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Your question:

Why does my baby wake frequently at night?

Expert’s answer:


Natural Habitat

When a baby is in contact with his natural habitat (his mother), the hormone, oxytocin, which is involved in bonding, milk ejection and even digestion, increases. Breastfeeding is a wonderful way of keeping your baby close while meeting their needs for food, warmth, comfort and love.

Night time waking helps establish breastfeeding

Prolactin levels, the milk making hormone, are higher at night in the early weeks and breastfeeding lots during the nighttime hours is not only normal but is necessary to establish a robust milk supply.

As breastmilk is easily digested, it ensures that baby wakes frequently and does not stay in a deep sleep for too long.

Sleep Cycles

A baby’s sleep cycles are very short and their ability to rouse themselves between sleep cycles is one of the factors that is protective of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDs).

As breastmilk is so easily digested, it ensures that baby wakes frequently and does not stay in a deep sleep for too long.

A baby’s sleep cycle is also very different to that of an adult’s sleep cycle. As adults, when we are ready to go to bed, we will perform our usual nighttime ritual – brushing our teeth, reading a book etc. Adults fall into a deep sleep cycle at first. In deep sleep there is no rapid eye movement and it can take some effort to wake a person up if they are in this deep sleep cycle.

Babies on the other hand, fall asleep first into an active sleep cycle. When your baby falls asleep at the breast, you may notice that their eyes roll or twitch underneath closed eyelids. Sometimes you may notice a smile or two or little, involuntary twitches of their facial muscles.

If we move baby into a sleeping area before they have transitioned into a deep sleep, they may be more likely to awaken. Try holding your little one for longer after a breastfeed before moving them. If you are unsure if your baby has drifted off into a deep sleep, you can try holding up their arm to check for any resistance. Once in a deep sleep, their arm should just flop easily.

A good resource for more information on sleep solutions for the breastfeed family is called ‘Sweet Sleep, Night time and Naptime Strategies for the breastfeeding family’ By Diane Wiessinger, Diana West, Linda J. smith and Teresa Pitman. This book is very often available to borrow from your local La Leche League Group or Cuidiu library.

Breastmilk Storage Capacity

How much breast milk a woman can store in her breasts varies from mother to mother and even from breast to breast within the same mother. How much breast milk a breast can store is known as the storage capacity – the maximum amount of milk available in your breasts during the day when your breasts are at their fullest. Breast storage capacity is not related to breast size but the amount of mammary tissue (milk making tissue) in the breasts.

A mother with a small storage capacity can make just as much milk in 24 hours as one with a large storage capacity but she will need to feed her baby much very frequently.

A mother will a larger storage capacity may find that her baby starts to stretch out their feeds and that she is not feeding as frequently as she had been in the early weeks. She may also notice that her baby starts to sleep for longer at night.



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