Why are some babies harder to settle and sleep?

by | Babies and Pregnancy, Kids and Teens Health

Many new mothers will have difficulty settling their newborn to sleep, but for some the problems become so severe that residential parenting services are needed.

It’s normal for new babies to wake often during the night for a feed, but difficulties in getting a baby to sleep and settle can sometimes become a more serious concern, affecting both mum and bub. About a third of new mothers say they have severe trouble getting their baby to sleep. That can cause fatigue and mental health problems for mum and may influence the child’s development.

In some cases, parents can be referred to a ‘sleep school,’ or residential parenting service, where they stay overnight with their child and are supported in learning strategies to help their baby sleep through the night. These sleep schools are available around Australia on referral from a doctor. But are there background factors that might make sleeping and settling a baby more difficult than usual?

In this study, researchers wanted to learn more about women who attended sleep schools in Australia. They focused from 2000 through 2012 in New South Wales, where there are comprehensive birth data recorded. These data included information such as how the baby was delivered, if there were complications, the length of the mum’s stay in hospital, and the baby’s weight and condition at birth.

They also surveyed women who had stayed at sleep schools about their experiences and why they had sought out support from a residential parenting service.

Most of the women went to these services to get help with sleep and settling of their babies, but about half also used the support of social workers and psychologists while they were there. About half of the women had a previous history of mental health issues.

Compared to the general population, women who went to a sleep school were more likely to have experienced an intervention during birth, like forceps or a vacuum extraction, be an older mum, and have a boy. They were also less likely to have a good support network.


The researchers argue more needs to be done to screen women for their social and psychological needs, especially in private healthcare where this may not be routinely done. If you do experience difficulties in getting your baby to sleep, don’t be afraid to seek out a GP who can refer you on if it’s becoming a serious problem.