Baby sleep and settling

Learning about baby’s sleeping patterns and how to settle pēpi (baby) may help you cope better. It can also help them develop good sleeping habits.

Baby's sleep cycles

A baby’s sleep cycles are a mix of light and deep sleep.

During deep sleep they hardly move. During light sleep (active dreaming) they may:

  • twitch
  • have irregular breathing
  • smile
  • make sucking motions with their mouth.

It is common for babies to move about, open their eyes, cry or wake during their lighter sleep cycle, then settle themselves back to sleep. If they wake during lighter sleep, wait and give them time to resettle themselves.

How long babies sleep for

At 1 month

Newborn babies sleep for about 16 hours in a 24 hour period. The length of each sleep varies.

Every pēpi (baby) has their own sleep pattern and this may not become regular until they are older.

  • At first, newborn babies may wake wanting frequent feeds. For breastfed babies, these feeds help to establish your milk supply.
  • In the first few weeks some babies may only sleep for short times, while others sleep more and wake for feeds every 2 to 4 hours.
  • Newborn babies usually have a wakeful time in the evening, and may want to feed more frequently (cluster feeding).
  • Very few newborn babies sleep for long periods at night.

At 2 to 3 months

Your baby’s sleep patterns may change as they become more wakeful during the day. They may start having some longer sleeps at night.

It is usual for babies to wake at night for feeds.

If your pēpi is sleeping in a bassinette, pēpi pod or wahakura, it might be time to move them into a cot.

Safe sleep — Ministry of Health (external link)

Signs your pēpi (baby) is tired

Babies who have only short sleeps may become overtired. Your pēpi may show signs of tiredness after a feed, a nappy change, play time or cuddles. It is easy to mistake these signs for wind or hunger.

A tired pēpi may:

  • grizzle
  • rub their eyes
  • have poor eye contact
  • seem to stare into space (not looking at anything)
  • yawn
  • have clenched fists
  • startle easily
  • have tense movements.

Put your pēpi to bed before they become overtired. It is harder to settle overtired babies to sleep.

Settling your pēpi (baby) to sleep

Settling your pēpi to sleep in their own safe place on their back, with their face clear, helps reduce the risk of suffocation.

Safe sleep — Ministry of Health (external link)

Some babies fall asleep being cuddled, rocked or fed, and then have a good sleep. But they may develop a pattern of needing to be fed or rocked to sleep, and then wake, crying, soon after being put into bed. You and your baby will work it out together.

Before bed

  • Have a quiet period before bed, such as a cuddle, talking in a quiet, soothing voice or singing.
  • If your pēpi goes to sleep in their car seat, always take them out when you get home. Put them in a safe place to sleep. Babies can have trouble breathing if they are sleeping in a car seat and their head falls forward.
  • Teach your pēpi the difference between night and day. Make day feeds fun with time talking and cuddling. Make night feeds quiet with no play or talking, and keep the lights dim.
  • Have a regular routine before bed, like a bath, massage, feed or quiet cuddle.

Settling pēpi in bed

  • Put your pēpi down awake (especially when they show signs of being tired) so their bed becomes a familiar place.
  • Relax your pēpi by patting, stroking, talking to them quietly or using a musical mobile. You can stay with them while they go to sleep, or leave the room when they are calm but still awake.
  • If your pēpi starts to grizzle or cry when you put them to bed, gently stroke and comfort them.
  • If your pēpi continues to cry or seems distressed, pick them up, comfort them, feed them if they are hungry and then try putting them back to bed.

Once pēpi is in bed

  • Keep your pēpi warm, but not too hot, in bed. One more layer of bedding or clothing than an adult would use is enough.
  • You do not need to be quiet in the house. Most babies sleep through household noises, like a vacuum cleaner or music.

When your pēpi is having sleep problems

Babies can be snuffly or noisy sleepers. It is common for babies to have irregular breathing patterns when they sleep, such as breathing quickly followed by short pauses. This is normal.

Contact your healthcare provider, Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse or PlunketLine if you are worried about your baby’s sleep because:

  • you cannot settle them
  • they sleep for long periods
  • they are too tired to feed
  • they do not wake for feeds
  • they are not feeding well or not having many feeds
  • they are breathing more quickly than usual
  • they are wheezing or grunting.

Call PlunketLine: 0800 933 922


Swaddling can reduce crying, and help babies sleep better. It can also stop your pēpi (baby) being able to move freely and affect their temperature control.

How you swaddle your pēpi can make it a safe or unsafe practice.

If you do swaddle your pēpi make sure:

  • they are on their back
  • you use a lightweight wrap
  • the wrap is not too tight, or it could stop them from moving easily
  • the wrap is not too loose, or it could cover their face
  • they are only swaddled when sleeping in their own bed.

Once they try to roll over — stop swaddling, or swaddle with their arms free.

Getting your own sleep

In the early days and weeks try to rest during the day when your pēpi (baby) is asleep, rather than rushing around or doing housework.

If you have older tamariki (children), ask trusted friends or whānau to help, so you can sleep or have a rest.

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