Sleeping with baby

Sleeping with baby

In the first few weeks of a baby’s life, many parents find it easier and beneficial to have their baby close by during both day and night for ease of feeding and caring. 

When your baby is first born, it has zero understanding of spatial awareness, time of day or location.

Your baby has just spent the best part of 9 months in a warm, moist uterus with constant access to food/hydration, being rocked to sleep for a large majority of the time and constant low level noise.  When born, your baby has no idea how to cope with her new surroundings and environment.  The only way it knows to communicate is to cry/bellow/scream – and when she does this, knows she will be attended to, cuddled or fed.

All newborns seem to have their days and nights around the opposite way to what their parents expect.  They do not have a circadian rhythm like adults, they are more restful during the daylight hours and more wakeful during the night hours.  This is normal and there are a few reasons for this.  During the pregnancy, whilst you are upright and mobile, you rock your baby to sleep.  At night-time, when you lay down to sleep and relax your muscles, your baby wakes up and is much more mobile – hence, they continue with this pattern once they are born. 

Your lactation hormone, prolactin, is in its greatest concentration at night-time and early morning.  Your baby needs to feed regularly, especially in the first six weeks, at least every 2-3 hours day and night as it is vital to maintain your milk supply.  Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for milk removal and the “let-down reflex”.  As many of you will know, Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” or the “feel good hormone”.   Both you and your baby will benefit from this release of Oxytocin, with every feed it will help you both to feel nice and relaxed and it will help you get back to sleep more quickly and deeply.

There are particular molecules in breast milk which are optimised to help newborns sleep at night.

A hormone, called leptin, that suppresses appetite is highest in breast milk around midnight. Melatonin and histidine are highest in the middle of the night breast milk. Histidine is an amino acid, but it is also a precursor to histamine. Both melatonin and histamine promote sleepiness. Tryptophan, the amino acid needed to synthesise melatonin, is also highest at night. Finding leptin, tryptophan, melatonin, and histidine as highest in night-time breast milk suggests that breastfed babies receive signals that minimise hunger and help them sleep.  In fact, researchers have found night-time melatonin levels up to 5 times higher than day-time levels (Katzer, D. et al, 2016).

Some women may choose to co-sleep with their baby because they find it easier to breastfeed frequently during the night without getting too disturbed and awake by getting up out of bed to attend to their baby. 

The SIDS foundation recommends having your baby close by, but in their own bed.

Providing you do not smoke, do not use dangerous drugs, do not drink alcohol, DO breastfeed and your partner does not smoke, drink or use drugs – you may find co-sleeping works for you.

Dr Helen Hall, a researcher from the UK, has been involved in research over the last few years on safe sleep, sleep patterns of babies versus adults and preferred sleep arrangements of families in the UK.

She has found babies sleep very differently from their parents: they don’t sleep exclusively at night, they don’t sleep all night, they fall asleep differently, have shorter sleep cycles and experience much more REM (Ball, H. L. 2014).

Whilst every baby is different, even babies within the same family, most newborns require around 20 hours of sleep per day and they will sleep in 2-3 hour bouts.  With a sleep cycle of around 45-60 minutes, most newborns will stir and begin to wake but may be encouraged to go back to sleep for a second sleep cycle with some comfort, rocking, music or white noise. 

Whatever strategies you choose to try and cope with the night-time with your baby, know your baby will not be like this forever!  Your baby will mature, it will start to stretch out feed times at night, it will take less and less time to feed and settle, it will start to learn the difference between day and night and you will start to feel more and more like yourself as time goes by. 

Try to be patient, with both yourself and your baby, be kind to yourself and allow yourself to rest during the day.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help from family and friends with other things around the house so you can just focus on the baby, turn your phone off, minimise screen time, eat well and often, keep your fluids up and get to bed early – especially in the early weeks.

Take care and please ask if you need more guidance and help.

Pen x

Ball, H. L. (2006). Parent-infant bed-sharing behavior. Human Nature, 17(3), 301–318. Retrieved from

Katzer, D. Pauli, L. Mueller, A. et al. (2016). Melatonin Concentrations and Antioxidative Capacity of Human Breast Milk According to Gestational Age and the Time of Day. Journal of Human Lactation.

Image source: Rob Mank Photography, via Baby Sleep Information Source

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