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Baby’s “Days and Nights Mixed-Up”

Monday, February 15, 2021

My newborn baby sleeps all day and won’t sleep at night. I am exhausted. What can I do?

Having a new baby requires many adjustments. Sleep deprivation is one of the most difficult.

While every now and then we see a newborn that sleeps longer stretches at night, the majority of babies are awake and feeding often, seeming to have their days and nights mixed up!

Newborns can seem to have their days and nights mixed up.

Why newborns wake more often at night:

  • New babies don’t understand the difference between night and day. They will need time to learn. According to Dr. Amy Brown, “Research suggests that it is not until around two months that a baby’s natural day and night circadian rhythm kicks in. Until that point, the concept of sleeping for an extended period of time is not something that babies are physiologically designed to do – and even then it can take a while to get into the habit”.
  • Background noise in the daytime may lull baby to sleep. The quiet of nighttime may feel foreign. A newborn is used to the sounds of your womb, your heart beating, your bowels gurgling as well as muffled sounds from the outside world.
  • Newborn tummies are tiny; they need to breastfeed often to feed their growing brain. It is not unusual for babies to feed 8, 10, 12, 14 (or more!) times in 24 hours. You can see why night feeds are important in order to obtain enough nutrition! Read more here.
  • Frequent night waking prevents babies from entering deep sleep. According to infant sleep researcher, Dr. James McKenna, this lowers their risk of SIDS.

How to to ease your baby into a more adult friendly sleeping pattern:

  • Wake baby frequently for feeds during the day. Newborns breastfeed at least 8 or 10 times in a 24-hour period. Sleeping for long stretches during the day inevitably means more frequent feeding at night. Try waking your baby to feed at least every 2 or 3 hours during the day.
  • Keep the lights on and the shades open during the day. The light patterns that affect adult sleep may also affect babies. Open your curtains during the day; leave the lights on. At night, keep the lights low. Try to feed and do diaper changes with only a night-light.
  • Interact during the day but be “boring” at night. Talk, sing, and play with your baby throughout the day. At night, try to be calm, quiet and “boring”. Speak softly, in soothing tones, while you change, feed and burp.
  • Start a bedtime routine. A bedtime routine can help your baby to know it’s time for sleep. You could include a bath, a bedtime story, a massage or lullaby music.
  • Do not limit daytime noise. Don’t worry about the doorbell. Leave the television on. Play music. At night, keep noise levels low. “White noise” may be soothing, reminding your baby of the womb. You could try a fan (not blowing on your baby) or quiet radio static.

Caution:

Some parents try to keep their baby awake during the day in the hope they will sleep at night. This may have the opposite effect as baby may become over stimulated. An over stimulated baby will be fussier throughout the day, as well as during the night.

This period of mixed up days and nights won’t last forever. We promise! Every baby is different. Be patient as yours adjusts to life in the outside world.


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References:

1.“Breastfeeding, Starting out Right.” International BreastFeeding Centre, 2017, https://ibconline.ca/information-sheets/breastfeeding-starting-out-right/

2. Brown, A., & Harries, V. (2015). Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: Association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight. Breastfeeding Medicine, 10(5), 246‐252.

3. “Importance of Responsive Feeding • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 27 Mar. 2018, https://kellymom.com/ages/newborn/bf-basics/importance-responsive-feeding/  

4. Kent, J. C., Mitoulas, L. R., Cregan, M. D., Ramsay, D. T., Doherty, D. A., & Hartmann, P. E. (2006). Volume and frequency of breastfeedings and fat content of breast milk throughout the day. Pediatrics, 117(3), e387‐e395.

5.“Reverse Cycling • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 2 Jan. 2018, https://kellymom.com/bf/normal/reverse-cycling/

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