These steps can increase your baby’s daytime eating and nighttime sleeping as he reaches the end of the fourth trimester:
Wake him for a feeding if he naps for more than four hours.
Feed him in a quiet room so he doesn’t get distracted and refuse to eat.
Give him “cluster feedings” (several meals given every two hours in the late afternoon and early evening to load him up with calories).
“Top off the tank” by waking him for a midnight feeding.
One thing that will not help your baby sleep better is feeding him rice cereal at bedtime. While it is true that some nighttime formula can help a breast-fed baby sleep longer, repeated scientific studies have proved that rice cereal does not prolong a baby’s sleep. And why should it? From a nutritional point of view, it makes no sense that four to six ounces of milk (with all its fat and protein) would leave a baby hungry but a few spoons of rice starch would keep him satisfied all night.
If you have any doubts at all that your infant is getting enough to eat, ask your doctor to weigh him to make sure that he’s thriving.
Hold and Rock Your Baby During the Day
Parents are often told to keep their baby awake during the day in the hope of getting him tired and making him want to sleep longer at night. Although this sounds logical, keeping a tired baby awake often makes him miserable, overtired, and thus worsens his sleep at night. In fact, not only should you let your newborn sleep during the day but you should give him motion while he naps (in a swing, a bouncy chair, or on you in a baby sling). In my experience, babies who are carried (“fed” with nourishing touch and motion) throughout the day are often calmer (less “hungry” for that stimulation) at night.
Turn the Lights Down
Reducing the lights in your house as evening comes also gives your baby the signal it’s time for sleep. Low lights quiet a baby’s nervous system and prepare him to relax. Many hospital nurseries have an evening routine of dimming the lights and covering the incubators of premature babies to block the light and help them get into their parents’ day/night rhythm.
Mabel, the mother of four daughters, piqued my curiosity when she mentioned that her pet theory about the cause of colic was electricity! She said, “I noticed my kids are more stimulated and have a harder time falling asleep when we keep the house well lit in the evening. I think the artificially long ‘daytime’ we create with electric lights tricks them into believing it’s still time to play. Our kids consistently sleep better when we dim the lights at night or use candles.”
Room Sharing: “I Just Got Evicted … Can I Sleep at Your Place?”
Thou shalt sleep with thy fathers.
Since mankind’s earliest days, parents and babies have slept right by each other for mutual protection, warmth, and to make nighttime feedings convenient. Japanese parents traditionally sleep with their baby between them, safe as a valley protected by two great mountain ranges. They don’t question whether a mother and infant should be together all night; they consider themselves to be two parts of one person and therefore they should be separated as little as possible. Mayan families are very social and for them the shared bed is a time to be together. These parents believe making their baby sleep alone is an unfair hardship.
As recently as the late 1800’s, American children usually slept in bed with their parents. However, at the start of the twentieth century, U.S. parents were encouraged to stop sharing the bed. They were warned it might spread illness, spoil children, or cause them to suffocate. So we moved our babies to their own cribs, and eventually to their own rooms. Today, Americans see our children’s sleep as a time for them to begin learning about privacy and self-reliance. And some view sharing the bedroom as a parental sacrifice or flirting with an unhealthy habit.
But the resistance to room sharing is finally changing as evidence mounts that it’s actually good for babies.
The research on room sharing shows that not only is it a convenience for feeding your baby (you don’t have to get out of your bed and toddle down a cold hallway), but it is also safer. Studies show that during the first four to six months, just having your baby in a bassinet next to your bed reduces the risk of SIDS.
As breast-feeding continues its rise in popularity, nursing mothers appreciate the cozy convenience of having their baby nearby. Furthermore, non-European immigrants to the United States have introduced a potpourri of cultural traditions—most of which encourage the intimacy of room sharing.
Room sharing doesn’t always fit the needs and lifestyles of contemporary parents. One mother in my practice said, “My husband just can’t sleep well with our four-week-old in the room.” However, many parents find they sleep more peacefully knowing their baby is right next to their bed. And the white noise from the womb sound CD often helps parents fall back to sleep faster after they give the baby a feeding.
Sleeping right next to your baby is a natural continuation of the womb experience. It provides him the reassuring sound of your breathing and scent, and it helps mold his breathing and sleep pattern. Additionally, after the rigors of pregnancy it’s an abrupt change for you to be far away from your infant, connected by only an intercom. One mother who worked long hours shared, “Sleeping with my baby in a co-sleeper next to me lets me make up some time I couldn’t spend with her during the day.”
Enjoy this sweet, fleeting opportunity of intimacy. If you plan to eventually move your baby out of your bedroom, it’s easiest to do so by five to six months of age, before he gets used to this bedtime routine. You can still end room sharing after that time, but in general, the longer you wait the tougher it is for your baby to make the switch.