Newborn pēpi need a lot of sleep, waking regularly to feed, for comfort and time with kaitiaki. Over time, whānau will develop a rhythm to their day and can be guided by the needs of pēpi for feeding, sleep and play.

During these early months, it's important for whānau to respond lovingly to pēpi as they sleep and then wake. This supports their bond and attachment with their whānau, which is essential for healthy development.

Bonding and attachment

Brainwave Trust Aotearoa describes attachment as “the lasting emotional bond that a child forms with a specific person that provides safety, comfort, soothing, and pleasure.” They go on to say that outcomes for tamariki who have secure attachments with their whānau “are more likely to be resilient under stress, have better relationships, and enter school ready to learn.”

Sleep may seem like a strange place to be discussing attachment, but attachment is formed by whānau responding to pēpi in gentle loving ways, and as pēpi needs them, including through the night.

Sleep and wake cycles, as unpredictable as they are with newborns, are a crucial time to support attachment as whānau respond to them as they wake, feed, play and interact, and sleep again. As whānau begin to tune into cues, and respond to pēpi in loving and affectionate ways, this will better support attachment and healthy sleeping patterns.

Feeding and sleeping

During the first few weeks or months, pēpi may not understand the difference between day and night time, and it can be easier to think about their sleep over 24 hours. While the total amount of sleep a baby needs varies from child to child, the average amount of sleep needed as a newborn is between 14 and 17 hours (this will decrease over time). Pēpi will sleep and feed as they need, and it's important whānau are guided by them while they’re learning to communicate what they need.

For breastfeeding parents, regular waking and feeding during the early months help to maintain and establish breastmilk. This is another reason why following baby’s lead makes good sense, but whānau should respond in the same way no matter whether pēpi is breast or bottle-fed or both.

Routines or rhythms

Over time, many whānau start to develop a rhythm to their day, and whānau can continue to be guided by the needs of pēpi for feeding, sleep and play. Whānau can support this rhythm during the day by having pēpi sleep in the same room as whānau activities, amongst the sounds of daily living, or on the move in a car seat, pram or carrier.

As they wake it’s a wonderful opportunity to build their social and brain development by spending time playing with pēpi – sing to them, talk with them, read books or share .

Whānau can signal when it’s night time by creating a bedtime ritual, which may include:

  • bathing
  • feeding 
  • in a calm environment with low lighting.

To support attachment and responsiveness to pēpi, it’s recommended pēpi sleeps in the same room as their whānau on a safe bed surface, for the first 6 to 12 months.

When pēpi wakes through the night, offer feeds and comfort, but keep talking to a minimum, and lighting dimmed. Avoid burping, checking phones, or anything that will encourage wakefulness. It can be helpful to create a feeding and changing space that requires little movement, lighting, noise or screens. This way both pēpi and whānau can go back to sleep more easily.

Caring for whānau too

The quality of parents and whānau sleep will depend on the sleep rhythm of pēpi, which can be challenging to adjust to. Māmā and birthing parents will need time to rest and recover from birth, alongside responding to pēpi.

Talk about keeping the whare as calm as possible during these early months while adapting to pēpi, allowing whānau to rest while pēpi gets to know them all.

This may mean some new whānau such as:

  • we are quiet during moe times
  • we spend time with each other every day 
  • we help each other and keep to routines.

Light walks with pēpi and good kai will also support whānau wellbeing alongside the support of friends and whānau.

Helpful resources for whānau