Newborn sleep

As a parent of a newborn, navigating sleep can be both rewarding and challenging. Understanding their sleep needs, the environment of their room and the routines you will start to form as a family are all key to supporting your new little one.  

Sleeping well at night and napping throughout the day will have your baby feeling better, provide more energy and promote healthy growth and development. 

Newborn babies don’t yet have a sense of day and night; they will sleep at all hours in a 24-hour period.  

The Australian Department of Health sleep recommendations for babies

  • Birth to 3 months: 14 to 17 hours of good quality sleep every 24-hours, including naps
  • 4 to 11 months: 12 to 16 hours of good quality sleep every 24-hours, including naps  

Safe Sleep practices

Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI) is the term used for the sudden or unexpected death of a baby or infant in which the cause is not fully known. There are two main categories of SUDI which occur in babies under 12 months of age, including:   

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): no known cause of death whilst sleeping. The main cause of Sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). 

  • Fatal sleeping accident: death is attributed to the child suffocating, being strangled or trapped whilst sleeping. 

How common is Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?

In Australia, SIDS accounts for approximately 3 deaths in every 10,000 births. 

Your baby’s sleep environment is one of the most important things you will need to manage to make sure they are safe and reduce the risk of SIDS. 

You can create a safe sleep environment by following these recommendations: 

On their back to sleep, on their tummy to play

Your baby should be placed on their back when sleeping to ensure their airways are clear and their protective reflexes are able to work. This should be done from the very beginning of having your child and for all periods of sleep, both day and night. 

Babies who are rolling should not be swaddled and instead should wear a sleep sack that allows their arms to move.   

Babies should be on their tummy during playtime to strengthen their muscles, under close supervision. 

Set up a safe sleep environment day and night 

Babies should sleep in their own space, with a firm mattress and fitted sheet.   

Babies do not need toys, blankets, or decorations to sleep well, and these items can significantly increase the risk of SIDS and suffocation.   

Do not leave babies unattended in an adult bed, on a couch, cushion or beanbag. Make sure there are no objects hanging over or near your baby’s cot, including blinds, curtains or electrical appliances such as heaters. 

Co-sleeping in the same bed as an adult is not recommended for SIDS risk. 

Keep baby’s head uncovered during sleep 

Babies do not need beanies, hoods, headbands, or other coverings on their heads during sleep.  

Newborns control much of their heat through their head while sleeping, so keeping their head and face uncovered means they can regulate temperature much better. It also reduces the risk of any extra choking or suffocation hazards. 

Keep the house a smoke free zone 

Smoking cigarettes or vapes during pregnancy and after your baby is born, or having people in your household who are smoking increases the risk of SIDS. If you or a family member do smoke, never smoke around the baby or inside where the baby might be. You should also consider trying to quit for the health of yourself and your family.    

For free help to quit smoking, call Quitline on 13 78 48.   

Room share in the first 6 months

Your baby should sleep in their own space or cot, in your room for at least the first 6 months. This will help you respond to their cries faster, help with breastfeeding if relevant, and give you oversight on how they are settling and overall peace of mind.   

Co-sleeping in the same bed as an adult is not recommended for SIDS risk. 

When your baby gets to 6 months, it is a family choice as to whether they move to a separate room or stay in your space. There is no right or wrong answer and it is dependent on their development and your family’s sleeping arrangements. 

Risk factors

Alongside behavioural changes to the sleep environment, these are some other risk factors associated with SIDS: 

  • children under 12 months of age 

  • children with an underlying health issues

  • children who are premature or born with a low birth weight 

  • children who are exposed to smoke in the home environment.


Co-sleeping is a practice in which parents share bed space with their children. While co-sleeping with your baby in the same bed may seem easy and tempting for parents, the advice remains to either avoid this sleeping arrangement or understand and limit the risks associated. 

Is co-sleeping recommended?

