Ask most new parents what the hardest part of looking after a newborn is and it’s likely most of them will tell you the night feeds. While some babies can sleep up to 18 hours per day, they tend to wake up every 1 to 2 hours – which means having to cope with a heavily interrupted sleep. On top of having to keep waking up, you have to then feed and burp your baby, while hoping that they won’t throw up or do a messy poop at 3am. All in all, night feeds can be brutal.
Night feeds can be made less stressful by a) encouraging your baby to sleep longer stretches, and b) finding ways to make the feeding process quicker and more comfortable. There are no guaranteed hacks for doing this. However, there are some tricks and measures that can increase the chance of your little one sleeping longer and cooperating better during feeds. Below are 10 tips.
Find a fair way to share feeds
If you’re a single mom, sharing the feeds is sadly not an option. However, if you’ve got a partner or you have a willing family member to help out, you can reduce the stress of night feeds by sharing them out. This is easier with formula milk, although you can still express and store milk in a bottle for a partner to use.
You can each take turns to do alternate feeds, take turns to do one half of the night each or even do an entire night each. The latter two options can guarantee you larger stretches of uninterrupted sleep, which could help you to feel more refreshed.
Of course, if you or a partner is working and cannot catch up on sleep with naps the next day, you need to factor this in. The one-half-of-the-night-each approach can still give each of you an uninterrupted stretch so that even on nights when your baby is awake all night, you both get some sleep. Some couples like to keep their baby in the living room for the first few weeks so that one parent can sleep on the sofa and monitor their little one, while the other can sleep in the bedroom without getting woken up by the baby’s feeds.
Prepare your night feed station
It’s worth having everything you need ready on the bedside table so that you can access it without having to get out of bed in the night. This could include diapers, muslin blankets, baby wipes and pacifiers.
If you’re using bottles and your baby only drinks their milk warm, you could even consider squeezing a bottle warmer machine onto your bedside cabinet, providing it’s not too noisy. When feeding with powder formula, you can also prepare your portions of powder and fill some bottles with pre-sterilized water.
Avoid stimulating your baby
A night feed is not the time for talking to or playing with your baby. You also don’t want to be walking around while winding them, turning on the TV or putting on music to occupy yourself. This will stimulate you and your baby, preventing both of you from wanting to go back to sleep.
By avoiding stimulation, your baby will learn that night time is not a good time to be awake and they will drift off to sleep more quickly. Instead of being up for two or three hours at a time, you can encourage your baby to feed and fall asleep again within half an hour.
Don’t turn on the light
Whether you’re waking up for a feed or waking up to go to the toilet, try to avoid turning on the main light in the room. Changes in light levels may wake your baby up or make them more alert if they’re already awake.
Try to keep the bedroom constantly dark or dimly lit. Babies will naturally build their circadian rhythm and associate dark with sleep. So that you can see what you’re doing during a night feed, consider keeping a lamp or night light constantly on throughout the night, however it should ideally not be too bright.
Keep sound levels constant
Just as changes in light levels can wake up a baby, so can changes in sound. Sudden silence can wake up a baby just as much as loud noises can. For instance, if they fell asleep with the TV blaring in the background, you could find that they wake up as soon as you turn the TV off. Turning down the TV to a low volume before your baby falls asleep could make it easier to turn off without waking them up, as it won’t be such a drastic change in noise levels.
Many babies prefer to have some kind of steady background hum to help them sleep as it reminds them of being in the womb and hearing their mom’s heart. This is why white noise machines and apps are sometimes encouraged. The stray hum of a fan, air conditioning unit or TV on low volume can also help many babies. Just make sure any noise is quiet enough for you to sleep through.
Know when to change their diaper
At what point during the night feed should you change their diaper: before, during or after? In most cases, before and during are the best times. Changing a baby’s diaper can make them more awake, so you don’t want to do it as they’re snoozing off at the end of a night feed. Of course, if they decide to fill their diaper at the end of night feeds, there’s not much you can do about this.
Changing their diaper before settling them down for the night could prevent you having to do it during the first night feed. That said, you will likely still need to change their diaper at some point. Don’t ignore diaper changes at night just because you want an easy life – you may increase the risk of leaks or diaper rash, which will only cause your baby to wake up more agitated.
Buy a nursing pillow
Night feeds can not only be tiring but uncomfortable for many parents – especially women who are breastfeeding – because they can force us to sit up against a hard wall/headboard for much of the night or sit with a hunch. By propping up pillows, you may be able to reduce this discomfort and possibly even prevent back pain from developing.
Nursing pillows are useful for supporting you and your baby and can prevent shoulder and back strain. These are crescent shaped pillows that you can prop your elbows and baby on. If you’re getting achy while doing night feeds, consider investing in one of these pillows.
Perfect your swaddle
Newborns are used to being snug inside their mom’s womb and many find it harder to sleep when they have too much space around them to wave their arms and kick their legs. Swaddling babies in a blanket can give them the security of being back in the womb and can help many babies to sleep deeper and longer. While feeding, keep their blanket below so that you can wrap them up as they’re falling asleep. This swaddle guide explains exactly how to wrap your baby up.
Once swaddled, how should you position your baby in the crib? The baby sleeping on side versus back debate continues to be a point of contention, however most experts agree that the back is the best position. With the side position, there’s a risk your baby could roll onto their stomach and suffocate – only when your baby has learnt to roll over should you consider placing them on their side.
Position their crib right
The best place to position a crib is right next to the bed so that you can pick up and put down your baby without having to get out of bed. This is not only less effort for you, but it decreases the chance of your baby waking up when laying them in their crib as you don’t have to walk across the room with them.
This is much easier with a co-sleeper bassinet, which can sit right next to your bed without taking up too much space. Placing a full size crib next to your bed may not be possible in a narrow bedroom, although some parents find it beneficial to rearrange their room so that a crib can still be placed here once the baby outgrows their bassinet.
Avoid moving them into their own room too early
Moving a baby into their own room is something you should ideally avoid until they are starting to regularly sleep through the night. Having to go into another room and feed/comfort your baby is a lot more effort, and is something that you don’t want to be doing multiple times per night.
Most babies are able to regularly sleep through the night by six months, but for some it can take a year. Don’t feel pressured into moving them into their own room if they’re still waking up multiple times for night feeds.