You have (maybe barely), survived the first 4 to 6 weeks of parenting, hopefully feeding is established but now you have noticed that your baby has longer stretches of awake time, is harder to settle off to sleep, seems to fight sleep or looks like you are dispensing espresso rather than milk out your breasts!
Welcome to the Wonder Week...
As your baby grows and develop, she will have longer period of alertness and will start showing off new skills: one of them is smiling, which is super rewarding and makes up for all those long hours feeding and those broken sleep nights.
The 4-6 weeks mark...
In terms of development, the 4 to 6 weeks mark is a huge milestone in baby terms.
So far, her metabolism has been focusing on nourishing her main organs: brain, liver, kidney, lungs, gut, which was reflected in the whey: casein ratio of your breastmilk (90% whey, 10% casein).
Whey is the liquid portion of the milk containing all the immune factors and is low in calcium and minerals (puts less strain on the newborn’s immature kidneys).
This helps the newborn with immune-protection and, at this stage, this takes priority over bone growth!
Around 6 weeks post-natal, the whey-casein ratio in maternal milk changes to about 80:20 (80% whey, 20% casein).
This slight increase in casein is designed to answer the baby’s metabolic need for calcium and mineral (which, interestingly, coincides with the famous “6 weeks growth spurt” or “wonder week”) and an increased in the demand of her skeleton and muscles.
You might even notice that she "wiggles" more.
Here are some well-known signs that your baby might be having a growth spurt:
- She is hungry, and I mean, she appears "starving". Her calorific needs are increasing during this period to match her metabolic needs*.
- She is very cranky, does not want to be put down, cries a lot, is inconsolable.
- She was sleeper longer stretches but now wakes up more frequently.
- She "refuses" to nap or naps for 30 mins or so.
These are all signs of a growth spurts (aka milestone, wonder week) which can last from a couple of days to a week or so, either throughout the week or on and off.
It will pass!
However, it is a good time to set up healthy sleep habits.
Healthy sleep habits:
Babies need some sort of routine.
I am not talking hard-core-to-the-minute -schedule, but a sequence of events that will trigger sleep.
Babies have no idea that when they are tired, they should sleep, therefore they rely on us to help them.
Here are some tips to get your baby off to a good start:
In the evening, create a sleep-inducing environment playing on yours and your baby 5 senses:
- By 5 or 6pm, dim the light/ close the blinds/ curtains.
- Turn off screens/ TV: remember, your baby will start producing her own melatonin between 12 and 16 weeks, blue light (including baby's mobile and projectors) inhibits the production of melatonin.
- Play some soothing music: classical or gentle lullabies, even better, sing those to your baby in a low, soothing voice as you start your routine.
- Run her a bath in a dimmed bathroom: if your bathroom light is bright, invest in a touch- light you can dim. If you ever had a spa treatment, think of those "relaxing trigger" they use. (sight and hearing)
- Lavender, German and Roman chamomiles and Mandarin essential oils are safe to use (as long as they are diluted in oil) from 2 weeks onward (see dilution below)** and used in a small cup of water by a radiator or in a diffuser, at bath time. All are "calmative" meaning they are soothing to the baby.
- Baby massage is a wonderful way to connect and communicate with your baby through touch.
- However, some babies find massages too stimulating, therefore this should be skipped from the bedtime routine and used in the morning instead.
- Massage can be replaced by a cuddle and kisses.
- Leave your baby naked for a bit: in order to fall asleep, all humans, small and big, need to lower their core temperature by 1 degree Celsius.
Too often, our babies are bath in a very warm bathroom, wrapped in a very warm towel, dressed really quickly in layers, given milk, cuddled... all of those increasing their core temperature which often leads to crying "I'm too hot!" A panicked parent is then feeding, cuddling, rocking some more while holding the baby tightly. Your baby screams louder, meaning "I am really, really hot!"
A little tip:
Put your baby down on a flat surface, open her baby grow and watch her reaction after a few minutes. If she continues to scream, open her vest and leave her there for a minute while she cools off. Very often, she will calm down quickly!
- It is perfectly fine to breastfeed your baby to sleep! Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Breastfeeding is more than nourishment: it is about soothing, bonding, loving, cognitive development.
Help your baby establish her own circadian rhythm:
Why an early bedtime? After all, our babies do not have commitments the next day!
Anyone who comes from or has spent time in Mediterranean countries will be puzzled at the difference in sleep habits.
Babies and children go to bed at 10 pm and no one bats an eyelid!
Our circadian rhythms are different.
In Spain, the days are longer (and warmer!) therefore, people have designed their life around these phenomena.
However, in the UK, our winter months drag, with darkness setting off at 4pm.
We naturally want to be in bed early and so do our children.
Before the invention of electricity, people lived attuned to the seasons and the day-light pattern they offered.
Therefore, it is important that we attuned our babies and children to the country we live in and establish healthy sleep habits as a result.
All year round, babies and young children should get 12h of day light + 12h of darkness every day. This means nap in daylight but use blackout curtains or blind from the late afternoon onwards, especially in spring/ summer when it is light quite late.
