Sleep & Settling

Whilst your baby is a patient at the hospital they will probably have been on a fairly strict feeding and sleeping routine.  3 to 4 hourly feeds and sleeping in between.  When you get home you may continue with this routine or you may like to follow your babies cues more closely.  Ultimately it is important to realise that there is no ‘right way’ to settle your baby.  What works for you and your family may not work for others.  Safe sleeping guidelines should always be observed and up to date information can be found on the SIDS & Kids WA Website.


As baby starts having longer awake periods they may become more difficult to settle to sleep.  When baby is tired they may show you some of the following cues -

Newborn -

  • pulling or scratching at ears
  • clenched fists
  • fluttering eyelids
  • jerky, erratic movements of the arms and/or legs
  • yawning
  • arching back
  • looking away or staring into space

Older infant or toddler -

  • crying
  • grizzling
  • clingy
  • demanding of your attention
  • clumsy
  • bored with toys
  • fussy or not interested in food
  • difficulty maintaining attention to any task

When baby is hungry they may show you different cues such as -

  • mouth opening
  • turning head
  • hand to mouth
  • crying
  • agitated body movement

There is an interactive video guide to learning baby cues here.  You can also find a Baby Feeding Cues poster here which shows images of newborn hunger cues.


Whilst in hospital your baby will probably have been swaddled to help them feel secure and safe.  Many babies really enjoy being swaddled and find it soothing and comforting.  If your baby enjoys being swaddled there is really no reason to stop.  Some babies however do not enjoy being swaddled at all and much prefer to have their hands and arms free to bring up to their mouth.  This is fine too and you need to follow your baby and see what works for them.

Infants will find rhythmical rocking much more soothing than jerky or erratic movements.  Many babies will also respond well to having their back patted whilst you say shshsh-shshsh over and over.

Babies who have been in the NICU are often used to a noisy environment and can find making the adjustment to a quiet home difficult.  You may consider leaving the radio on low in babies room or investing in a white noise machine or CD.  Again this will be trial and error and what works for one baby will not work for another.

It is also important to consider babies sleeping environment.  Most babies will sleep better in a darkened room with little visual stimuli.

So one settling scenario might be -

  • Baby is fed, burped and changed.
  • Baby shows cues of being tired.
  • Parent responds by swaddling baby and taking to darkened bedroom where radio is on low.
  • Parent puts baby into bassinet/cot and pats baby on the back whilst saying shshsh-shshsh until baby falls asleep.

There are many, many variations on the above including some mothers choosing to always breastfeed their babies to sleep.  Ultimately you have to do what works for you and your family.  You should also keep in mind that babies can become quite attached to their settling routine and may find it difficult to stop being nursed or rocked to sleep as they get older.

Some babies may have reflux or colic and you may need to take additional measures to help them settle such as propping up the head end of their mattress, keeping them upright for longer periods after feeding and additional cuddles for comfort.

If your baby is inconsolable you may consider one of the following options in an attempt to calm them, these options will all work with older infants and toddlers too -

  • a walk in the fresh air, either in a pram or babywearing
  • a trip in the car
  • a deep warm bath
  • baby massage


Some babies will naturally be good sleepers others not so great.  Attending to your babies feeding and sleeping cues will set you up well for success with babies sleep.  There are dozens of articles available on Raising Children Network regarding newborn sleep, baby sleep and toddler sleep.  Remember to follow your baby and do what you feel is best for your family.

If you feel that you require some additional assistance/support regarding sleep and settling your baby you may wish to seek advice from professionals specialising in this area.

Ngala Helpline (Open 8am - 8pm 7 days a week)
Ph: (08) 9368 9368. Country Access: 1800 111 546 

Carolines Angels 
Ph: 0400 209 195/0400 840 303