The confusing pieces of advice on how to take care of your newborn baby keep rolling in. Indeed, they don’t come with a user manual. But they do come with mothers whose instincts are palpable in terms of child-rearing. When that confusion gets really cloudy, seasoned moms are there to the rescue. Your healthcare providers are also a good source of practical information in child care. In the first few weeks after birth, your first question is probably, should I wake my newborn to feed at night?
Newborn babies have only two pressing needs at the moment: to eat and sleep. They are born with a routine and body alarm to let you know when they need to eat. According to Mayo Clinic, babies will mostly feed every two to three hours. So, if your baby wakes up during the night, then feed. If she goes for stretches of more than three to four hours, then you need to rouse her for routine feeding.
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Why do you need to wake your baby at night for feeding?
Your tiny baby may throw your sleep out the window for the first few weeks. They are yet to develop their sleep-wake cycle and have no clear distinction between nighttime and daytime.
Generally, the majority of babies will wake their moms up during the night for feeding and rarely the other way around. However, this sleep cycle changes over time. You will find out that they are getting more shut-eye during the night.
Sometimes, moms would rely on responsive feeding and would feed only when the baby demands it. Other moms would go by the clock and schedule their baby’s eating time. Even more innovative others rely on breastfeeding apps so as not to miss anything.
But, should you wake your newborn if he seems to miss the schedule and lapse into a long sleep? The answer is yes, and here are why.
Newborns have small stomachs
Accordingly, your baby’s tummy size is comparable to a size of a cherry when she is only a day old. After a month, it will round up to about the size of an egg. With such a tiny stomach, it also empties rather easily. Breastfed babies tend to get hungrier more often. That’s because breast milk is also easier to digest. So, usually, the turn-around for feeding time is in a two to three hours period.
Formula-fed babies are no different. But, since formula milk takes longer to digest, babies may go for three to four hours before going hungry again.
Always be watchful of your baby’s hunger clues and feed him as needed. Crying is a late sign of hunger that you can avoid if you respond to it earlier.
Mom needs to encourage her breast milk supply
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) laid down the reasons why moms give up on breastfeeding. Aside from the challenges and pain of latching, low breast milk supply may also trigger it. Exclusive breastfeeding is essential for your baby. You will need a little of your baby’s help if you want to boost your breast milk supply.
Constant latching 8 to 12 times daily will help stimulate your hormones. This, in turn, will establish breast milk and initiate a milk “let-down” reflex. Thus, we always encourage mothers to feed babies even at night during the first critical month of his life.
Food is your baby’s essential need for growth
Right after birth, your baby will shed off extra fluid that he acquired from your tummy. It is quite normal to observe a slight decline in his weight for the first few days. The only way you can supplement his growth and weight gain is through routine feeding.
Breastfeeding your baby constantly and encouraging longer nursing will help him ease through this transition. His weight gain, diaper wetting, and overall behavior will let you know if you are feeding your baby enough.
Your newborn might sleep through his hunger
Your newborn is transitioning into a completely different world from your tummy. Since they don’t fully grasp the sense of day and night, they may tend to sleep throughout. When they get hungry, they will wake up.
But then, there are also times when sleepiness gets overpowering and he may sleep through his hunger. Babies, especially those younger than one month, sometimes do not wake up even though they are hungry.
For all our above mentioned reasons, you need to wake your little one for feeding. Don’t worry as this is only temporary. At about four to six months, your baby will already establish his sleep-wake pattern. He would be latching longer or cluster-feed, and thus, no longer need to be woken for feeding as often.
Nighttime feeding tips
Don’t worry, it is only temporary – we know, it is always easier said. The user manual sometimes gets so vague. Honestly, moms crying over anxiety when feeding their newborns are not new to medical professionals. Every once in a while, new mothers in the nursery join their babies’ plaintive cries with silent tears.
We bet the struggle for nighttime feeding continues at home for no one knows how long. However, it does not need to be a burden. Here’s what you can do to keep your sanity intact while keeping your baby satiated.
Let your baby sleep in the same room as you. The baby’s bed setup may differ from family to family. Some parents opt to have a baby room, while some moms are sharing a bed with newborns. While the latter is the most convenient for moms, the AAP finds this idea risky. It is due to the looming risk of crib death that happens among a percentage of newborns.
The safest and convenient way is co-sleeping with your baby. Set up his crib or bassinet near your bed and save yourself from crossing rooms during a nighttime feeding.
People have varying opinions about having a night light in the room. I know several friends who are not inclined to use it. They would instead rely on outdoor light that keeps an ambient light pooling inside the bedroom. But of course, it depends on your house’s layout also.
For purposes of nighttime feeding, we suggest keeping a dim lamp inside your room. It is also handy during a diaper change to avoid distracting your baby. Use lights that cast a red or yellow glow instead of the blue ones. Blue light is disruptive of bodily functions, so stay away from that one. Additionally, make sure to keep your night lights low.
Extra helping hands from family members can do so much in easing a mother’s burden in baby care. If you are formula-feeding, nighttime feeding is uncomplicated with a caregiver’s help. But if you are breastfeeding, it can get draining at times.
For this reason, moms weigh in on the benefits of pumping vs breastfeeding. Pumping is a convenient way of scheduling and measuring your baby’s milk intake. Plus, it will lend moms a little more sleep time during the night. Just pump and ask for a little bit of feeding help.
Keep extra snacks at bay
Being a mom can get physically and emotionally draining. I am not a mom yet myself, but I am keeping a stash of snacks at my bedside – just because. If you are breastfeeding, that’s more of a valid reason to keep food nearby. Curb your incredible hunger by having nuts and easy-to-prepare food along with your baby’s essentials. That will give you one more reason to look forward to nighttime feeding, maybe?
Why is my baby eating less than before?
Growth spurt varies in babies. It is the period where they tend to get voracious and increase their sleep bouts. The decrease in the number of feeding is normal as he grows older, although you will notice that the amount of milk he consumes increases reciprocally.
How often will I feed my newborn?
Newborn babies tend to cluster feed or eat several times over the day. It can range from at least 6 to 12 times in 24 hours. It varies as babies have different needs and get full differently. You can read our feeding guidelines here.
Why are babies waking up mostly at 3 to 4 am?
We get that this is the time where moms feel the overwhelming feeling of sleepiness. Babies, on the other hand, have a funny and annoying way of depriving their mommies with it. It is during these wee hours of dawn that a mother’s breast produces most milk. Babies know this fact and feel this connection so, they rouse to indulge in their share.
Nighttime feeding is an essential part of your newborn’s life. Your baby will mostly lead the spacing himself as he is hard-wired to wake up when hungry. If he needs to sleep, let him. Just don’t let your child go for more than four hours without eating.
When he seems not to be interested, do not force-feed him. Moms are also born with the instinct to understand their baby’s clues. You are your baby’s user manual, so trust that instinct!
Ann Marie is a licensed nurse in the Philippines. She had experiences in handling and assisting deliveries of newborns into the world. She also used to train in labor rooms and pediatric wards – helping soon-to-be mothers and little kids in the process. Though not a mother by nature but a mother by heart, Ann Marie loves to take care of her younger cousins as well as nephews and nieces during her free time.