Sleep and the Young Infant

Lately, I understand, there has been a frisson of activity on a parenting page regarding a blog I wrote in 2014. In the blog about preventing sleep problems in six month olds I quoted from my book “Your Cherished Baby’ and suggested:

Ideally, he should be put down drowsy but awake. If possible there should be minimal fussing after tucking in. Unless it is your choice and the baby’s habit, once down, avoid rocking, cuddling or patting to sleep. And if it is, you have a choice to gradually (step by step, night by night) wean the baby off such input or continue it.


1st wave behaviourism (remove the stimulus and the behaviour will change) has been a technique that has been used with babies for eons. We know that by withdrawing a caring response babies have an innate ability to silence themselves to avoid predators. However we know this ‘extinction’ of the protest cry is unhelpful in the long term as it programmes the baby to believe that her parents are unreliable and life is not necessarily safe. I have laid out this information clearly in my books and blogs.

But what about the ‘gentle persuasion’ methods, as in the quote above?

“When information changes, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”.

What has changed for me is the realisation that exerting any pressure on the baby to sleep longer often makes the situation worse, even in the short term. Babies find it hard to reconcile the fact that during the day the parents are completely attentive, but at night, when it’s dark and scary, they are not. Indeed they notice that their parents are also stressed and anxious as they desperately try to make their baby sleep. “I’d better stay awake and find out what’s the matter with them” thinks our baby.

By putting their baby under pressure to sleep longer at night the parents prolong what would otherwise be a brief developmentally driven stage into a longer-term problem of nocturnal anxiety.

A gentle pragmatic approach to the so called ‘sleep regression’ by a calm responsive parent will make the normal maturation of their baby’s sleep pattern unfold as smoothly and as quickly as possible.

  • Breastfeeding to sleep is fine (at any age). See
  • Do not give your baby the impression that their night waking is a problem for you; it will improve as soon as the baby can cope.
  • Pretend (if necessary) to be relaxed and carefree about the night waking.
  • However don’t make the night hours party-time. Keep the room dim and your responses muted, low-key and calm.
  • Remember the amount of sleep needed by a baby varies enormously from baby to baby. A recent study of just breastfed babies showed at six months the average sleep need is 12.9 hours but the range is large: 8.8 – 17.0 hours! The 8.8-hour baby needs only a couple of naps before meeting a lot of his daily needs!
  • A bright room for the first feed of the day and later daytime naps and a dim room at night will enhance the baby’s circadian rhythm.
  • Busy interesting days will increase the pressure for your baby to be tired by the evening and encourage better sleeps. (I’ve met some mums who wanted their six-month-old babies to nap for long periods like newborns and then expect them to sleep soundly all night…)
  • Poor sleep does not cause development problems in babies.

In my book you will notice that I keep saying that parents have a choice to do as they wish and what their life requires. My preference has always been that there should be no coercion for their babies to sleep longer.

By |May 27th, 2017|6 Comments

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  1. Tiredinsydney May 27, 2017 at 9:24 pm - Reply

    Thank you. Just thank you.

    Sometimes the pressures can be great and the mothers groups opinionated. Motherig instincts can be taken over by mothers guilt.

    Thank you for the gentle reminder to just love my baby and that in time, this too shall pass.

  2. Alana May 28, 2017 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    So refreshing and reassuring to hear all this Dr Chilton. With regards to day time naps, I was told that we should be aiming for between 90-120 mins per nap and that at 7 months my baby should still be having 2-3 naps of this duration a day. Along with the old adage ‘sleep promotes sleep’! Does it not matter how long my baby is sleeping at naps during the day, but more that they are having a nap when they are tired during the day?

    • Howard Chilton July 2, 2017 at 4:53 pm - Reply

      You’ve got it exactly. They should sleep when they are tired.

  3. Jessica H Lee July 11, 2017 at 8:29 am - Reply

    Hi Dr Chilton!
    Thank you for the posts! I was so concerned that my baby will be sleep deprived and cause development problems if he has very poor short naps and interrupted night sleeps because I thought like adults we can’t function well if we haven’t had enough sleep.
    Your post has reassured me that is not the cause.
    I have been struggling to get my now 6 month old to nap since hr was 1 month old!
    He is very inquisitive and he will not sleep in prams or capsule unless he’s very very tired (even with white noise and blanket covering over to block this interesting world). He naps better in his cot with curtains drawn and white noise but his nap times and durations varies alot from 40 mins to 2 hrs. Mostly 40 mins to 50 mins

    So I see every where it says babies can only be awake for certain duration appropriate for their age.
    But what you are saying is that I don’t need to provide him the opportunity to sleep by making a better sleep environment so they can fall asleep when my 6 month old has been awake for 2 hours before he’s overtired and difficult to settle?

    Also do I let him sleep in or let him have a long morning nap if he’s had a terrible night waking every hour or 2
    Or do I try and get him up at similar time everyday regardless and cap his morning nap to an hour to encourage better lunch sleep and hence night sleep?

    Thank you!!

    • Howard Chilton July 13, 2017 at 2:16 am - Reply

      Common sense! Don’t stick to a routine if it makes no sense. Bad night – let him sleep in. Forget the clock!

  4. Anna July 25, 2017 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    My 1st daughter was a 8hrs total sleep a day baby and at 3 still is the girl who sleep forgot.
    She ia super clever, funny and articulate, we joke that it’s from all those extra interaction hours not spent sleeping.

    Her 5 month old sister is a totally different kid who is happy to nap on the go in the carrier or wrap, after a feed, and actually naps and sleeps at night in regular blocks.

    2 kids same parents, totally different personalities and sleep needs.

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