Settling techniques: newborn - 12 months

Responsive settling is recognising that your baby needs help and sensitively responding

Learning how to go to sleep is a skill babies usually develop during the first year of life with help from their parent/s. Like most skills, it takes time and varies for each baby. Responsive settling is recognising that your baby needs help and sensitively responding.

Why do babies cry?

Crying is normal and is your baby’s way of communicating. Babies have individual crying patterns which can vary from 20 minutes to 5 hours a day. Babies cry because they are hungry, thirsty, hot or cold, wet or soiled, overtired, excited, frightened or in need of a cuddle.

How do I soothe my crying baby?  

To soothe your baby try:

  • a cuddle or holding your baby close (this may include skin-to-skin contact)
  • rhythmical movement
  • walking using a pram or sling
  • soft music
  • a “top up” breastfeed within 30 minutes of the last feed (up to 3 months)
  • a dummy
  • baby massage; or
  • a warm bath.

How much sleep does my baby need?

Babies sleep patterns vary however by the end of the first month most babies sleep 13 or 14 hours spread across both day and night. As your baby grows he/she will sleep for longer periods through the night with 2-3 shorter sleeps during the day. If your baby is happy during wake periods during the day, he/she has had enough sleep. 

What are sleep cycles?

Your baby’s sleep-wake cycle is the time spent going through both deep (quiet) and light (active) stages of sleep. A sleep cycle is around 30 to 50 minutes and babies rouse, briefly wake and re-settle. In the early months babies need to be physically close to their parents and some need help going to sleep or re-settling.

What are tired signs?

Babies show tired signs (sometimes called cues) when they are getting tired and need sleep such as grimacing, yawning, grizzling, frowning, sucking, staring, snuggling in, turning head away, jerky movements, becoming over active, clenching fists, rubbing eyes, squirming, fussiness or crying. Responding early to these tired signs prevents your baby becoming distressed and makes it easier to calm for sleep.

What can help baby into a sleep routine?

A routine which includes a wind down period before sleep time helps your child set good sleep patterns. After a feed or play (depending on day or night) signal to your baby that bedtime is approaching by reading him/her a quiet story, singing a particular song, giving cuddles, using phrases that message sleep time, giving him/her a bath and a goodnight kiss.

Does wrapping help to settle my baby?  

Yes often. Use a light material (cotton) making sure that the arms are above waist level and there is room to move the legs. Ensure your baby is not over dressed and your baby’s head is uncovered. Stop wrapping your baby when he/she is able to turn onto their tummy during sleep or play (from 3-6 months).

How can I settle my baby?

There are various techniques called:

  • Soothing in Arms [the early weeks]
  • Hands-on Settling
  • Comfort Settling [over 6 months]
  • Parental Presence [when baby is over 6 months and has never been separated from you at sleep time].

Soothing in Arms [the early weeks]

Hold your baby in your arms until they fall asleep. You can use gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, stroking, talking, or softly singing before putting your baby into the cot asleep. The repetition of soothing sounds and actions are comforting and signals relaxation and sleep. If your baby wakes after a sleep cycle you may need to re-settle (as mentioned earlier) to ensure enough sleep.

Hands-on Settling

  1. Wrap or use a sleeping bag with fitted arm holes, and no hood [SIDS guidelines] 
  2. Talk quietly and cuddle your baby which makes baby calm 
  3. Put your baby on their back in the cot awake [calm/drowsy] 
  4. Comfort your baby with gentle ‘ssshhh’ sounds, gentle rhythmic patting, rocking, or stroking until baby is calm or asleep 
  5. If your baby becomes or stays distressed pick your baby up for a cuddle until calm or asleep before putting baby back in the cot
  6. Stay with your baby until he/she is asleep 

Comfort Settling {over 6 months]

Comfort settling provides reassurance and support while also providing an opportunity for babies to discover their own way of going to sleep. 

Begin with hands-on settling steps 1-3

4. As your baby calms, move away from the cot or leave the room 

5. If your baby starts to become distressed, return and comfort your baby using step 3 before moving away or leaving the room again 

6. You may have to repeat this several times before your baby is able to settle to sleep

7. If your baby still does not settle pick your baby up and cuddle until calm then either: 

Re-attempt comfort settling 

Use hands-on settling steps 1-5
Get baby up and try again later

8. As your baby learns to settle, it will take less time to calm your baby.

Parental Presence [over 6 months]

You may prefer this option if your baby has never been separated from you at sleep time.

Begin with hands-on settling steps 1-3

4. Once your baby is calm lie down or sit beside the cot within sight of your baby and pretend to be asleep

5. If your baby remains awake, give a little cough or quietly say ‘ssshhh  time to sleep’ so your baby knows you are still in the room

6. If your child becomes distressed do the least amount to calm your child [start with step 3 but you may need to start with steps 1-3 again] then lie or sit beside the cot 

7. You may have to repeat this several times before your child is able to remain calm and become drowsy or fall asleep

8. Stay in the room until your child is asleep during the day and sleep in the same room as your child during the night  

9. Continue this for at least 1 week or until your child has 3 nights in a row of relatively uninterrupted sleep 

10. You can now begin to leave the room before your child is asleep. 

 Most babies will take time to settle and it is helpful if you use the same options every time when establishing a good sleep habit for your baby. This can be a difficult and exhausting time for parents, so ask for help from family, friends, your child and family health nurse, or your local doctor.

 For safety make sure the cot sides are completely raised whenever you leave your baby in the cot.

SIDS & Kids       

How to Sleep your Baby Safely:  

1. Sleep baby on the back from birth, not on the tummy or side

2. Sleep baby with head and face uncovered

3. Keep baby smoke free before birth and after

4. Provide a safe sleeping environment night and day

5. Sleep baby in their own safe sleeping place in the same room as an adult caregiver for the first six to twelve months

6. Breastfeed baby

This Tip Sheet is proudly sponsored by Johnson's Baby

For further help:

  • Visit either your local Child and Family Health Centre or local doctor.
  • Call Tresillian Parent’s Help Line on (02) 9787 0855 or 1800 637 357 (Freecall outside Sydney)
  • Speak to a Tresillian Nurse on-line at Tresillian Live Advice

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