Sleeping patterns

Sleeping & crying patterns vary widely from baby to baby and any concerns need to be checked out with your health professional. Feeding and sleeping problems are very interrelated.

Some general guidelines for the development of baby’s sleep patterns are as follows:

0 – 6 weeks:

Don’t expect baby to sleep through the night without feeds; baby is used to a continuous flow of nutrients whilst in the womb and will digest feeds within 1-2 hrs.

Baby will sleep average 16-18 hours in every 24 hours but in short stretches of variable length (often max 3-5 hours).

Baby will need, on average, 8-12 feeds per day depending on growth spurts at 2, 4, 6 weeks. The number of feeds per day increases for 2-3 days with each growth spurt so outings may have to be cancelled and you may need extra help for 2-3 days.

Baby’s active time may be anything from 20 minutes to 1.5 hours; any longer and you may be missing vital tired signs (go & see the Sleep video at any Karitane Family Centre or at Mana PC). Once overtired, baby doesn’t feed as efficiently, which means that baby wakes more often & is more unsettled; a vicious circle.

Baby may sleep varying lengths of time but, in a 24 hour period, if baby NEVER sleeps longer than 1.5 hrs, baby may be in an overtired “Snack n Snooze” pattern. This is when they are too tired to feed efficiently and aren’t getting enough hindmilk, so aren’t satisfied enough to sleep deeply, so needs feeding again within 1-2 hrs.

Contact your LMC/Plunket Nurse/La Leche League Leader/Plunket Helpline for help. Self help measures to change that pattern may include giving baby a warm bath, a massage, checking room temperature and clothing, wrapping baby, taking them for a walk, taking them for a drive, checking latch-on & feeding positions, checking baby’s health (eg, temperature), gently rubbing baby’s back to help them settle.

Note: Beware the sleepy baby who seldom cries. Don’t let the newborn baby go longer than 4 hours without a feed (this includes the first few days at home or in hospital when your breast milk is at the colostrum stage) and check the number of feeds per day and the number of wet nappies with your health professional.

6 weeks –  3 months:

6-8 feeds per day.

Milk production is getting more efficient, and consistency and composition of breast milk has changed. Sometimes mothers feel that they have “no breast milk” compared to those early “engorged” days when breast milk was oversupplied compared to demand. Breast milk is being produced, it’s just that the demand/supply system is more efficient now in comparison to those early days.

Growth spurts at 6 and 12 weeks. Again increased number of feeds needed for 2-3 days.

Baby may not be able to sleep through the night without a feed.

3 – 6 months:

Longest period of sleep may now be at night. Baby may begin to sleep through the night without needing a feed.

Can now begin to put baby to bed when relaxed & tired but still awake – baby begins to learn to fall asleep alone!

5 -6 months:

Lighter sleep patterns developing; unsettled sleep. At night, try to leave for 5-10 mins to allow them to begin to settle themselves.

6 months and over:

Total sleep 13-14 hours in every 24; may get a 6-8 hour block of sleep at night!

Discuss sleep programmes with health professionals (may not be appropriate before 6 months).


These are only rough guidelines; please contact your LMC or Plunket Nurse or Karitane Family Centre for 1:1 advice for you & your baby.

Take care that any advice given on sleep is from a reputable source and is age-appropriate.

A constantly unsettled baby needs a medical check and expert help before being labelled as “colicky” or ”challenging” baby.

For more information see:

  • Thriving Under 5” – Plunket booklet
  • “Baby & Child” – Penelope Leach
  • Plunket Helpline 0800 933 922
  • Plunket Karitane Family Centre
  • “Babies” – C Green
  • La Leche League 
  • BASIS online


Select Location (by Region)
60+Locations across Aotearoa, & online

weaving communities of
informed and connected parents