I'm hungry and I can't wake up!
June 18, 2010 2:26 PM   Subscribe

How long is too long for a breastfed baby to sleep at night?

So, our 11 day old had classic growth spurt behavior yesterday - eating every hour or so, never really settling down to sleep, being very alert and fussy. Thanks to the Moby wrap, we finally got her to calm down in the evening, and after a nice long meal she settled in and slept for almost seven hours! (not in the wrap)

Now, I've heard that you shouldn't wake up a baby in a growth spurt, but have also heard that breastfed newborns need to be woken up to eat every 4 hours or they won't get enough. Which is it? YANMP and all that - I'm just wondering if her body would actually let her sleep through true hunger.

I'm posting this question anonymously because we are in the process of adopting our daughter and need to maintain radio silence until things are finalized. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (22 answers total)
Babies are a lot less complicated than books would lead you to believe. Your baby won't starve in it's sleep! I breastfed my daughter exclusively, and I fed her when she was hungry and let her sleep when she was tired, and she turned out just fine. (She's nearly 30 now.) She was always way ahead of the growth charts, so she definitely wasn't going hungry. If your baby is hungry, she will wake up. Trust me, she will wake up and she will make sure you're awake, too!

The best thing you can do for your baby, and for yourself, is to relax and not be nervous! People raised babies for millions of years without guidebooks and rules and mothering classes and all that, and somehow the human race managed to survive!

Congratulations! And I hope everything goes smoothly with your adoption!
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:36 PM on June 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

The kid will certainly wake up when it's hungary - let the tyke sleep. I've known kids who's doc's required them to be feed on a particular schedule - but that is a different scenario. (note this is the first bit of parental advice I have ever provided...it feels a little weird).

Good luck with the adoption - I know it is a bit of a process.
posted by zenon at 2:37 PM on June 18, 2010

Healthy, full-term baby? Let her sleep.

FWIW, from weeks 2-11, my daughter slept her age in weeks at least once. The 7hr stretch at 7 weeks was a surprise, 11hrs a shock. And then it didn't happen again for a couple of years. All good...

If you are changing plenty of diapers (Dr Jack Newman's 'Is my baby getting enough milk?' is the reference) don't worry about it at all.
posted by kmennie at 2:37 PM on June 18, 2010

Babies are a lot less complicated than books would lead you to believe.

I want to embroider this on a cushion and send it to you.

Its so scary those first few days. You want to make sure that everything is perfect, that your child is safe and well, and the book says this or that.

Trust your baby. She'll sleep when she's tired and she'll tell you when she's hungry. Do not ever wake a sleeping baby just to feed her. She won't starve. Promise.

Congrats to you and your new family!
posted by anastasiav at 2:38 PM on June 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

People raised babies for millions of years without guidebooks

Er...I may be a bit off on my math, there. It's been more like 200,000 years, according to Wikipedia. But still...
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:45 PM on June 18, 2010

We've got a 7week old breastfed baby. Believe me - she will tell you when she wants to eat, and you should take advantage of the full night's sleep when you can.
posted by ish__ at 2:53 PM on June 18, 2010

God willing, she'll keep this up and you'll get to brag about being the best-rested mom of a newborn in the western hemisphere.

Yeah, don't fret if she seems well. She may have tanked up so completely in the evening, or worn herself out so much with the fussy wakiness, that she just needed and was able to sleep through. The wet/poopy diaper test is a good way to reassure yourself that she's getting enough and everything's working fine.

On the other hand, if you continue to feel concerned or anything else seems off, don't be shy about calling the doctor. Every new parent makes at least one or two doctor calls/visits that they wouldn't make for baby number 2 or 3, but it's part of the learning process, and if it helps you relax and enjoy the baby, it's all for the good.

Congrats on the new baby! Best of luck.
posted by not that girl at 2:57 PM on June 18, 2010

Like everyone else said, the baby will wake up when she's hungry. However, this early on, you might want to pump sometime during the night to make sure your supply doesn't get wonky from going too long between feedings. Unless you're feeding from another supply of breast milk (donated or something), then you can disregard this advice.
posted by chiababe at 3:00 PM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Ha, I remember my son doing that and waking up in a panic...he slept for 8 hours?? Is he OK? OMG!