The safest place for your newborn baby to sleep is their own safe sleep environment. The Sydney Childrens Hospital Network do not recommend co-sleeping but understand some families still choose to co-sleep with the babies. 

If your family choose to co-sleep with your baby, here are some tips and risks to be aware of: 

  • always place your baby on their back to sleep  
  • follow the Safe sleeping practices for your baby regardless of where they are sleeping 
  • room sharing with your child in a cot beside the bed is a safer option than co-sleeping as it can decrease the risk of SIDS 
  • do not choose to co-sleep with your baby if you or your partner are in any way affected by alcohol or other drugs 
  • do not co-sleep with your baby if you are a smoker 
  • do not co-sleep with your baby on soft surfaces, including sofa beds or couches. 
  • do not allow co-sleeping arrangements with any other trusted adults outside of the baby’s direct parents. 


Swaddling is a way of wrapping young babies to help them feel secure and calm. Swaddling can be a useful tool for most babies, and may help with: 

  • settling 
  • sleeping 
  • keeping young babies on their backs during sleep.  

A loose swaddle can also help very young babies adjust to bath time. 

Types of swaddles

Swaddles come in all shapes and sizes. They can include: 

  • large, muslin wraps – a large piece of cotton fabric, often covered with patterns  
  • swaddle pods – fitted sleep bags that cover the arms and are fastened with a zip 
  • sleep sacks with arm covers – looser sleep bags that have fixed or removable arm covers, fastened with a zip 
  • velcro swaddles – wraps that fasten using hook and loop closures.  

There is no one right type of swaddle to use.  

Parents, carers and babies themselves may prefer a different kind of swaddle due to factors like: 

  • how easy it is to wrap or put on 
  • whether the arms are held up or down 
  • how expensive they are 
  • how warm or cool they are 
  • the type of fabric they are made of. 

It can be useful to try different types of swaddles to see what works best for your family. More expensive sleep sacks and swaddle pods can often be found on sale, donated or sold second-hand from other parents. 

Swaddling your baby

Sleep sacks and swaddle pods can be simple to put on and may only need to be zipped up. 

Velcro swaddle wraps may have specific folding instructions, so check the packet or manufacturer's website for more information. 

Wrapping a fabric swaddle, like a muslin wrap, can take time and practice to get right. It can become even more complicated with a wriggling, crying baby and you may need some help the first few times. 

A simple step-by-step of swaddling: 

  1. lay your swaddle or wrap on a flat surface with a point at the top, bottom, left and right 
  2. fold the top point of the wrap down until it reaches the centre of the wrap 
  3. if your wrap is especially large, you may need to fold it in half 
  4. place your baby on the wrap, face-up with their neck right above the fold at the top 
  5. gently hold your baby’s right arm alongside their body 
  6. pull the right point across your baby’s body, in a downward diagonal line 
  7. tuck the edge of the wrap under the left side of your baby’s body and bottom, leaving their left arm free  
  8. bring the bottom point of the wrap upwards over your baby’s left shoulder 
  9. tuck the point into the top of the swaddle 
  10. gently hold your baby’s left arm alongside their body 
  11. pull the left side of the wrap across your baby’s chest, covering their left arm 
  12. make sure the fabric is snug, but not too tight 
  13. tuck the left edge of the wrap into the swaddle. 

Swaddle tips

  • try a range of different swaddles to see what works best for your baby 
  • never buy sleep sacks or swaddle pods that are heavy or weighted – these are a SIDs risk 
  • keep your baby’s hips loose while wrapping to make sure their joints are flexible and grow properly 
  • make sure the swaddle is secure with all loose ends tucked in 
  • pay attention to the room temperature and dress your baby accordingly – generally, one more layer than what you are wearing 
  • always lay your baby on their back for sleeping and while swaddled. 

Transitioning out of a swaddle

When a baby is swaddled, their arms cannot move.   

