As a newborn, some babies seem to be born as night hawks, taking their longer stretches of sleep during the day and wanting to be entertained at night. Newborns are not born with fully developed circadian rhythms and will take 2-4 months to sort themselves out naturally. The sleep hormone melatonin also isn’t fully produced by infants until 9-12 weeks as their pineal gland matures. Breastfed babies will receive levels of melatonin from their mother’s milk, varying from higher levels during evening and night hours to significantly less during the day (melatonin is broken down by light explaining the lower production during the day). While there are strategies you can incorporate into your days and nights to help your baby ease into night time sleep cycles many babies will grow out of this stage as their bodies mature and develop. It may be more beneficial to find coping strategies for a sleep deprived parent in these early weeks rather than fighting against the clock.
If your baby is older and seems to be developing this habit it may be more of a reflection of their day. Was it a stressful day? Were you super busy? Were you out-and-about? Have you just returned to work? How much caffeine did you have today? When thinking back about your day you may realize that times between feeds were stretched out to accommodate a busier schedule or your baby was distracted and didn’t ask for milk as often. Developmental milestones around 4 months, 6 months and 8 months can make a baby “forget” to eat during the day and make up for missed meals at night.
Keep in mind, night-waking isn’t always just about food. Babies have “touch” reserves that need to be filled too. If you’ve just returned to work or had a busy, distracting day your baby may be craving close contact with you and be filling up on snuggles.
No matter the age, there are some strategies that can help you and your baby find a balance between day and night time feedings.
1. Fill her up during the day
Offer regular feeds during the day, at least every 3 hours or less, even if it means waking her up. Some babies will naturally do a 4 hour sleep somewhere in a 24 hour period, don’t let her do it during the day! You can gently wake your baby by picking her up, unswaddling her (if she’s swaddled) or removing some of her clothing, stroking or tickling her arms and legs or go straight to changing her diaper. She’ll still need to feed during the night but hopefully she’ll stretch out her feeds when it’s dark.
2. Once she’s up, keep her up
Although you also want to prevent her from becoming overtired (she should only be awake for 1 ½ to 2 hours at a time during the day) make sure her play time is during the day. Sing to her, play with her, talk with her and show her around her new environment. Rather than forcing her to stay awake provide stimulation so she won’t want to go to sleep.
3. Expose your baby to light in the day
Our circadian rhythm (sleep cycle) responds primarily to light and darkness. A baby’s circadian rhythm is still developing over the first few months and exposure to natural light can help get things sorted out. Make sure the curtains are open and you move about your regular activities during the day. Naps don’t always need to be in her crib. A bassinette in the livingroom will help her sense the daytime rhythm of your house, although as babies get older and have a good day/night rhythm they sleep best in a dark, quiet place for naps.
4. Keep it dark and quiet at night.
Use dim or ambient lighting when tending to your baby at night, the minimum amount you need to see what you’re doing. Simply feed her and change a dirty diaper if needed (diapers don’t need to be changed at every feed during the night, especially if they’re only wet and she doesn’t have a diaper rash) and don’t engage in any playful interactions. Be quiet, soothing and calm.
5. Use white noise at night
White noise can help replicate the sounds your baby heard in your womb and can help keep her calm. It may need to be at a fairly loud volume to take affect and can act as a sound barrier, buffering outside sounds from the baby’s room. It is often very helpful for children who are very alert and curious to help them calm their minds and fall asleep. Recently, White noise has gotten a lot of press (Stay tuned for our full research review). If you decide to use white noise, consider keeping the source away from your babies head and turning the volume down abit or turning the white noise off or down after your baby is asleep.
6. Use a sling or baby carrier
This will help you stay connected to your baby on those busy days. You can hold your baby close and breastfeed frequently while still attending to your to-do list. Make sure your expectations of yourself are realistic. You need downtime too and stopping to feed your baby is an excellent reminder to put your feet up and relax.
7. Keep your baby close at night
This will allow you to quickly feed your baby before she’s fully awake. Co-sleeping parents often get more sleep as do their babies as their sleep cycles align with one another. See our Safe Co-Sleeping tip sheet for more information.
8. Limit your intake of caffeine
Caffeine passes into breastmilk and will stimulate your baby just as it stimulates you. To see if it’s the culprit, try cutting it out of your diet for a few days. If you see an improvement you can gradually introduce it back in, keeping an eye on timing. Morning caffeine may be fine however after 4pm may be the problem.
9. Working Moms, feed frequently when you get home
Offer your baby to feed frequently, even if she’s not asking for it, from the time you get home to bedtime. By filling her up both with food and with “mom time” she may sleep longer stretches at night.
10. There will always be “bad” nights
Even once your baby seems to have settled into a regular night time routine there will still be nights when she seems to be up every hour. As babies hit developmental milestones and growth spurts their sleep can often be disrupted while their body and minds catch up. As her brain and nervous system mature she will, over time, consistently sleep longer at night.
Enforcing a sleep schedule on your baby before meeting daytime needs may result in a feeding issue or an unhappy baby. Over-feeding your baby or using formula as a sleep aid will also not help with night-time sleeping and may lead to other problems.
Above all, keep in mind that night-waking is completely normal and necessary for babies. Babies will wake at night for a variety of reasons: feeding, comfort, to feel secure, calming, developmental milestones and will often need help falling back to sleep. Remember, you cannot spoil a baby. Responding and attending to your child will increase the child’s confidence and your bond with your baby.
Previously posted as a guest blogger on www.SleepLady.com