Pssssst. Wanna know a secret? A secret that involves your baby and why they won’t sleep through the night?
Thought you might. Do you want the good news or the bad news?
Bad news first? Better to get it out of the way. The reason your baby won’t sleep through the night? It’s because you refused to purchase that $2000 self-rocking cradle that came with inbuilt white noise and magical sleep dust gathered from the tail of a unicorn #badmum
Nah, we’re messing with ya. It’s because babies, well, they just aren’t biologically made to sleep through the night. The good news? Your baby, whether they wake once or 12 times is not just being a douche. They’re actually completely normal. We guarantee that you won’t be the only mum at mum’s group clutching a jumbo latte and doughnut, rocking a slightly skewed topknot and tearing up over memories of eight hours sleep.
Tiny tummies = Frequent feeds
See that cherry down there? That’s the size of your newborn’s tummy. Teeny, tiny with the capacity of less than two teaspoons. Even after a month, the average infant only has a belly the size of a large egg. Add to that a completely liquid, fast absorbing diet and rapid growth and you can see why your average newborn wants to feed every couple of hours, day and night.
Breastfeeding mamas with a bub permanently attached to the boob often worry about milk supply. While supply issues can be a problem for some women, it’s much more likely that your baby is doing exactly what nature intended. Breastmilk absorbs super fast, in less than two hours, meaning that even after a full feed, your baby is well within their rights to be hungry again a couple of hours later. Clever, science-y people think that this set-up is designed to both establish a strong, long term milk supply for mum while allowing baby to consume plenty of calories for sustained growth. And switching to a bottle doesn’t always help – the study found formula fed babies wake too!
Night Waking and SIDS
Alongside the need to feed, babies, whether breast or formula fed, really like hanging out with their mums. It is now thought that this desire to be close to mum during the night is a protective factor. Recent research has discovered that night waking can actually protect against SIDS.
SIDS or Sudden Infant Death Syndrome occurs when a baby is unable to control their breathing automatically during sleep or to wake from sleep in response to a breathing problem.
Babies, up until around three months of age, have a very immature breathing mechanism. If you’ve watched your newborn snooze, you’ve probably noticed an irregular pattern to their breathing and perhaps even periods when he or she doesn’t seem to be breathing at all. This is referred to as ‘periodic breathing’ and is a completely normal behaviour that babies eventually grow out of. Usually, an infant’s automatic start mechanism will kick in or baby will wake and breathing will return to normal. Problems arise when the episodes of not breathing (referred to as apneas), are prolonged and a baby struggles to kick start a normal pattern.
Studies have shown that SIDS infants generally wake less at night. This has led researchers to believe that stirring from sleep may actually help infants to start breathing again while also resetting the deep/quiet sleep – active/REM sleep cycle. Active or REM sleep has been shown to stimulate breathing and heart rate which is why it is sometimes referred to as ‘protective’ sleep. The peak risk period for SIDS in between two and three months of age, a time when there is a rapid decrease in active sleep.
In summary? Human babies are hardwired to wake to help keep them safe!
Surviving sleep deprivation
Knowing all of the above doesn’t make coping with so little sleep that you actually google ‘can sleep deprivation be lethal?’ any easier. It does however help us to understand the reasoning behind it and focus on the bigger picture.
All babies will eventually sleep through the night. In the meantime, we’ve shared our favourite strategies for coping with a lack of sleep.
For more information about safe sleeping and SIDS visit Red Nose.