The first night that Ray was born, he was kept in my hospital suite so I could bond with him and breastfeed him. I was very glad and happy that this was the arrangement at NUH, as I felt it was my duty and responsibility as Ray’s mom to have him spend as much time with Pips and I. I couldn’t be so cruel as to leave him in some stranger’s care so quickly after he has said hello to this world. How heartless of me, I thought.
That night, Pips and I hardly slept a wink. That decision to keep the lil rascal who couldn’t differentiate his day and night with me the whole night was sheer bravado, labour-induced responsibility and naivety. 48 hours of awake time after what seemed like the equivalent of doing a full Ironman Race without training was enough to send one into delirium.
Between feeding him constantly and trying to get him to sleep when he wasn’t feeding, Pips and I were both exhausted. Clearly, the greatness of maternal love is not going to fuel my dropping eyelids and keep them open and wide for another 24hours.
The next night, I went against my initial nurturing mother mode and beeped the nursery for help. Please take my baby and keep him in the nursery, I begged. Bring him back only when it’s time to feed him.
It seems abit horrible to admit this, but that call was the second best decision that I made with regard to labour and post delivery. The best decision I made was to opt for epidural hahah. The 3 hours that Pips and I slept before the nurses wheeled Ray back in for his next feeding felt like sweet, sweet nectar. I was so overwhelmed with the joy of having that 3 hours of sleep that I almost shed tears of happiness. Whatever guilt I had of sending my newborn son to the nursery flew out the window, as I grimly realised that the days and weeknights ahead is gonna be a tough tough journey of numerous night wakings.
Boy was I right on the money. When people say that babies mix up their days and nights, or that days and nights don’t exist in babyworld, they are absolutely right. Ray would feed at like 12am for example, sleep for 15 minutes, then wake up and wouldn’t sleep. He might do a big poop, or have a hiccup, and that all interferes with night sleeping.
I lived Ray’s first 3 weeks of life where light and darkness bore no meaning to me. The best thing I did for myself during this time was to nap when he napped, be it day or night. So please, new moms, please sleep without guilt. It does both you and baby a world of good, I promise.
Eventually though, I decided that this was not working, and I went to read up on newborn sleep and realised that I did a number of things wrong. When I effected those changes, Ray started to sort out his days and nights in a matter of days, and he started to sleep for long stretches of hours at night. It was so successful that I had to set my alarm to wake myself up, so that I don’t miss feeding him at night. And he slept wonderfully all the way until he was 3months old, when I was preparing to head back to work, and had to bottlefeed him, which is an entire story and lesson learnt that is to be shared another day.
For now, I’ll share the few changes I adopted in the first weeks of Ray’s life that has given me much more restful nights. Remember though, every baby is different, so it may not work for you, but it worked magic for me!
THINGS TO DO THAT HELP NEWBORNS DIFFERENTIATE DAY AND NIGHT
- BREASTFEED: The circadian rhythm of tryptophan in breastmilk helps to regulate sleep in babies. It is known that breastfed babies have better sleep patterns, but this only applies to direct latching as the hormones and chemicals present in breastmilk varies in composition depending on the time. If you pump and give freshly expressed milk to your baby straight during each feeding, this will also help your baby’s circadian rhythm to develop too
- DIRECT LATCHING/NURSE TO SLEEP: For a newborn with limited activity, there is nothing that sends them to sleep faster than latching on and exercising via those mouth sucking actions. Nursing Ray to sleep has always been a surefire method to get him to sleep
- Swaddling: Prior to having a baby, I never believed in swaddling due to the many cases that mention hip dysplasia as a possible resulting effect of swaddling. However, due to the moro reflex, I found that Ray would constantly wake himself up with his flailing arms and legs, so I swaddled him with a white muslin cloth, taking care not to swaddle him too tightly till it restricts total movement. At the newborn stage, their strength is laughable, so the purpose of swaddling is just to stop the flailing, and keep them feeling snuggled, so don’t wrap them up too tightly till it restricts bloodflow or whatever
- COMBINATION OF NURSING PILLOW, SWADDLING and LATCHING TO SLEEP: I would first swaddle Ray, place him on the nursing pillow and nurse him to bed. When he is asleep, I’ll transfer him to his cot.
- LIGHT DURING DAY, LIGHTS OUT DURING NIGHT: This is one the great tip that helped him to differentiate day and night. A mistake that I committed during the first 3 weeks was to switch on the lights when he stirred at night to tend to him, to feed him, or to change his diapers. Switching on the lights stimulates the baby and sends signals to his brain that it’s activity time. So keep the lights out at night. After switching to using a night light to nurse/change diapers during the night, the lack of stimulation enabled him to continue sleeping. Perfecto!
- DO NOT TALK TO THE BABY: This was another elementary and big mistake that a lot of new parents make. When we are forced to wake up because our baby has woken up for whatever reason, be it a poop, or wanting to nurse, we would then engage our baby by talking to him, singing to him or looking at our baby (after switching on the lights). DO NOT DO THIS! I know you love your baby loads, but leave the loving for the day if you cherish your sleep! You’ll soon realise that one mistake committed leads to another, and the moment you cut them out, you’ll stop being caught in this newborn sucky sleep cycle. For example, in the past, whenever Ray woke up to feed at night, I will switch on the lights to adjust him, and to nurse him. After nursing, I will then try to swaddle him, but during this time, the movement and the lights may cause him to awaken. When he awakens, his body is in the alert mode, and he may then poop. Which means I got to change his diapers which will fully wake him up cuz changing diapers take time. Because he has just nursed, he wouldnt take the boob and so will be awake for many minutes in the middle of the night. I then talk to him, engaging him in activity. It’s a vicious cycle that destroys a mom’s sleep haha. However, the moment I switch to the new method, without sending stimulating signals to his brain by switching on the lights or talking to him, he can continue to sleep through whatever disruptions that surface in the form of poop, feeding etc. When he stirs for feeding, you can even dreamfeed by feeding him before he fully awakens, so that he is satiated and continues to sleep.
- HICCUPS: Hiccups occur frequently in newborns due to their immature internal organs. Im sure you could feel your little one’s hiccups before they were born. When Ray hiccuped in the middle of the night in the past, he couldn’t sleep because his hiccups prevented him from doing so, which also stopped me from plonking on my bed and drooling all over my pillow hahha. So I discovered a nifty trick that gets his hiccups to disappear. ALL THE TIME. Feed him. I am not sure if bottle feeding works, but whenever he has hiccups, I will direct latch him. The sucking motions help with something to do with the diaphragm, I think (I dont really care as long as it works, which it does, all the time!)
- DONT BURP: Now, this advice is somewhat tricky in the sense that you’re taking a risk. The baby may have gas if you don’t burp him, which may result in spit up or baby wakings due to trapped air pockets in the tummy which discomforts the baby. Most of the time, I don’t burp Ray cause in my quest to burp the air outta him, I wake him right up. Instead, after a feed, I will gently put him back in his cot. I find that DL babies often do not get gas in anyway, unlike bottlefeeding where baby can take in a lot of air.
Okies, so the above are my secrets to getting the newborn to sleep at night like a champ. Worked beautifully for me, and Point no 5 and 6 really held the pivotal key to getting newborn Ray to sleep at night. Try it, and see if the above tips work for your baby, cuz it did the job for me. Now, excuse me while I search for a new way to helping the distractible older baby to sleep through the night (defined as a stretch of 6h!)
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