He was fine. Your baby is fine. Baby books are at best rules of thumb, and your baby will do many things the books don't tell you. It will make you crazy sometimes. Welcome to parenthood. It gets better, I promise.

If, for some reason, your baby was not getting enough to eat, it would show up in fewer wet diapers and at her next pediatrician weigh in. But if she's not fevery or showing any other signs of distress, she's eating fine.

One thing that worked for us was: wait 48 hours. If a baby does something that is different/makes you wonder/may or may not be a problem, see if she keeps it up for a whole 48 hours. If so, then think about taking her in to your pediatrician.

But also trust your own judgement; if something really makes you worried, call your doc. They're used to that, and it's ok to take a baby in just to reassure you if you need to.
posted by emjaybee at 3:05 PM on June 18, 2010

When my child was about 2 weeks old I remember telling a friend that I thought the amount she was sleeping seemed worrisome. He replied that babies who sleep a lot are just making up all their good stories for later. Now, whenever someone remarks on her remarkable storytelling abilities I fondly recall his reassuring comment.
posted by gubenuj at 3:09 PM on June 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Seconding chiababe's pump advice -- it reminds your baby that you need to make milk and it's always fun to watch the supply build up in the freezer. Unless it's donated milk. (If it's yours, CONGRATS, I've heard inducing lactation is a challenge).

And I have to admit, at 11 days, I might've woken the kid up. If only so I could then go to bed without worrying they were going to wake up in the next 3 minutes.
posted by MeiraV at 3:11 PM on June 18, 2010

We did something that was called a "dream feed" (though for some reason the name rubs me the wrong way)

We used to wake our baby which made no one happy at all. She was never (and still isn't years later) food motivated and wasn't gaining as much as she was supposed to.

On the advice of our midwife we then started giving the baby pumped milk in a bottle while she slept. She would only slightly wake up, eat and then go back to bed.

My theory is we evolved all sleeping in the same bed and the baby would feed half asleep all through the night, now that we typically don't sleep like that the dream feed takes its place.

That said, there are 6 billion of us. as long as you love your baby and don't do something on the short list of stupid things, they'll probably be more than fine.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:13 PM on June 18, 2010

I think one of the most important parenting skills is learning that you can safely ignore the dang parenting books. (Ours started routinely sleeping through the night very early on -- I don't remember exactly how many months in we were when the nighttime feeding stopped being necessary, but it was almost ridiculously early compared to what the books claimed it would be. )

If they are hungry, they will wake up.

If they are not hungry, you can get some of that precious precious sleep yourself.
posted by ook at 3:22 PM on June 18, 2010

I'm sure your baby is fine, but I'm going to repeat what I said in an earlier similar thread.

Sometimes you DO need to wake a sleeping baby, especially one that's tiny or underweight. Two weeks is probably right around the cut-off but definitely under that, I don't think it's wise to say NEVER wake a sleeping baby to someone who's medical circumstances are unknown. Just-newborn babies WILL sleep through feedings and it's super easy for them to get dehydrated and/or get to a low blood sugar state that makes them even more lethargic and make it even harder for them to stay awake and eat, leading to an ever-worsening problem where the baby doesn't have enough energy to feed itself despite needing it to survive. I think once the baby has regained birth weight and feeding is well-established, it's probably okay to let him sleep as long as he wants.
posted by otherwordlyglow at 3:22 PM on June 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unless your baby is underweight, it sounds like the sleep is just fine. good luck with the adoption!
posted by Wuggie Norple at 3:52 PM on June 18, 2010

First off, I don't think you need to worry if your baby seems healthy and happy. Accept that you have a well-fed, sleepy baby.

However, I will second otherworldlyglow that sometimes you DO need to wake up a sleeping baby. But when this is the case, it is pretty obvious that something is wrong, and you'll have lots of red flags.

We had to, on the advice of our pediatrician, wake up my oldest son for the first six weeks of his life Every. Two. Hours. Without Fail. (hello, zombie parents!) He just wasn't growing like he should have. We also had to go to the pediatrician's office 2-3 times a week. After losing some weight in the hospital, at home he just wasn't putting on any weight at all. People mumbled and shook their heads and said scary things like, "failure to thrive." We thought I didn't have enough breast milk, so we supplemented, and that still wasn't enough. Finally, after six weeks we went over completely to formula and that's all that worked. All that time, he never woke up crying because he was hungry.

