may take some adjusting. Depending on how long his routine has been disrupted, and with his development during this time you may need to 're-organise' his routine.

    • Sleep Apnea: Has Baby started 'snoring' although there is no sign of a cold causing him to wake? See the discussion on Infant Sleep Apnea (Next)

    • No specific cause except Baby has begun a pattern of waking!

  2. If there is no certain cause to Baby's waking try to 're-set' his body clock. Get to him before he gets too distressed. Then, as described from point 2. Scenario 1 reassure him without taking him out of bed e.g. stroking, whisper words ... whatever he responds to. Then allow him time to settle and self-soothe.

  3. If you have been taking Baby out of his bed to soothe he may have become dependent on this, and when you put him back to bed he cries. To break this pattern:

    • Soothe Baby WITHOUT picking him up. Reassure him e.g. with a gentle stroke and a whisper Shhh, Shhh, I'm here ... its OK ... sleep now. Ease off ... he may grizzle a little ... when he seems calm enough, leave him to settle.

    • If he hasn't settled and gets distressed - cuddle, sing, soothe, whatever he responds to, then ...

    • When calm, drowsy but not fully asleep put him back to bed - reassure him e.g. whisper and stroke

    • If he begins to grizzle again, go to him before he gets distressed but this time just give him a stroke ... without the whisper of words ... Baby knows you are there. Ease off ... leave him to re-settle.

What you need to aim for is gradually easing off with the amount of contact you have with Baby during resettling and allow him time to learn to self-soothe. Depending on how long the pattern has been going on for it could take some time of your consistency to 're-train' Baby so don't expect it to be rectified in one night. Gradually Baby will learn to self-soothe.

You will need to be consistent and persistent to break this pattern, so hang in there. This is a time when parents really need to support each other, as it can be very draining on your emotions.


If you have further concerns about your baby's sleeping patterns you need to get an assessment from an infant health professional. Next is a discussion on Infant Sleep Apnea, which all parents need to know about but not necessarily be concerned about for their baby.