Once your baby starts rolling, they will need to transition out of a swaddle and have their hands free. This is so your baby can roll themselves back over if they end up face-down while sleeping. 

Transitioning out of a swaddle usually happens between 3-6 months of age. It may be earlier or later for some babies. 

Transitioning out of a swaddle can take some trial and error. Your baby may need some time to get used to having their hands loose and they may still have their startle reflex. 

It can be useful to go slowly and release one arm for 1-2 weeks before releasing the second arm. 

Gently loosen one side of the swaddle and help your baby to release their arm before going to sleep. Some sleep sacks will have arm covers or holes that are zipped or held together with snaps.   

Sleep may be difficult during this period but should settle as your baby gets used to having their hands free. 

Normal sleeping and feeding times

Newborns sleep a lot, but their sleep patterns are different from older children and adults. Early on, your baby might wake every 40 minutes or so, needing a feed every 2 to 3 hours during the night. By the end of their third month, you might notice extended periods of wakefulness during the day and longer stretches of sleep at night.  

“Normal” sleep is different for every baby, and it’s important to remember that very few babies will sleep through the night to begin with. Your baby might respond well to a sleep environment that reminds them of being in the uterus. This can include:  

  • sleeping near parents in a bassinet for familiar smells and sounds 

  • Lightweight wrapping to provide security 

  • white noise to replicate sound from the placenta. 

Every baby is different, and it may take some trial and error to figure out what works best for your family. See Sleep development for more information on what to expect in the first year.

Strategies for settling

As a new parent, you may experiment with the following strategies to settle your child: 

  • gentle swaying or rocking 

  • music and white noise 

  • taking a car ride 

  • going for a walk in the pram  

  • using carriers and slings to soothe your baby.

Bath time can also be a relaxing and bonding experience and a great way to resettle your child when things don’t seem to be working. Finding the right technique for your baby may take some trial and error, so be patient. 

Sleep regression

Sleep regression can happen due to various factors, such as: 

  • teething
  • nap transitions
  • developmental periods
  • illness. 

Focus on your baby's individual needs and environment rather than fixed regression schedules you may see online. Understanding your baby's sleep patterns and creating a calming environment can help manage sleep disturbances and lower anxiety around difficult periods. 

Using a dummy or pacifier to settle your child 

Introducing your baby to a dummy or pacifier for settling is a personal choice for your family. Some babies don’t like them, others may love them. Some parents are against them, some think they’re a lifesaver, and others don’t get a choice due to circumstances, like having a baby in the NICU or special care nursery.  

If your baby was born at term, and you’re establishing breastfeeding, it can be a good idea to hold off on introducing a dummy until 4-6 weeks of age. Your baby will be learning to latch onto the breast during this time, and using a dummy might cause some confusion and mask important hunger signals.  

If your baby uses a dummy to sleep, you should:  

  • put your baby to sleep with the dummy every night   

  • keep up the use of the dummy until they are at least 12 months old  

  • let the dummy fall out of their mouth naturally while sleeping, and do not replace it.

Always try a range of different settling techniques along with the dummy, and never force it into your child’s mouth or use it to replace a feed. 

Dummies can also increase the risk of ear infections, glue ear and oral thrush, so it’s important to keep an eye on your baby’s ears and mouth and make sure the dummy is clean before use.  

Babies under 6 months old will need to have their dummy sterilised before each use and after it has been dropped on the ground. Babies over 6 months old can have their dummies washed with soap and water.  

Feeding times

Nursing is the act of breastfeeding or feeding a baby. It can take up to 20 minutes to breastfeed your newborn baby and this time reduces as they become more efficient at feeding. Factors that effect how long your baby is feeding include: 

  • your breast supply as a mother (comes in approximately 2-5 days after birth) 

  • the flow of your breastmilk 

  • how well your baby latches and seals on your nipple 

  • How distracted your baby may be during feeding times.

