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How to survive overnight feeds with a newborn

Most parents head into parenthood knowing that their new babe will need to be fed round the clock, both day and night. And of course, most parents understand that this means broken sleep. But perhaps what shocks these parents is just how that broken sleep can impact our own physical and mental health!

Newborn babies need to fill their tiny little tummies very frequently, which can often see them needing feeds anywhere from 1-4 hours apart in the first six weeks of life. 

To add to the challenge, many newborns have what I call ‘newborn jet lag’ in the very beginning, whereby they sleep the day away and want to stock up on their feeding once nighttime hits.

By six weeks, all the lovely hormones that mean we stay awake during the day, and sleep at night are really starting to establish for your little babe, which means your little one will start to be more wakeful during the day, and may consolidate a few sweet hours overnight!

What this means for you

So let’s put this in perspective now for how this may impact both Mum and Dad. After giving birth to your baby, and probably heading into this parenting gig tired from that effort, it’s likely you’ll then be up at night feeding very frequently in those first six weeks. Hang in there, it gets better!

All that frequent night waking is bound to take a toll on your physical and mental health – our bodies need sleep!

It’s well documented that sleep deprivation impacts both physical and mental health in a mother and father. Lack of sleep is associated with health issues such as mood disorders, changes in eating patterns, weight gain, lack of concentration, and poor memory, to name just a few!

So what can you do to speed up the process of the night feeding so you can get back to your much-needed sleep ASAP?

Focus on the feed

Getting to know when your baby is actively drinking versus just using your breast or the bottle for comfort is key. Lots of mums leave their baby on until they spontaneously release the breast, however, many babies will happily stay on and just comfort suck. This can lead to a really long time at the breast where they’re not actually drinking, and prevents you from getting back to sleep!

Hint: when your baby is sucking well and drinking, you should hear them swallowing! If they’re just comfort sucking, you won’t hear those swallows.

Find your rhythm

Create a rhythm to your feed and sleep patterns at night. This will help you stay consistent, be more efficient, and reduce the amount of brain power required while you’re still half asleep. As a new mum, your night time pattern could look as easy as this:

  1. Feed on one breast (watching for when your bub stops drinking and moves to comfort sucking)
  2. Take your bub off and burp them
  3. Nappy change between breasts
  4. Reswaddle
  5. Feed off other the other side
  6. Back to glorious bed!

Find your own pattern and groove and you’ll be surviving night feeds like a pro in no time.

Teamwork makes the dream work

There’s no reason your partner should miss out on all the fun! Babies wake for more reasons than just hunger. If your babe has had a good feed and they wake before 2-3 hours overnight, consider resettling overfeeding. This is where a support person or partner can come in. Get them to do the resettling while you sleep!

But what about me?

Perhaps you’re also wondering how you can look at getting more sleep and rest throughout the night despite the frequent wakings? Let’s dive into my top tips on managing sleep deprivation.

Divide the nights in half

What I mean by this is split your night into two parts, say 7 pm to midnight, and midnight to 7 am. This is where you can call upon your support person or partner once more! When you break the night into two, you can allocate the different halves to each person. Perhaps Mum will duck off to bed early and catch the first part of the night before midnight while your partner or support person manages wakings before midnight, and then after midnight, your partner can get some sleep while you manage the night wakings. Sharing the load can be hugely beneficial!

Get your partner or support person to do a dream feed

A dream feed is when you feed your baby a bottle of formula or expressed breast milk (or the breast!) while they’re asleep. The idea is this milk tops them up, meaning they should be able to go without a feed for another 3-4 hours after that (depending on their age). Like the point above, this is a great way for your partner or support person to help you in the first part of the night so you can get as much consolidated sleep as possible.

Rest when your baby or toddler sleeps during the day 

There’s often a lot of resistance around this one because lots of families feel they’re simply too busy to rest when bub is asleep. The thing is, the jobs seriously can (and should!) wait if you’re seriously sleep-deprived. Nothing matters more than your physical and emotional health, so catch some extra sleep if you’re given that chance, and handball the household chores to someone else.

Ask for help

This ties in nicely with my last point! You may have someone in your life who’s great at just reading what needs to be done to help, but not everyone is as insightful as that! There are also lots of willing people in your life wanting to help you, they just need to be told how. Don’t be afraid to lay it out on the table and ask!

Stay off your phone overnight

When you open up the screen of your phone, it emits a blue light that interrupts the body’s production of melatonin. Melatonin is our best sleep asset! It’s the hormone that allows us to fall asleep, and when blue light is preventing its production, it’s going to wreak havoc on your ability to fall asleep and get into the much needed deep phases of sleep. So do your best to stay off your phone at night, or invest in some blue light blocking glasses. A great idea for staying alert while feeding is to listen to some music that doesn’t require long periods of staring into your phone.

So if you’ve been worrying about how you’ll handle these wakeful nights, let this article be a game plan and beacon of hope for you! The broken sleep is an inevitable part of having a new baby, but there is so much power in have a realistic understanding of what your baby may be doing, and of course, having a game plan will mean you know how to tackle the night feeds like a boss! Enjoy these early days Mumma, you’ll be sleeping more in no time!

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Expert author: Jen Butler

Jen Butler is a Midwife, Maternal and Child Health Nurse, Certified Lactation and Sleep consultant, and Circle of Security Facilitator, dedicated to supporting new parents to get to know, understand and support their baby and toddler so they can love being parents.

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