Sleeping through the night is a hot topic for discussion among many new mothers in the first year of baby's life. They know that 'eventually' baby should start doing it...but sometimes 'eventually' seems to be taking a really long time!! It’s so commonplace for mothers to worry when their babies don’t sleep through the night because most mom's just want to get some good sleep too!! Most professionals will blame poor sleep habits on nighttime feeding routines/rituals. This way of thinking can put a lot of unnecessary stress and pressure on a new mother. Some doctors recommend nighttime weaning and “cry it out” methods if baby is not sleeping through the night by 6 months or even earlier. Even when the mom herself has no problem with baby nursing at night, she still worries that this is a problem, since North American society seems to consider it one. There are books all over the bookstores with advice on solving so-called “sleep problems.” But what exactly is a sleep problem? How do you know if your baby has a true problem? This blog will help to answer those questions and hopefully put your mind at ease that good sleep is going to eventually become a reality
First, please ignore what everyone else says about your baby’s sleep habits and what is “normal.” These people are not living with you or your baby. Unless your doctor sleeps in the next room and your baby is keeping him awake every night, he has no reason to question a healthy baby’s sleep habits. If you and your baby enjoy nighttime feedings, then why not continue? It’s a great way to have time with her, particularly if you are apart during the day. My rule of thumb is always, 'If it's working for you. keep doing it, if it's not working, then let's find another way to manage'.
Every baby is different, and some sleep through the night earlier than others (schedules or food usually have nothing to do with this). Your baby may be hungry (keep in mind that breastmilk digests in less than 2 hours) or she may just want time with you. Babies whose mothers work during the week often nurse more at night and on weekends, perhaps to reconnect with mom.
Many doctors tend to look at night nursing only from a nutritional standpoint, but this is only part of the story. After the first few months, your baby will begin to associate the breast with far more than just a way to satisfy hunger and thirst. It becomes a place of comfort, security, warmth, closeness, and familiarity. The act of nursing is not just nourishing; it is nurturing. Keep in mind that these needs are every bit as real as baby’s physical ones, and having them met is every bit as needful to baby’s overall development.
There is also a reason why your baby wants to breastfeed frequently during the night. Babies are actually biologically programmed to be little party animals during the nighttime. Prolactin, which is the hormone responsible for breast milk production, peaks during the nighttime hours (11pm-2am). Your baby knows this!! Your baby is so smart that she knows if she feeds more at night, she helps to build your milk supply and takes in more calories during nighttime feeds. Again, this is temporary as over time prolactin levels start to drop at night. But when your baby is waking at night to feed in the first few months, there is a really good and scientifically based reason why!!
If the amount that your child sleeps and nurses at night isn’t a major problem for you, then there’s no reason to try to change anything. You are NOT doing a bad thing by nursing on cue; you are doing a wonderful thing for your baby. When you comfort baby at night, you are not teaching her a bad habit: you are teaching her that you are there for her when she needs you. Last time I checked, providing security for your baby isn't supposed to be a bad thing.
What is normal when it comes to baby’s sleep?
It is common for breastfed babies to not sleep through the night for a long period of time. On the other hand, some breastfed babies start sleeping through the night when they are a few months old. Some Doctors say that most babies can't start going for longer stretches of sleep until they are closer to 12 lbs.
Your baby will begin to comfort herself and to sleep for longer stretches at her own developmental pace. If your baby wants to nurse at night, it is because she DOES need this, whether it’s because she is hungry or because she wants to be close to mom. Beginning to sleep through the night is similar to a developmental milestone (like walking or toilet training) that your baby will reach when she is ready. Trying to force baby to reach this before her time may result in other problems later on.
If you can try to take a more relaxed approach and trust that it will come in time, you’ll see your baby eventually become a good sleeper. You’ll be able to rest peacefully in your heart and mind knowing that she reached this in her own time when she felt secure enough to do so, not because he had no other choice but to quiet herself because no one would come.
Probably one of the main reasons that night-waking babies are such a big issue is that parents don’t have realistic expectations of the sleep patterns of babies. We are bombarded with magazine articles and books that perpetuate the myth that babies should not have nighttime needs. Babies were designed to wake up often at night to feed and cuddle– keep in mind that many adults wake during the night, too. If our expectations for babies were not so different from our babies’ expectations for themselves, much of this “problem” might disappear.
Why do babies wake at night?
Babies wake at night for many reasons, and they often start waking at night after sleeping through for a few weeks or months. Some of the reasons for night waking (in no particular order) are:
- baby wants more time with mom
- developmental advances (for example: waking more often right before or after learning to turn over, crawl or talk)
- illness, allergy, diaper rash, eczema, ear infection
- hunger (including growth spurts)
- Reverse Cycling: Some babies whose moms are away during the day prefer to reject most/all supplements while mom is away, and nurse often during the evening and night. If mom is very busy during the day or if baby is very distracted, this can also lead to reverse cycling.
When your child nurses more often at night, go through this checklist to see if you can figure out what might be going on. Sometimes there may be more than one thing causing the night waking.
Does night waking last forever?
Remember that night waking in babies is normal and temporary!
Children grow out of night waking, even when we do nothing to discourage it. This period of time will be a very tiny part of your child’s years with you.
Your goal is to maximize sleep for everyone in the family, while respecting the needs of your baby.
If you’re meeting this goal, then ignore anyone who suggests that you do things differently. If your sleep situation is not working (or stops working) then you can always do things differently. All parents find that they change the way they do things as their child grows older and reaches different developmental stages – sleep is just another thing that changes as your child grows.
It's also important to remember that mother's need support and need to be heard. Sometimes it's helpful for a mother to speak with a Lactation Consultant who can provide them with the reassurance that they are doing the best thing for their baby by giving them the important nourishment of breastmilk.....even in the wee hours of the moring. Mother's want to be heard and validated and in return given the advice and guidance necessary to keep their confidence levels up. Mothers know what's best. They know in their hearts what they want and as long as it's working for her and her family, then we should support her and continue to provide the knowledge needed for a lasting breastfeeding relationship.
Happy Reading and Happy Breastfeeding!!!