You tell yourself that the baby will eventually sleep, but that’s no consolation at 3 am when you can barely hold your eyes open, and your newborn is wide awake. During their first few weeks, babies can turn night into day, sleeping all day and frequently waking in the night.
It helps to know that this phase will not last forever and to have some tips that can help you feel more in control during this difficult time.
Why do newborns wake up during the night?
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Although all babies are different, most will wake several times during the night. Their tummy is still very small, so they need to feed regularly. They might also be too hot, too cold, or need their nappy changed. Also, their melatonin levels don’t rise until they are about eight weeks old, so their body doesn’t know when it’s time to sleep.
We can help them with this by giving them sleep cues through the use of lighting, noise, and body language. We can also make it less demanding for ourselves by ensuring we provide our body with the fuel it needs and by seeking help.
1. Keep the lights low
To help your baby set their internal clock, keep the lights low at nighttime. This will teach them to associate darkness with being asleep and light with being awake. Use a night light or drape a muslin cloth over a lampshade to help you to see clearly enough to feed or change the baby.
2. Use a soft voice
Loud noises and fast movement will stimulate your baby, so try to use a soft voice and avoid playing and making eye contact at night time. Although it is a good idea to let your baby get used to noise, whispering can have a calming effect, distracting them from crying as they try to find the source of the sound. A soft voice is also soothing and lets them know that they are safe.
3. White noise
Making a shushing sound can also be soothing as it imitates the sound your baby heard while they were in the womb. Alternatively, use a sleep sound machine app that offers a variety of white noise sounds. The combination of different frequencies used to create white noise also blocks out other sounds that might disturb a sleeping baby, like the snoring of a partner or the flushing of a toilet.
4. Avoid changing nappies
Avoid changing your babies’ nappy unless necessary, as the movement can waken them further. Put them to bed with a fresh nappy, and try using a larger, highly absorbent nappy that will take longer to become saturated. If you do need to change your baby, do it before feeding them.
5. Have a snack ready
New parents often forget to take care of themselves and fail to eat or drink as much as they normally would during the day. Keep a bottle of water and a healthy snack like fruit or a cereal bar by the bed so that you can grab a quick refreshment during feeds. Studies also suggest that staying hydrated is particularly important for breastfeeding mothers as breast milk contains almost 90% water.
6. Get someone to help
The nighttime can seem neverending when you find yourself up for the third time while your partner sleeps. If you are bottle feeding, ask your partner to take one of the feeds or if you are breastfeeding, ask them to help with burping or nappy changing so that you can get a little sleep. If you are alone, ask a friend or relative to stay over for a couple of nights to help out.
All babies are different – some will sleep for long stretches at night, while others may wake every two hours. Babies also go through many stages, so just when you think you have nailed it, they have a growth spurt or become ill, and everything changes.
Using sleep cues and taking care of yourself can help to get you both through this newborn phase. Remember that this exhausting stage does not last forever and that your health visitor can give your more advice if needed.