Once you’ve got a baby, your nights will never be the same again! Certainly in the first few months, or until your baby is established on solids, you can expect to be getting up at night to feed your wee one. Some babies can simply feed then go straight back to sleep, however some can wake up and then stay awake for several hours in the middle of the night or be very difficult to settle back to sleep again! The way you approach night wakes/feeds can have a real affect on your baby’s ability to stay in the "zone" for sleep.
In this article we want to share some things you can do to make this whole overnight experience a lot more manageable for both you and your baby.
Babies (and especially newborns) can be very noisy sleepers! They grunt, wiggle, snort and whimper in their sleep. If you wake to your baby making noises, don’t leap out of bed right away - listen to see if they’re simply snuffling in their sleep! Many times we jump up to our babies’ every noise and end up disturbing their sleep accidentally. Unless your baby is crying, just listen first to see if they need you to tend to them or if they’re just doing a little wiggle between sleep cycles.
When tending to your baby in the night, keep the lights off. Use a red nightlight if you have to, the light from your phone or let light from the hallway spill into the room. Exposure to light during night-time hours will signal to your baby’s body clock that it is daytime and they’ll want to stay awake! Definitely do not watch TV while doing night feeds as the light from TVs is a blue-based light and this triggers the “daytime” light response in your baby’s brain.
We always recommend using white noise all night long to help your baby settle and sleep, so definitely keep the white noise going while you’re feeding your baby! This continuation of their “sleep noise” will ensure they remain sleepy and in the right zone to go right back to sleep after their feed.
Only change your baby’s diaper if it is necessary to, not just because they’ve woken. Babies can go several hours without a diaper change, even if they have a milk feed, and changing their diaper can really wake them up! If you do need to do a diaper change, do it mid-feed so your baby still has the rest of the feed to get nice and sleepy again. Changing a diaper mid-feed is also good for younger babies who might be a bit sleepy to continue taking a decent feed.
Keep your baby swaddled throughout their night feeds, reswaddling again if you have to change their diaper. This makes it easy to simply pop your baby back in their bed afterwards.
Babies definitely need to burp after each feed. Even in the night. Now, it's true that some babies will actually feed better at night when they're more relaxed, especially reflux babies, however for the most part, all babies need to be well winded overnight. If your baby falls asleep while feeding or is put back to bed without a decent burp escaping, it can be the reason for a wake 15-20 minutes later or the reason they don't settle easily back to sleep. Wind has a lot to account for in the midnight hours! If you're winding your baby and they are not releasing a burp, keep trying! I guarantee there is one there and it could well be the cause of their unsettled night.
Try to avoid too much stimulation with your baby in the night - they need to learn that the night is for sleeping! Often daytime/night-time confusion occurs in newborn babies and this is exacerbated by lots of communication or stimulation in the night - which is the sort of thing that should happen in the daytime. Newborns get stimulated very easily, even the sound of a voice is enough to stimulate them and they will wake fully up to check out this new sound. Your baby doesn’t need games or tickles in the middle of the night in the same way you wouldn’t be overly impressed with that either!
If breastfeeding, make sure you’re drinking water when you’re up in the night - it’s thirsty work! Keep a water bottle by your feeding chair in baby’s room to make it easy for you. If you need to have a snack in the night, best not to choose something with sugar in it or it’ll keep you awake. A banana is a really good choice because bananas contain the enzyme tryptophan which actually induces sleep!
It can take a while for a very young baby to feed in the night, so be prepared! Have a good book on your phone, iPad or kindle and read it while you’re feeding. This gives you a bit of relaxation and time-out too and will make the hours of feeding less of a chore. You could also make a relaxing playlist and listen through headphones while feeding in the night. Keeping yourself relaxed will benefit your baby’s mood and also help your ability to fall back asleep again.
If your baby is waking very frequently overnight and/or staying away for long periods, it might pay to have a look at what's happening in their day as this sort of waking pattern can indicate a baby might be napping too much or too little in the day! Read this article for more information.
If your baby is over 4 months and waking every 2 hours overnight, this might indicate they are waking simply to be "put" back to sleep by feeding. Read more about this here.