With my second son, I didn't have this problem at all. Everything was fine and he was in the top ten percent for growth. It was just one of those rare things.
posted by misha at 4:05 PM on June 18, 2010

We had to 'wake' baby anachronism for feeds for the first month - she was slightly early, some blood sugar issues and a raging case of jaundice. So every two hours I'd feed her (not necessarily waking her though).

Healthy baby, full term? Enjoy that break.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:47 PM on June 18, 2010

A baby who sleeps for 7 hours 11 days after birth? Keep it and don't mess with the sleep.

This is called "Free Time."

posted by Mr. Yuck at 5:00 PM on June 18, 2010

I tend to disagree with almost everyone. I think newborns should be woken during the day and fed on the dot of third hourly and not more frequently. This usually leads to slightly longer sleeps at night. But I wouldn't let a new baby go that long without food. It mucks them up for the rest of the next day and then the cycle continues over days and days or even months.

My rule of thumb is that till four months old, they get breastfed at third hourly intervals without fail (no more than 15 minutes per breast-30 minutes in total.... but I did 10 minutes each side... and my babies were enormous!). And at four months it goes to fourth hourly. My children have been brilliant sleepers and so have all the babies that I have night nursed.

I often think to myself that I should write a book/blog for brand new mums. If you start out on the strict regime, it gets the baby on to a pretty manageable routine reasonably quickly and even though you feel like you need more sleep... you'll be able to manage it as you know what you're in for and for how long.

All that being said... if you're a stimulated breastfeeder and using domperidone or fenugreek to get your supply up... if you leave her 7 hours without feeding, your supply will suffer. Believe me. Even if you had been pregnant with her, that would be hard for your breasts to manage so early on.

I probably sound a lot more hard-core than I am... I'm breastfeeding BabyTaff at 18 months now and ToddlerTaff had the same treatment...except I had to stop breastfeeding earlier. It works, really and truly it does. Third hourly for three months then fourth hourly till solids or they sleep through the night... (skipping the 2 am feed).

If I don't sound like a complete nutter and you'd like to hear more about what I've done and how many babies for... please feel free to memail or email me. I love to rabbit on about this topic.

Oh, and you know what...... CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by taff at 1:18 AM on June 19, 2010

taff: My rule of thumb is that till four months old, they get breastfed at third hourly intervals without fail (no more than 15 minutes per breast-30 minutes in total.... but I did 10 minutes each side... and my babies were enormous!). And at four months it goes to fourth hourly. My children have been brilliant sleepers and so have all the babies that I have night nursed.

baby anachronism fed for 45 minutes (one breast because I was doing block feeding, most feeds during the day) for the first five months, on demand. Now it's 2 minutes to drain the breast; that change happened within a week. Each child is incredibly different and each child learns at it's own pace. Breastfeeding has a learning curve for child and for mother and not all babies (or mothers!) respond well to strict routines.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:56 AM on June 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

For most babies, there really isn't a problem with letting them sleep. In the case of Baby Bardophile, though, his blood sugar would drop, and he would start having spasms in his sleep, without waking up. After an extremely panicky trip to the pediatric ER when he was 12 days old, I learned that I DID in fact need to wake him up every 4 hours or so for him to nurse.

So, do make sure your baby isn't one of the edge cases.

Congratulations! And I hope you are able to enjoy this crazy, wonderful, mindnumbingly exhasuting time. :)
posted by bardophile at 6:49 AM on June 19, 2010

YES, PLEASE TAKE CARE - Our healthy, full-term, breastfed baby seemed fine, did the same long sleep thing you describe, and we thought - Great!

Turns out he had serious jaundice (we didn't spot it, he's half-Asian so less obvious on the skin tone) until the midwife came for routine visit and told us to go straight to hospital. It was awful and scary. We then had a serious regime for a week of breastfeeding him every two hours night and day.

The long sleep was a sign of sickness, and we had made things worse by not feeding him.
The midwife said to us that under two weeks (at least) breastfed babies should be fed every few hours to make sure they are getting enough.

I'd hate for someone to have to go through the scare that we had, so check with a professional.
He's completely fine now, btw
posted by Marzipan at 2:13 PM on June 20, 2010

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