Newborn babies can feed approximately 12 times a day in the first month after birth. It is usually on demand for your newborn, every 1.5-3 hours, until you find your child’s routine and feeding pattern. The timing of feeds usually reduces to approximately eight times a day once they are two months old.  

See Infant and baby nutrition for more information on breastfeeding. 

Sleep away from home (Newborns)

Sleeping away from home refers to any time your baby is away from the house for the night. It may not happen often but being thrown out of routine by going on holiday, seeing family or spending time in hospital can all be challenging for your baby’s sleep. 

Some helpful tips and advice on optimising sleep when you and your baby are away from the home include:

Plan ahead and be flexible

Be patient and understand disruptions are a normal part of sleeping away from home. The more you plan and organise in advance, the more likely you are to minimise those disruptions.

Pack the essentials

This will include the necessities like nappies and blankets.

Source a travel crib

Know if the accommodation where you are staying has adequate facilities and equipment, including a crib for your baby. If this isn’t the case, see if you could bring your own or hire one for the time you are away.

Make sure the room is dark

If the room is unfamiliar, it becomes more important that the environment for sleep is as comfortable as possible, which includes things like blackout blinds or reducing the light from external bright lights.

Prioritise safety

In a new environment, make sure safety is still number one when putting your child to sleep. See SIDS and safe sleep for more information. 

Stick to a bedtime routine

Even though the environment may be foreign for your child, you can replicate the habits you do at home with a similar bedtime routine. See Bedtime routines for more information.

See Sleep away from home (sleepovers) for more information and tips. 

Tips for parents on surviving the first year of sleep 

Sleep deprivation is a serious health issue for many new parents that can lead to anxiety, depression, and an increased risk of accidents for you and your baby. Getting enough sleep is essential to being able to safely care for yourself and your baby.  

Here are some strategies to implement if you are struggling with sleep. See Parent and carer wellbing for more information on looking after yourself as a parent and coping strategies when your baby cries.

Utilise nap time 

One of the most common pieces of advice new parents will receive is to “sleep when the baby sleeps”. While this can be frustrating to hear, it can be useful. Try to carve out some time to catch up on sleep while your baby is asleep or being settled by another caregiver. If you can’t settle to sleep, even lying down to listen to a podcast, some music or reading a book can help.   

Sleep in shifts 

If your baby is bottle-fed, it can be a good idea for parents and caregivers to split feeds overnight to make sure everyone is getting a slightly longer stretch of sleep. This can be more complicated for breastfed babies, and it’s recommended that parents who breastfeed speak to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) for support and strategies if they want to pump overnight.  

Let there be a little mess 

It can feel like mess builds up at a rapid speed when you first bring your baby home. 

Mess like food scraps, spills and nappies should be cleaned promptly to avoid illness, but the dishes and laundry can wait another day if it helps you get some rest. If you feel comfortable, enlist eager visitors and family members in some household chores to give yourselves a well-earned break.  

Find healthy sleep hygiene and routine  

Good sleep hygiene can be difficult during times of chaos, but it can help you get better quality sleep and can also have benefits for your mental health. Sleep hygiene can involve things like   

trying to stick to a schedule of going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day, for example, baby goes to bed at 6pm and you go to sleep at 7pm   

limiting large meals and caffeine right before bed   

limiting the use of electronic devices like your mobile phone 

See Sleep hygiene for more information. 

Reach out for help

When family and friends offer help, take them up on it. This could be something like asking an aunty to do a grocery shop for you, getting a grandparent to bring over dinner or having a friend help fold the laundry and chat while you feed your baby. Accept help when it is offered, but only what you are comfortable with.  Remember- it takes a village to raise a child.

Sleep support

If you're struggling with your baby's sleep, seek professional help through your child and family health nurse or your regular GP. Whilst the range of ‘normal’ sleep a young baby gets throughout a 24-hour period is quite broad, sleep disruptions or deprivation are not something you have to face alone.  

Last updated Tuesday 30th April 2024