Night time can cause great anxiety for new mums, who may not know what each night will bring and whether they will get any rest. Some new mums feel lonely while settling their newborn baby at night as other family members sleep. Anxiety around settling their newborn at night can lead new mums to experience difficulty falling asleep and fragmented sleep.
Altogether, the joys of early motherhood leave many new mums feeling exhausted and anxious. Unfortunately, this is all pretty common in the first few months of motherhood. Newborns have an intense cry and often wake overnight without warning. This can send a new mums’ heart rate through the roof, and you may find it takes some time for you to relax after settling your baby. You might lie in bed with your eyes closed, listening to all the little noises your baby makes, only to find that you haven’t slept when your baby wakes for their next feed.
Let’s look at the facts:
- Baby’s can make lots of noise in their sleep.
- Baby’s shift between light (rapid eye movement, or REM) and deep (non-rapid eye movement, or NREM) sleep, without necessarily waking fully each time.
- Newborn baby’s need to be fed overnight, sometimes many times.
- You need sleep to properly function.
- Newborn baby’s need nappy changes frequently.
Why won’t my newborn baby settle at night?
Common reasons include;
- Hunger; newborn babies have tiny tummies that need refilling often.
- Wind or tummy pain (if you are concerned your baby is unwell, seek medical advice).
- Your baby’s startle reflex, which is particularly strong in the first few months of their life
- Wet or dirty nappy.
- Ambient temperature causing your baby to feel hot or cold.
- The desire to be close to mum or dad, especially when your baby is overtired.
How to settle your baby after nighttime feeding
If you think your baby is hungry, always offer them a breastfeed or bottle. Hungry babies won’t settle at night, despite what some people suggest, and there is no point trying to stretch out the time between feedings. Newborns feeding is unpredictable and breastfeeding on demand will help to increase your milk supply. Babies are clever little humans, so follow your baby’s lead when it comes to feeding.
Click here for Breastfeeding faqs. Always hold your baby upright for at least five minutes after feeding, even if your baby doesn’t always burp. Baby’s always should feel relaxed when they are put down, so don’t worry if your baby is fast asleep when you put it down after feeding in the night. Swaddle your newborn for at least the first 12 weeks of their life.
A newborn baby’s startle reflex can prevent them going to sleep and sleeping well. Keeping their arms nice and secure reduces their startle reflex. Check your baby’s nappy in the night when you get them up to feed. Often, you will be able to feel if their nappy is full and needs changing. If not, you can peek in the side of their nappy to check for bowel movements. Each time you put your baby to bed, whether day or night, assess the room temperature and put on or take off layers as needed.
At night, I find blankets are easier than clothing to add or remove and cause the least disruption to babies’ sleep. Baby’s are very sensitive to their surroundings, so keep the lights dim and your voice soft and calm. The rhythms baby’s experience inside the womb (mum’s heartbeat, movement, warmth, being snug) trigger a reflex that keeps them relaxed.
This calming reflex functions as an off-switch for crying and an on-switch for sleep. While it’s normal—and sometimes unavoidable—for newborns to cry, you can trigger your baby’s calming reflex to help them feel more relaxed and secure. Read about the Five S’s on my blog on newborn sleep here.
What to do when your newborn won’t settle after night time feeds
It’s important to have realistic expectations when caring for your newborn baby. Unlike adults, newborns don’t have a day/night sleep rhythm, and it takes some time for them to develop one.
This can lead to baby’s waking often in the night. When your baby wakes overnight, go through the checklist above and, if all else fails, strip them down and put them against your bare skin with a blanket over the both of you (make sure you don’t fall asleep though as this can be dangerous). Skin-to-skin human contact makes babies feel safe and warm.
Dads can do this too, so you can have a break.
‘A calm and present mum does wonders for her baby.’
What you can do to cope while caring for your newborn
Get your partner or family members to care for your baby so you can get a few hours sleep during the day or at the beginning of the night. Put on some gentle rain white noise in your bedroom. This can help you and your baby to relax and mask some of those little wriggles, farts and groans that they make in their sleep.
Keep the white noise quiet enough that you can hear your baby when they need you. Make a to-do list in the afternoon for the next day so that you don’t lie in bed thinking of all the things you need to do tomorrow. I often talk to my clients about separating to-do lists into essential and if the day allows tasks.
- Feeding your baby and meeting their needs
- Having a shower
- Eating three healthy meals a day and drinking plenty of water
- Getting some fresh air
If the day allows tasks
- Making non-urgent phone calls
- Catching up with friends and having visitors
- Looking at social media
I suggest you put your phone down, as social media can be really unhelpful for a new mums’ mental and physical health. There are so many apps available to record your baby’s feeds, sleep, dirty nappies, etc. However, using these apps means spending more time on your phone, which is not helpful for sleep, especially in the evening. If you want to record these things, write them down in columns with a pen and paper.
As parenting author Sarah Ockwell-Smith reminds us,
To empathise with our newborn’s feelings, we need to put ourselves in their place, to imagine experiencing their world—but which world? The world they have spent most of their life in, their ‘womb world’, or the world they are in now—our world.