You have just dropped off to sleep and through a haze of dreams hear your baby cry out again for a feed. Your blood turns cold and you ask how is it possible and how long did she stretch this time. But you are up and awake and blearily stagger across to her to feed her.
The big question is what is the best ‘night time feed strategy’ to ensure a calm feed, make sure your baby settles afterwards and to set the stage for good sleep habits later, once the night feeds diminish.
There are a few critical elements of night feeds that can make the difference between a baby who settles straight back to sleep and one who fusses and niggles until the next feed is due.
- Do not wake your baby for night feeds. Common logic says if you wake your baby before 12 she won’t wake in the wee hours for a feed. While it may be true in the early days that a feed at 10 means she sleeps from 11 to 3am so that you are not up between 12 and 2 am, it frequently results in sleep disruption later on. By not letting your baby develop her own sleep patterns you may be facing a baby who wakes at night when older.
- Environment – A key to peaceful settling after night feeds is the environment. The night feed environment needs to be a dark and quiet as possible so that your baby only wakes sufficiently to feed and then is calm enough to fall back to sleep.
- Do not use a night light.
- Put a passage light on outside the room so you can see what you are doing but as far as possible don’t expose your baby to bright lights.
- Do not take your baby out of the sleep space
- Interactions Keep all interactions between 6pm and 6am muted. Don’t make too much eye contact, play with or stimulate your baby. As tempting as it may be to elicit that smile or little baby giggle, try to resist it. You want your baby to think that at night things are very boring and not worth being awake for.
- Try to stay awake for the feed. Feed your baby sitting up in a chair or at least sitting up in bed. In this way you stay as awake as possible and are conscious of how well your baby is feeding. Encourage her to feed well by waking her a little if she drifts off to sleep half way through the feed. If you feed lying down you run the risk of falling asleep and will wake wondering if your baby has fed for long enough or whether she has in fact been feeding well the whole time or if she will wake in half an hour hungry again.
- Burping When your baby is done with a feed, lift her and burp her for a very short time. Do not stimulate her when you do so. Firm, slow strokes of the back will get the burp up and keep your baby calm. If the burp does not come up within 5 minutes, put your baby down to sleep. The biggest cause of unsettledness at night is not a windy/gassy tummy, it is being kept awake in the middle of the night while mom pursues that reluctant wind.
- Changing nappy Do not change your baby’s nappy at night unless it is soiled. If your baby has only passed urine, leave the nappy for the next feed. Changing nappies wakes your baby up fully. Huggies have a really nice but expensive night nappy with extra absorbency. These nappies mean that more urine is held for longer periods and there is less risk of the nappy leaking at night. Use cheaper nappies during the day but invest in a really good nappy for night time.
- Afterwards After the feed and short burp time, wrap your baby and put her down. If she doesn’t settle to sleep immediately, keep your hand on her until she settles to sleep. The deep pressure will help to keep her calm. Instead of lifting your baby let her niggle a little with you are patting or holding her. If she is very unsettled in the middle of the night, place her in a sling and pace the floor in the dim light until she is asleep.
- Rescue The most important thing is that when she sleeps at night you sleep too! So as soon as she is asleep, jump back into bed, drink a big glass of water. If you don’t instantly fall asleep, take a Rescue Remedy tablet. Rescue is a wonderful natural remedy that helps you fall asleep with no negative affects to you or your baby.
From a sensory perspective as well as from experience, this is the best road to sleep for you at night. The early days are completely exhausting and sleep is the supreme desire of most moms. Remember to keep perspective and know this sleep deprivation does end!
By Meg Faure