Help! Newborn won’t sleep and wants to eat constantly!

A mom on HealthBoards was having a problem with her newborn baby:

I am going insane. I am breastfeeding and have tons of milk. I am feeding my 1 week old every 2 hours or less and he won’t sleep very well in between. After her comes off the breast he is in la la land for a few minutes and then when I go to put him down he starts rooting again and fussing. It eventually ends up in a full our scream and I try nursing again. He takes it and drinks a bit but then falls asleep. Then the whole routine starts over again.

We had a similar experience with our little guy. We used the Dunstan Method (which we highly recommend) to infer that our newborn was constantly hungry (he was fussy and calling out “Nah… nah” constantly along with rooting around and puckering his lips). And he didn’t sleep very well—was constantly fussy. We read that newborns should get upwards of 18 hours of sleep a day and he was maybe getting 4 or 5.

Nothing seemed to help—not holding, bouncy chairs, or even my velvety-smooth singing. Putting him in a stroller and walking a couple miles worked for a little bit. [It’s important to figure out if your baby is getting enough to eat. Some women who breast feed may not produce enough milk to satisfy the little one’s hunger and should consider supplementing with formula.]

tendernessOne thing seemed to help, though: a good, tight swaddle. Newborns are in what’s been called the “fourth trimester” in which they still require the comforts of the womb and aren’t quite ready to take on the real world. Swaddling helps them feel more comfortable and prevents them from waking themselves up when they do the newborn startled symphony composer motion. So we made sure to do that and the results have been nothing short of miraculous. He’s much calmer and has actually slept for more than an hour.

As Isis Parenting states:

Babies, like all humans, will take several deep breaths every few minutes to bring more oxygen into their lungs. But with newborns, this deep breath often triggers a small startle reflex, making the arms jerk and flail out. Watch your sleeping baby: you’ll see somewhat irregular breathing, and will notice that sometimes he’ll startle, then return to right back quiet sleep, other times, perhaps in a lighter sleep stage, he’ll startle, which will cause a second startle, and ultimately will startle himself awake and cry.

When a baby is swaddled snug with the arms down, the startle reflex is muffled and far less disruptive, so they are more likely to stay asleep with each startle. Another reason babies wake themselves when their hands are loose, is because the hands are reflexively drawn to the baby’s face (hence all the little scratch marks there). Sometimes parents think “I don’t want to restrict his hands, he likes his hands” or “He needs to learn to self soothe and suck his fingers”. I agree – but with caveats. For the young baby, hands are for playing, sucking and exploring – when awake. The early mouthing of the one or two month old of the fingers is generally more disruptive than self-soothing. That skill, sucking a thumb or particular finger combination for comfort, comes much later – maybe around 4 or 5 months. For the younger baby, the mouthing of the hands stimulates the rooting reflex and usually escalates into batting and beating his own face, which (you guessed it) wakes him up crying.

And once the little tike gets a little bit of sleep, he’s a lot more comfortable and likely to get more sleep. Voila! We have a normal newborn.

So if you have a fussy baby, it may not be GERD or colic but simply the lack of a good swaddle! Make sure he’s well-fed and wrap him up!

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