Knowing when it’s a wake-up call


It’s the middle of the night. Your newborn baby had a good feeding and fell peacefully to sleep. Then, only 35 minutes later, she’s squirming and fidgeting; her eyes are opening and closing; she even lets out a cry, which confirms to you that she’s waking up.

Don’t be fooled. She’s still asleep, but in active sleep.

Babies, like adults, have two kinds of sleep – still, deep sleep and active, REM sleep. In still sleep your baby looks really asleep. Her body is still; her eyes stay shut. She breathes deeply and is quiet. Active sleep, however, looks like your baby is waking up. She wiggles, startles, pants, vocalizes and even cries out.

It’s easy to understand how an exhausted new mother can misread her infant’s behavior and, rather than allowing the baby to fall back into deep sleep, end up feeding again, and may even assume she’s not producing enough milk for her baby.

Or, in an almost opposite scenario, a mother tries over and over to get her sleepy baby to nurse as it’s been almost three hours since the last feeding. However, she initiates the feed while her baby is in deep sleep, so the effort proves to be futile, as well as frustrating, for the new mother.

Recognizing the difference between active sleep, deep sleep and a baby’s readiness to eat will help a new parent establish healthy sleep and feeding habits from the start. Allowing baby to resettle — maybe with some subtle help like pressure on the torso or shushing — after moving through the active sleep phase helps babies establish healthy sleep associations instead of becoming dependent on sleep crutches to get back to sleep.

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