How to Care for Your Newborn at Night

Guess who I think of when I wake up to feed my newborn at 2:30 in the morning?

I think of you!

It’s true! As I pull on my bathrobe and quietly walk into our sweet baby’s room each night, I reflect on all that I’ve learned over the past 14 years of feeding babies at night and I think, I should pay it forward by sharing the things I’ve learned with my readers.

With our first baby – and even our second – I spent hours every night trying to feed those babies and comfort them back to sleep. I swaddled and shushed and sang and swayed myself to exhaustion… and depression. Even with Babies #3 and 4, there were things I was doing during those nighttime feedings that were perpetuating my exhaustion and postpartum depression.

I needed to learn how  to make those night feedings more peaceful and successful.

Thanks to the advice of generous people over the years, nighttime feedings have gotten better and better with each baby. Now with Baby #5 and Baby #6, nighttime feedings have been much more efficient. Baby and I sleep better and I don’t struggle with PPD like I used to.

Here’s what works for me. I’d love to know what works for you! If you share it in the comments, we’ll all be stronger for the insights.

How to Successfully (and Peacefully) Breastfeed Your Newborn at Night

  1. First, watch The Happiest Baby on the Block DVD

You don’t have to read the book, just borrow the DVD from the library or from a friend to learn five things to try when comforting a baby. When you welcome your sweet baby into the world, try each of the 5 things often. Don’t give up! Just because swaddling, shushing, etc. seems awkward at first, keep at it. These are tried-and-true ways of comforting a baby; there’s a big chance that at least one of them will work well for you and your baby.

For us, swaddling has been a bedrock of peace in our parenting. We’ve used it for every baby and we are believers in its ability to calm and help our babies. In general, we have happy and peaceful newborn-days: I think that swaddling is a big reason why. It helps our babies feel safe and secure: it helps us feel confident and calm. Add a personal touch to this process and pick out one of adorable lovies and add a wubbanub to go along with the monogrammed lovie blanket which always makes great combo baby gift.

2. Invest the first three days after birth in breastfeeding your baby. 

Put your feet up. Enjoy the opportunity to rest your body. Focus on breastfeeding your baby as long and as often as possible and necessary. I actually choose to stay in the hospital as long as possible so that I can focus on breastfeeding. For me, this helps my milk to come in and it helps my babies to learn how to breastfeed. Once my milk comes in, baby typically receives a full feeding and we are well on our way to maintaining a 3ish-hour cycle of feeding, waking, and sleeping.

This also puts me in a good position to anticipate the night feedings once we are home. Night feedings tend to be every three – five hours for the first couple of weeks.

3. Get the nod from your pediatrician to let your baby wake you  when she is hungry. 

At the 2-day appointment, I ask if I can stop setting my alarm clock to feed the baby every three hours. When the doc says “yes,” I’m all-in! I sleep soundly and trust that baby will wake me up when it’s time to feed.

4. Don’t turn on any bright lights, screens, or sounds. 

My goal at night is to convince my body and my baby’s body that it’s night time, time to sleep. I keep things dark and quiet. I cuddle and handle the baby tenderly, but I don’t talk to the baby.

I don’t use my phone, I don’t watch TV or listen to anything while I’m night feeding. (When I night fed Baby #4, I read on my iPad or phone, but learned that it was a major contributor to my anxiety and PPD. As it turns out, sleep studies have discovered that breastfeeding mothers suffer from insomnia and unhealthy sleep when they use screens at night. Apparently, the stimulation turns our brain on and inhibits us from falling back into deep sleep even when we do get back to bed.)

So, join me in just rocking quietly. We don’t have to be productive or entertained all of the time. Let’s give ourselves a break and enjoy the sweet peace of the night. If I’m lucid enough, I will enjoy the time in prayer, otherwise, I just rest quietly in the darkened nursery.

5. I aim to follow these steps for every  night feeding:

  • If necessary, use the bathroom and fill water bottle first.
  • Then, un-swaddle baby, leaving the swaddle blanket laid out in the crib for an easy re-swaddle.
  • Nurse baby on one side, burping baby when necessary.
  • Change baby’s diaper.
  • Re-swaddle baby.
  • Nurse baby on the other side, burping baby when necessary.
  • Baby falls asleep while nursing.
  • Lay baby on her back in the crib.
  • Return to bed immediately. Savor the sleep… zzzz….

6. Get the most out of each feeding… even if baby falls asleep before he’s done.

Try not to skimp on a feeding.

It is SO tough to make sure baby gets a full feeding when baby falls asleep and I am deliriously tired. Whenever I’m tempted to lay baby down prematurely and return to my own warm bed, I remind myself that I’d rather work hard to get in a full feeding now and earn a three-hour stretch of sleep than enjoy the instant gratification of returning to bed now only to be woken up in 30 minutes by a hungry baby.

I’ve learned that if I need to rouse a baby who is already changed and re-swaddled, I just need to lay her in her crib and sit in the rocking chair for a few minutes. Sure enough, she starts to move and root for her next feeding. I pick her back up and finish feeding her.

If you’re ever tempted to shorten a night feeding, I hope you hear me cheering you on to get the full feeding in! I know you’re exhausted and your bed is so so comfy-cozy, but if you complete the feeding, you’ll LOVE that three or four (or five!) hours of sleep that are coming your way.

7. Remember: things change dramatically at three months.

During the early newborn days, I have to remind myself often that SO much changes when a baby turns three months old. Typically, everything gets much, much easier: nursing, sleeping, playing, everything. By remembering that the most challenging days of breastfeeding and sleep-deprivation are numbered, I feel encouraged to serve God – and my baby – gladly, in this season.

P.S. While I have you… be sure to read my post about postpartum health. You are loved and worth the care.

P.P.S. Please check with your doctor before listening to anything I say here. I’m not a pediatrician. I’m just a mama who is sharing what works for her. 🙂

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