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Key points

  • Facing challenges in settling baby and getting baby to sleep? These problems sometimes happen because children haven’t learned to settle themselves.
  • Temperament and medical conditions might also cause settling and waking problems in babies and toddlers.

Problems settling baby and getting baby to sleep: How they start

The most common problem with settling babies and getting babies to sleep is that many babies have never learned to put themselves to sleep.

This is because babies are settled to sleep by their parents at the start of the night or nap, and again whenever they wake up. For example, parents might settle babies by feeding, rocking or patting their babies until they fall asleep. Or some babies might have pacifiers to help them go to sleep.

It’s normal for babies to wake during the night, usually at the end of a sleep cycle. In babies, a sleep cycle is about 30-50 minutes. Some babies wake after a sleep cycle and then go back to sleep.

But some babies wake after a sleep cycle and can’t put themselves back to sleep. They cry out. These babies keep crying until someone comes to help them back to sleep – maybe by feeding them, giving them a pacifier, or patting and rocking them. This becomes a habit that the baby depends on to get to sleep – at bedtime, at the start of a nap, and after waking at the end of a sleep cycle.

For some parents, this is fine, and night waking doesn’t harm the baby’s health or development. After 6 months, though, night waking can cause problems for a parent’s well-being and the parent’s relationship with the baby. If this sounds like your situation, it’s alright to look into ways to change your baby's sleep patterns.

Your baby will always wake briefly several times a night. Even children and adults do this, though we might not remember it the next day. Baby sleep patterns can change too. Your baby might go back to sleep after waking some nights, but might cry when waking another night.

Other causes of baby settling and sleep problems

Rare medical conditions or sleep disorders can cause settling or night waking problems in babies. If you’re concerned, it’s best to speak with your paediatrician.

Your child’s temperament can also be a factor. For example, babies with an easy-going temperament have fewer sleep problems than babies who are a bit less flexible and need more time to adapt to new situations.

Seek professional help if you’re anxious or distressed about your baby’s sleep problems or if you don’t know what to do next. Your paediatrician will help you address your challenges, and help you baby to sleep better.

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