Belinda Joyce

Belinda Joyce

The reality is that newborn babies generally need to feed every 2-4 hours and this is all day and all night. They have small stomachs and their milk is digested quickly so they need to refill. Many babies will wake and require feeds overnight during the first 6 months of life.

It’s hard when you’re still recovering from the birth, sleep deprived and it often feels like everyone else is asleep except you! Night feeds are exhausting both physically and emotionally but there are some strategies that can set you up for success.

Tips to help cope with night wakings:

  • Set up a night feed station – comfortable chair, snack, drink bottle, book/mag, remote, pillows, warm dressing gown or blanket to go around you both while feeding.
  • Set up a night change station- nappies, wipes, hand sanitiser, spare jumpsuit, bin.
  • Functional clothes for baby, a onesie is good, easy to open and close for quick night-time nappy changes. Keep the cute outfits with buttons on the back for daytime.
  • Good quality disposable nappies may help your baby sleep longer as they draw the liquid away from their skin.
  • A dim lamp to avoid waking your baby too much and this helps you too.
  • Some mums enjoy this quiet time at night when they get to read a book or watch their favourite (sometimes trashy) TV shows with no judgement. Plan what you’ll enjoy most so you look forward to that.
  • Naps during the day are not a luxury but an essential coping mechanism.
  • If your baby is sleeping long periods during the day but waking frequently at night, wake them and try to get more feeds in during the day so that any longer sleeps may happen at night.

I found an earlier than usual bedtime for myself and my baby really helped, but some Mums prefer to stay up later and have less waking’s overnight. Try both and see what works for you, I really need more sleep than average.

Sharing the care:

Talk to your partner about sharing the night-time load. If you are breastfeeding this is more difficult however some Mums express breastmilk and their partner bottle feeds this occasionally to give Mum a longer sleep. Many partners will change the nappy at the end of the feed and settle their baby. If bottle feeding this can be shared more easily, especially while both parents are on leave.

Discuss night feeds and settling with your partner and come up with a plan ahead of time if possible. We had a deal that if I knew the baby had been well fed and I couldn’t settle her then I would wake my partner for some help. This worked well when I had been up multiple times overnight and my patience was wearing thin. Some nights I had more patience than others and on weekends when he didn’t have work the following day he would help more. It felt like sometimes she would settle for him as she couldn’t smell my milk.

When your baby is crying and not settling, especially overnight is can be extremely difficult to cope with, consider the time out strategy below.

 Time out strategy:

Sometimes we can get so frustrated with our crying baby that we can have dangerous thoughts. Never shake your baby, this can cause irreversible brain damage as the brain bounces around in the skull.

Put your baby back in their cot or bassinet and take a few minutes to calm. Taking 3 slow deep breaths really does help, maybe step outside, and take a minute to breath and regroup. When you return your baby will probably still be crying but they are safe, and you will be in a better frame of mind to cope.

If you are feeling frustrated, angry, or overwhelmed please ask for help from your partner, family, friends or health professionals. New parents sometimes find it difficult to manage their emotions especially when feeling overwhelmed and sleep deprived. There is help available and you are not alone.

Talk to your maternal & child health nurse, GP, paediatrician, or other health professional about your baby’s behaviour and how you’re coping emotionally.

“This too shall pass” Persian Adage

Self care:

Look after yourself, have some time out to relax and enjoy something not baby related. This might just be a walk around the block on your own, a bath or a good book. The options are endless and don’t need to take long to get some benefit.

As a new parent you will get through this, your baby will grow, and it will become clearer why they are crying. As your baby grows, they will hopefully start to sleep for longer periods between feeds and this can make all the difference.

I hope some of these strategies will help you get through this challenging time.