We've all heard the phrase 'sleeping like a baby', and it is true that young babies do appear to be able to sleep any time, any place, anywhere - sometimes! At others, they seem to be disturbed by the slightest noise, or show no inclination for sleep when you are about to drop on your feet. If your baby's sleeping patterns have you baffled, it is helpful to start by understanding how she sleeps.

There are a lot of myths about babies and sleep, and you are likely to receive plenty of conflicting advice. So here are some facts about your baby and sleep:

  • - It is impossible for a newborn baby to get too much sleep.
  • - On average, a newborn baby sleeps for 16-17 hours per day. This drops to 13-14 hours per day by the time she is 6 months old. Your baby may sleep more or less than this.
  • - A newborn does not know the difference between night and day. Moreover, before she is born your baby may establish a pattern of waking up as you go to bed. The extra space in your abdomen as you lie down may encourage her to stretch her limbs a bit, while your inactivity means she is no longer being rocked to sleep.
  • - Many babies, especially those who are breastfed, seem to sleep around the clock for the first couple of days. This is because the watery pre-milk that they receive initially, called colostrum, is very thin, giving them little incentive to wake up to feed. But once the milk comes through at around day three, they come to life!
  • - Young babies spend proportionately more time in the shallow 'Rapid Eye Movement' phase of sleep than adults. This makes them much lighter sleepers and therefore much more easily disturbed.
  • - All babies wake several times a night during their 'shallow' sleep phases. The difference between a good sleeper and a disturbed sleeper is that the good sleeper is able to settle herself again, while the disturbed sleeper cries out for comfort.
  • - Possibly from a few weeks old, and certainly by the age of 2 months, all babies have the ability to soothe themselves back to sleep when they wake. This applies to day- or night-time sleeps - hence the need to find ways to teach your baby the difference between night and day, and encourage her to look forward to getting most of her sleep requirement at night.
  • - 70 per cent of babies are said to sleep from midnight to 5am by the age of 3 months. By 6 months this figure has risen to 85 per cent.
  • - Most experts agree that by 6 months almost all infants are physiologically capable of sleeping through the night.

Broken nights
In one study, researchers found that two-thirds of parents of 18-month-old babies were woken regularly over the previous 12 months. Almost one family in five was woken more than once a night, while one family in 14 was woken three or more times a night.