And this is why babies can wake at night...

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

Babies are born from a rainbow of dark to a changing world of day and night. In the womb they usually sleep when mum's are active, the rhythm of movement being relaxing and then active when they rest. It is therefore very unlikely that babies will sleep through the night from birth as they have a limited understanding of day and night. There are many ways you can improve a new-born’s understanding of this, we will explain how to use techniques involving sound, words, light and routine. Eventually they can begin to sleep longer and need feeding less during the night.

pregnant lady, antenatal classes
Life in the womb is very different to our world.

Our world now is full of artificial light and noise, so often it can feel like the day during the night. We need to be aware of the lights and entertainment that we use around a baby. Looking directly at a light, especially a blue/white one (similar to a phone screen), can stimulate a baby and delay them from drifting off to sleep. Whereas a baby in a darkened room will become sleepier. During the early evening before bedtime it is helpful to keep the TV and radio off, dim the lights and speak in calmer tones. During the summer this is trickier, but you can use blinds and close doors to create darker areas.

Once a baby is asleep at night it is also helpful to continue to respect their needs and keep any TV/washing machine/chatter noise as low as possible until they are in a deeper sleep. At a young age babies often sleep well in pitch-black at night, this can prevent early waking whilst teaching them that night time is dark and for sleeping. It can be helpful to go in their room before you place them down to sleep and look around, to check it is really dark. Keep the room as dark as you can, for as long as you want your baby to sleep. Even if they need a feed at 6.00 AM and you want them to sleep till 7 it helps to treat the feed like a night time feed.

feeding a baby at night, breastfeeding, antenatal classes
Keeping a darkened room is essential at night

During the night if you hear your baby rooting and showing signs of hunger it can be helpful to quickly feed them before they wake too much and start crying loudly as this can prevent them from returning to sleep quickly. If you do need to get your baby up for a feed it is essential to maintain the sleepy atmosphere. Use a very dim light directed away from your baby, just so you can see what you are doing. Unless they do a large poo, which may call for more light! As you pick them up, feed and change them it is important not to talk and to try to avoid direct eye contact as this will also stimulate them. Sleeping bags are useful for safety reasons but may be best avoided at night if they include a loud zip which can disturb a sleepy baby. Blankets when used in accordance with safety guidelines can be quite reassuring for babies, when tucked in closely the pressure on their chest can imitate the feeling of being in a womb and help a baby drift off to sleep.

During the day it is essential to do the opposite. Keep all areas bright and don’t be afraid to have the radio on, do washing, cooking and complete general chores which are noisy. Although any loud and harsh noises during the day can wake a sleeping baby so are best avoided, good daily naps pave the way for good night time sleep. Learn the amount of naps best suited to your babies age and give your baby the opportunity to get that sleep. If you’re struggling to get your baby to sleep read

my blog on rocking a baby to sleep.

baby asleep in the day, mum and baby, antenatal classes
Daytime should be brighter and louder than night.,

When you pick your baby up for feeds or changing in the day it is useful to keep talking the whole time. Language learning is a slow process which starts from birth. It is valuable to narrate what you are doing to your baby and describe the day so that they can become familiar with key words. Try to avoid abstract talk and discussing things which have happened in the past or the future. This narrative is also good for keeping your baby content as they begin to get an idea of what is going to happen. E.g. ‘I am going to pick you up now… I am going to put your vest on’. This can be soothing for them as they begin to understand the general idea of what is going on.

During the day you can wake your baby for feeds, this is essential for them learning the difference between day and night. If they are left to sleep for long periods during the day they can begin to think that day time is for sleep and that night time is for comfort and being awake. Learn the advised length of time between feeds for your baby at their age (all covered during my antenatal courses) and wake them up when you need to. In this way they will fill up on milk during the day and therefore are less likely to wake up at night. However, if they need feeding before the allotted time it is best to respond to their needs as they may be going through a growth spurt. For more advice on feeding routines look out for future blogs.

night lights, baby sleeping through the night
Night lights can help older babies feel more comfortable about sleeping alone at night.

You may find that when your baby reaches 3-4 months and their sleep patterns change they might need a slightly darker and quieter room to sleep in during the day in order to keep their naps. Also at some age children can become afraid of the dark or prefer a small amount of light so they know where they are or find their comforter if it is thrown to one side of their cot. Therefore, it can be useful to have a very dim night light, preferably a soothing red/orange colour for a baby aged around 10-12+ months on at night, whilst keeping everything else dark. If you only use this light at night they will preserve their understanding of day and night and keep sleeping until you want them to wake up.

So to recap, a feeding routine which responds to the needs of your baby is the key to them learning the difference between day and night. Used in sync with the appropriate amount of sleep, awake and stimulus time in the day followed by no talking, eye contact or stimulus at night your baby should soon be sleeping through the night.

Swaddling To Toddling Antenatal Course

Enjoy a course at Swaddling To Toddling to find out more about baby's sleep and practise effective strategies for putting a baby down to sleep. Find out how to use a routine which responds to your baby's need whilst promoting healthy and independent sleep patterns for baby. Book online now to feel confident in your pregnancy and throughout the first few years with your new family.

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