Tips for partners:
After the initial 2 weeks of partner's leave (a word I purposely use to include same sex couples), one will return to work (usually the partner who has not birthed the baby) leaving the mother or stay at home parent to care for the baby.
In London, where I mainly work, partners work long hours. They set off early and, once the commute has been added to their day, come home late. It is not unusual for the partner not to be home before 7 or 8pm.
The dilemma most couples face here is: shall we keep the baby up so our partner can spend some time with her?
Sadly, there are not so many ways around this.
By 6-7pm, our babies are exhausted and need to sleep. If a baby is repeatedly kept up waiting, she will go in "overtired" mode and be fractious, fussy, hard to settle and it will have a knocked down effect on the night ahead.
Unlike us, the big humans, the tiny humans sleep poorly if they are too tired.
Additionally (and rightly) there is a sense of excitement when the second parent walks in and wants to play.
But again, it delays the bedtime, increases overtiredness and the bedtime battle begins...
How not to miss out:
- Make time in the morning: babies are natural early risers! Make the most of this trait to hang out early on, to play, cuddle, read a book, have a coffee and a chat. Once your baby can use a bouncer or a highchair, bring them in the kitchen with you and let them be your breakfast buddy while mum (or the other parent) sleeps in a little.
- Negotiate to leave early once a week: some companies are understanding and offer flexible hours. Come in early and leave early so you can do the bedtime routine.
- Weekends: book a Saturday morning class such as baby massage, baby gym, music. Or just go for a walk. This one to one time is so precious and something everyone will look forward to.
- Facetime: how about a quick chat during your lunch break? Make the most of the technology available and have a few minutes catch up with your baby. She knows your face, your voice and will be delighted to see you!
Now, you pretty much have the evening/ night sorted but day time has become a challenge: naps or the lack of them!
This is an area of struggle in the 4- 6 months + area.
Many babies go from sleeping long 2-3h stretches in the early weeks to catnaps which can be difficult when you are trying to achieve something during the day (like, have a shower!).
Catnaps are very, very normal and, once again, they are part of the physiological development of your baby.
Catnaps are short bursts of "dream sleep" or Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) which baby sleep mainly consists of.
They are short, 20 to 45 mins, the baby is in a light sleep from which she is easily aroused.
Why so much REM sleep?
REM sleep consolidates memory.
Babies learn a lot and learn fast, hence the need for all this learning to be stored away.
I often get asked if there are any ways to prolong catnaps.
There are tips you can try but they are not guaranteed to work, and many are not evidence based.
But it will not harm your baby to try it out.
- Record how long the catnaps usually are: you should start noticing a pattern, it may be 20 mins, 30 mins, 45 mins. Set a timer 5 minutes before your baby usually wakes and gently stir her. It is believed that this can "reset" her sleep cycle and she may go for another 30 mins or more (or less!)
- Sit by the cot and when your baby starts stirring, place your hand on her tummy and allow her to go back to sleep.
- Motion: motions lead to a different kind of brain waves meaning a longer, deeper sleep, hence why babies sleep better when carried, pushed in a pram or rocked to sleep. It works well and your baby will sleep for longer.
- Dummies/pacifiers/soothers: some babies will sleep longer if they use one of those or if it is given at the time they start stirring.
- Cues that a baby is tired are very often missed as they are more subtle than in children or adults.
Here are a few:
- A baby who was happy, smiling, playing and now stares into space.
- A baby with a "distant" look in her eyes/ looks as if she has drunk coffee!
- A baby who rubs her face on your clothes, appears to have an itchy nose.
- A baby who goes back and forth between crying and laughing.
- A baby who wants to suckle.
- A baby who is rubbing her eyes (late sign)
- A baby who is yawning (late sign)
- A baby who is crying (late sign)
- A baby who "crashes" to sleep but wakes soon after being put down (late sign)
What to do?
A useful tip is to mark the time your baby wakes up and add 60 minutes to 90 minutes (you will have to experiment here as not all babies fall into the 60 or 90 mins), this gives you the time for her next nap.
It is much better for your baby to catnap every 60-90 mins than going for extended periods without sleep.
When all fail, go to bed with your baby, the warmth of your body will set off your baby to sleep and you can both enjoy a restorative nap together, everything else can wait!
*Please note: a lot of breastfeeding mothers will worry that their supply has decreased as their breasts will not feel as full as before. Please be reassured, this is very normal. Your breasts have now been regulated by the supply-demand and are making the right amount of milk for your baby. The fact that they appear less full does not mean that you have less milk. In doubt, just check with your health visitor, a breastfeeding specialist or IBCLC or attend a local breastfeeding mum's session for reassurance.
** Essential oils for babies, dilution: When using essential oils on babies and children, always use dilutions. If unsure about the dilution or what is suitable for your baby/ child, consult a qualified aromatherapist. - 2 weeks to 2 months: 1 drop diluted in 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of oil. - 3- 6 months: 2 drops diluted in 1 tablespoon (30 ml) of oil.