Sleep and feeding

For the first few months, it might seem like all your baby does is sleep and eat. And it’s a pretty accurate observation! That’s because a newborn’s stomach is about the size of their fist, so they need small amounts of food often.

Babies also need lots of sleep to grow and recharge as their brains, bodies and immune systems are all developing at a very rapid rate.


Sleep is a science – the more you understand about your new baby, the more you’ll be able to encourage the right environment for them to sleep well.

Babies’ sleep cycle

  • In their first few weeks, newborns will show signs they’re ready for sleep after 1 to 1.5 hours of wakefulness.
  • Young babies’ sleep cycles start with Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. REM sleep, or active sleep, is a time when babies dream, move and practice what they’ve learnt during the day. Non-REM sleep is deep sleep with no movement, and when your baby recharges their energy and develops.
  • Babies aged three to six months need to sleep after 1.5 to 2.5 hours of wakefulness.
  • Sleep improves at night when babies are exposed to natural light during the day.
  • Babies have clusters of REM sleep in the early morning and may give an impression they are awake.
  • Most newborns sleep approximately 15 to 18 hours in a 24 hour period.

Did you know?

  • Babies aren’t born with the ability to distinguish night from day. This develops over time during the first six months.
  • Many babies need to learn how to settle and resettle themselves to sleep, which starts to happen at four to six months. This means simply falling asleep on their own without any assistance from an adult.
  • Babies need sleep for physical growth and to allow their immune systems to develop effectively. They also need sleep to recharge and develop their brains.
  • The amount of sensory stimulation your baby receives during the day affects their sleep. Babies need small amounts of stimulation interspersed with rest and recovery to avoid overstimulation.
  • Contact Ngala for books and resources on sleeping.

When is my baby tired?

Body language

Tired signs vary with age, and you’ll start to notice your baby’s individual tired signs. These may include when your baby becomes tense, or frowns and clenches their fists after being calm and content, followed by grizzling or crying.

Fussing with feed

You may also notice that your baby isn’t keen on feeding when tired. Your baby may also disengage from your attempts to have eye contact or chat. When you see these signs within an hour of baby wake time, it is time to settle your baby.


Newborns need to feed at least six to 12 times a day, which can clock up a total of eight hours every 24 hour cycle. Feeding your baby over this 24 hour cycle can leave you and your partner feeling tired, so it’s important to talk about managing this together.


Breastfeeding can give your child a great start to life, with research showing there are health benefits for both you and your baby. However, it’s not for everyone – some women aren’t able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, while others don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to. It can be helpful to be clear in your own mind about what you want to do, but to be flexible and go easy on yourself if things don’t happen the way you planned.

Breastfeeding can take a while to get the hang of, for both you and your baby. It may take up to 8–12 weeks to feel fully comfortable and have your baby feed easily, so it’s worth persevering if breastfeeding is something you want to do.

If your family is having difficulty with breastfeeding, speak to:

Research into breastfeeding shows that:

  • colostrum – the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy – is food for the newborn, and starts within the first hour after birth
  • the antibodies in breastmilk protect against upper respiratory and ear infection, which is very common in babies
  • breastmilk changes as your baby grows and provides what they need for brain growth, development and immunity
  • breastmilk reduces the risk in babies of developing allergies
  • women who breastfeed have a lower rate of breast cancer
  • mothers are more likely to stop breastfeeding if her partner is not supportive.

Formula feeding

The decision to formula feed is best made as a family. It’s your health professional’s role to give you clear and accurate information to help you decide what’s best for your family.

Feeding your baby is part of the bonding process, so make the most of these moments and aim for a position that allows for eye contact with your baby. If possible, try and just have you and your partner feed your baby initially to develop your bond. You may also need to find a quiet place if your baby is easily distracted.

Many mums see breastfeeding as an ideal picture of parenting and can perceive moving to formula as having failed. It’s important to talk through any feelings of grief or disappointment together, and recognise that this is something you can’t always control. 

Formula feeding facts

  • There are many different formulas on the market and paying more is no guarantee of better results for your child. Do some research together.
  • Teats have different flow rates. You may have to experiment depending on how fast your baby likes the formula to come through.
  • If you think your baby is prone to allergies or is reacting to the formula, talk to your GP or other child health professional before changing formulas.

This content has been adapted with permission from Ngala

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