Sleepless nights with a newborn

Annie's first day home

Annie's first day home by Trish Unruh

I just saw my latest happy, but tired mom of a newborn. I work with the Supplemental food program for women, infants, and children, commonly known as WIC. Whenever I see a new mom it brings back memories of my own sleepless nights, even though my kids are now 20 and 21 years old. I can still remember feeling my labor beginning while I was at the playground with my son. I kept wishing for one more night or a week of sleep before my daughter arrived.

My son never seemed to sleep, so it was tough for me to fall asleep in those early weeks. I hated just falling asleep and having him wake me up 15 minutes after I laid him down. In desperation, I put a heating pad on his bed to see if it was the cold mattress that was waking him up. The heating pad didn't help. I was breastfeeding by the book so I sat upright in a chair using the various nursing positions I had been taught, never getting a wink of sleep.

I might have gotten a little more sleep if I had known then, what I know now from my work with the parents of newborns in WIC and from our WIC breastfeeding peer counselors:

  • Waking up 3-4 times a night is normal for newborns during the first six weeks. All the dreaming they do during their light or active sleep cycles is helping their brains develop.
  • Holding your baby an extra 20 minutes until they are totally relaxed will help both of you sleep longer. When you lay a baby down while he is still in the active sleep/dreaming phase, he wakes up easily.
  • Newborns love to be held skin to skin. Compared to babies who are swaddled or in a crib, babies held skin to skin are warmer, calmer, and cry less. Babies can lay on their mom or dad's chest with just their diaper. You can pull a blanket up or use a robe or hoodie to keep you both cozy and warm.
  • Try the laid back nursing position. (See photo below). For our breastfeeding mom we have found this position helps them relax and get some sleep. Also newborns have natural instincts that help with nursing. In the laid back position, they are able to move and help with getting a good latch.

Great resources for support and information on newborn sleep and crying are: Secrets of Baby Behavior and the BIBS support group.

Trish Unruh Nutritionist with the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department

Laid back breastfeeding

Laid back breastfeeding by Trish Unruh

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