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Baby's Second Night (dun, dun, dunnnn)

As a Mother/Baby (postpartum) Nurse working overnight in the hospital, I have had countless calls from parents of newborns during their second night of life thinking there is something wrong with their baby. Their baby who was content and slept all day yesterday is now awake all night, fussy, can't be put down and has been acting hungry all night. The reaction I get from first-time breastfeeding parents is usually concern that their baby is obviously hungry and they must not have any milk!

 

I try to catch these concerns BEFORE I get these calls, by telling them during the first night that they may not see this sleepy baby tomorrow or if it is their second night already, having a conversation on what we might expect from baby tonight. New parents don't always get the warning and then I get panicked parents thinking they are doing something wrong, or something must be wrong with the baby, because they were NOT like this yesterday!


Slow down, full stop. This is all very NORMAL and EXPECTED. Every now and then I see a baby that doesn't go through this and I will tell you that they are the exception. Most often we see a sleepy baby for the first 24 hours or so and then on the second night they are waking up mad, confused, scared, and YOU ARE THEIR SAFE PLACE.


 

What is Second Night Syndrome?


I don’t love this term, but it does help define that there is usually a difference in the second night. Parents usually see a behavior shift in their newborn during their second night of life, often increased fussiness, wakefulness, clinginess and wanting to cluster feed. The first 24 hours after birth, newborns are usually very sleepy! Birthdays are hard! Labor and birth takes a big energetic toll on baby. By the time the second night rolls around they usually start waking up and wondering "where am I?!"

Clinginess:

Baby starts to realize they are no longer in the womb. Their world has abruptly and completely changed, with none of the comforts they are used to. Their new world is bright, loud, cold and full of all kinds of new stimulation. Your voice, heartbeat and warmth remind them of the home they are used to in the womb, of course they want to be held and don't want to be put down in a bassinet alone!

Fussiness:

They are easily overstimulated in their new environment full of new sights, sounds and feelings. They have probably been in the hands of countless new people running tests, feeding, assessing and just cuddling. Not to mention, now there is work to do! They have to work for food, breathe, cry for their needs, have all of this space to move their body, it is tiring! Especially to be figuring out all of these things at once that they have never done before. With this perspective, it is perfectly understandable that your new baby is upset after a long day of unfamiliar stimulation.

Cluster Feeding:

There are several reasons that cluster feeding occurs during the second night and it is usually never because baby is starving, as parents are often worried about.

  • The Sucking Reflex is one of the 7 natural reflexes that babies have. Sucking can be nutritive, meaning they are sucking for food or non-nutritive, meaning they are sucking for comfort. When babies suck, it actually reduces stress hormones in their bodies and relaxes them, it can even decrease their pain response. In the case of the second night, they can be cluster feeding to soothe and comfort.

  • The breast is an innately comforting place for baby. Even babies who are not breastfed feel comforted from being placed skin-to-skin on the mother's chest. At the breast, baby hears your heartbeat, feels your warmth and smells you, all thigs that remind them of being in the womb!

  • Although cluster feeding can be tiring, it is doing an important job! Breast milk production runs on supply and demand, and your baby knows that. Babies nurse frequently because their bellies are very small, breastmilk is quickly digested and because milk must be removed to produce more milk!

Of course, eventually you need rest too, and cannot cluster feed baby all night. If baby has been having long feedings and keeps drifting off to where they are obviously content and nursing for comfort and you are ready to get yourself some rest, by all means do that! Give baby their time to cluster feed and comfort nurse, but don't feel guilty taking care of yourself and passing baby to another caregiver to hold or swaddle and lay down for everyone to get some rest.


What can you do?

Feed:

Let baby have periods of cluster feeding, it will help them de-stress and feel comforted against your body. If you are formula feeding, you can still hold baby close to your chest where they can hear your heartbeat, feel your warmth and smell you.

Hold:

Hold baby when you can so they feel safe and comfortable. Skin-to-skin does miracles for decreasing BOTH of your stress hormones!

Swaddle:

When you are ready to put baby down, swaddling imitates the snug, warm feeling of the womb & your arms.

Minimize Stimulation:

Keep visitors to a minimum, being passed around to new voices and smells can be overwhelming to a newborn who is still adjusting to life outside the womb.

Relax:

This is the most important, but probably the hardest one! Try to remind yourself that this is normal, expected behavior and it will pass! Take breaks and get help when you need it.




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