What you need to know before your baby is born

On the day of your baby’s birth, she will sleep a lot and won’t cry much. You and your partner will have lots of energy – even if birth was exhausting – thanks to a helpful burst of adrenaline. You may also have lots of visitors holding baby and wanting to chat. It’s an exciting time for everyone!

What happens next is so predictable that when I was a nurse working on a postpartum floor, I knew exactly which families would need the most support on my night shifts. New parents all around the world experience much the same thing.

Your baby’s second night of life:

At some point well past your bedtime, your baby will want to breastfeed constantly. When she falls asleep and you try to put her down, your baby will likely freak out. If you put her back on the breast, skin-to-skin, you’ll find she calms right down, and falls asleep again. Any time you put her down, she starts wailing. This can go on for much of the night.

What makes this night so hard is that you are exhausted. That adrenaline that kept you going the past couple of days is gone. Now you’re pulling an all-nighter without much sleep in the bank. If you don’t know that this is normal newborn behaviour, you might find doubt creeping in, especially when you’re feeling alone in the middle of the night. Many moms think their baby is starving and they’re not making enough milk – because why else would she be feeding all night like this?!

Here’s what is really going on with your baby:

On your baby’s second night of life, it’s as though he is just now realizing he’s been born. He is fully alert and downright ticked off! His new world is over-stimulating with new and scary sensations: bright lights, sounds, scratchy clothing and strange people holding him. He misses his cozy home in the womb with the comforting sounds of your heartbeat, your breathing and even your digestive gurgles. If you’ve put mittens on him, he can’t even find his fingers to self-soothe with, as he did just a few days ago.

What to do:

Give him the next-best thing to being back in the womb: skin-to-skin time against your breast. You are his safe-haven: your smell, your heartbeat, your breathing. He needs you to hold him through this scary part, to let him slip in and out of sleep and to feed on and off without any expectations or routines. These frequent feedings will help establish your milk supply. Don’t worry about burping him or changing his diaper, unless he has a poop. Get rid of the baby mittens. He may scratch himself, but these scratches heal very quickly. Let your baby suck on his hands (usually a clue that baby is ready to be breastfed), and let him touch your breasts, especially during breastfeeds – research has shown this helps boost your milk supply. Morning will come and your baby will likely settle into a deep sleep.

It’s no coincidence the very next day after a baby’s second night of life is “postpartum day 3.” You may find yourself crying for no reason and every reason! Hormones are crashing, you’re exhausted after a rough night, and may be feeling doubtful. PLEASE read our blog, “Surviving Postpartum Day 3: I Wish I Knew.”

Plan for it:

This is normal newborn behaviour. It is rarely the case that your infant’s crying and restlessness on the second (or even third) night of life is due to low milk supply or gas pains. I can’t promise that knowing this information will make your baby’s second night of life any better, or your postpartum day 3 any less tearful. I want you to feel empowered, knowing how to help soothe your baby. Have your partner read this blog post so they can help you remember this is normal. Limit visitors and take turns napping before baby’s second night of life.

When my son went through his second night of life, I settled into a comfortable chair, kept the lights dim and let him nurse on and off for most of the night. I kept him skin-to-skin and stayed awake by reading a book on my smart phone. (It’s important to avoid falling asleep while holding your baby in a chair or a couch.) Around 4 a.m. I was exhausted so I woke up my partner and he held our little guy skin-to-skin while I slept like a rock.

For the next couple of weeks your newborn may sleep well during the day and be up for much of the night feeding. This too shall pass. As you keep things interesting during the day with lots of feeds, your baby will start to have more alert periods during the day. At nights keep lights dim, noises quiet and soothing, and your baby will return to sleep after their night-time breastfeeding.

For more information and support in preparing for a new baby, there are many ways to connect with us:

For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.