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My wife and I have a newborn on the way in a few months, and I was wondering about one aspect of night-feedings.

Popular wisdom is that we shouldn't let the baby get to the point that they're crying before we feed them. Instead we should be looking for signs that they're hungry and feed them pre-emptively. This makes it easier to feed baby and is comfortable for everyone.

That raises the question of how to best handle our baby's hunger throughout the night. If we're trying to sleep is waiting until he cries the best we can do? Or is there a better way to handle night feedings?

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    Also keep in mind that if breastfeeding, your wife will have somewhat of a schedule she will want to keep to in order to be comfortable. She will want to feed the baby every so often. – JPhi1618 Feb 27 at 16:53
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    "Popular wisdom is that we shouldn't let the baby get to the point that they're crying before we feed them." -- Popular wisdom is also that you need to take care that your baby doesn't use the old "cry to have mom cuddle me" trick to the point where you can't leave the baby alone for five minutes anymore. That's a completely different issue, but I thought this should be added here to dispel the notion that you should preempt any crying of your baby... – DevSolar Feb 28 at 8:44
  • Ah the old "if they're fussing don't wait till they're hysterical in the hopes of them falling back asleep" pop wisdom being translated to "they must never cry, or they will grow up to be an axe murderer" by overtired parents. Coming up on 10 years, still as strong as it ever was. – deworde May 29 at 8:13
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It's not generally ideal to schedule night feedings (unless under a doctor's recommendation). You may want to wake your baby if they go lo longer than 5 hours asleep between feedings during the immediate newborn period, but other than those cases, do wait until your baby signals to be fed overnight.

Your nighttime feedings with most likely go one of two ways. Either your baby will wake up and notice that they are a bit hungry, and begin to fuss, coo, whimper and squirm, and then you will hear that be able to feed them before they cry, OR your baby won't wake up until they are all ready SO HUNGRY and there will really be no way to avoid some crying. This seems to depend more on the baby's personality than anything that you can control, so just be ready to feed right away when they wake as much as possible.

It's somewhat anecdotal, but once a pattern of feeding is established, it's not uncommon for a nursing mom to naturally wake up with a sensation of "time to feed the baby!" a few minutes before the baby wakes to eat. I personally had an uncanny ability to wake up a few moments before I heard that "I woke up and I'm HUNGRY" wail.

General tips for newborn night feedings:
Before you go to bed, make sure you have all you need at hand-- burp cloths, diapering supplies, bottles ready to be warmed if you are bottle feedings, etc. You will also need drinking water for mom by the bed, especially if she is nursing.

It's okay to use nighttime diapers and not change wet diapers overnight if they aren't 'full' and your baby isn't uncomfortable, but change dirty (poop) asap.

If your baby doesn't seem uncomfortable or too gassy, you don't really have to stress about 'burping' a breastfed baby at night if they fall asleep while eating. Most bottle fed babies need to be burped.

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    I love this answer. I wonder about the last paragraph, though. I always burped the baby between sides wen breastfeeding, especially newborns, because they tend to fall asleep after nursing on one breast. I didn't worry if they didn't burp, but it kept them awake to feed on the other side, an important factor in keeping the supply up. – anongoodnurse Feb 26 at 18:53
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    Hm, I could rephrase it. My point was more that once they are sleeping you don't -have- to wake them up to burp and then start the resettle process over. I did still burp in the middle of feeding. – Meg Feb 26 at 21:06
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    "...once a pattern of feeding is established, it's not uncommon for a nursing mom to naturally wake up..." Conversely, when our first baby was approaching the 'sleeping through' stage, we had a number of mornings, where my wife said "Ah, he slept through!", and then looked at my bleary-eyed face and realised that, actually, she was the one who had slept through :) (Generally, I did the nighttime feeds.) – SiHa Feb 27 at 14:42
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    @SiHa That’s a common complaint from breastfeeding moms re. the fathers, that slept through everything ;-) – Stephie Feb 27 at 14:49
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    @Stephie. I do realize that. My point was that usually, we would both wake up, but I would get up and do them, as she would have the baby do deal with all day whilst I was at work. I was just quite funny when she though that he was at last sleeping through, he wasn't. Well - we thought it was anyway. – SiHa Feb 27 at 14:53
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As a rule, plans made for parenting strategy last until about 5 minutes after birth.

Don't worry. Your little tyke will let you know when it needs feeding, and your parental instincts will kick in. You will be awake within seconds of the smallest murmur. Feed and change, go back to sleep. You just get used to it. This phase doesn't last long, after all.

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    "You will be awake within seconds of the smallest murmur." Don't assume that. My wife would sleep through crying, though I did tend to wake up immediately. – chepner Feb 27 at 15:47
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    This phase doesn't last long, after all. At least 12 months for my son. You don't get used to it, or only in the same way as victims of various countries' secret police "got used" to being taken out for a morning beating. Hopefully the OP has more luck. – Graham Feb 28 at 0:10
  • I never slept through one crying. We got used to the second one teething every 3 hours for six months! – RedSonja Mar 2 at 11:46
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Popular wisdom is that we shouldn't let the baby get to the point that they're crying before we feed them.

Umm, no. It's just not realistic to think that you can preempt baby's every need.

Sure, sometimes you will catch baby being restless and sucking on their fingers, and sure, that could be a cue that baby is hungry, and trying to feed before baby actually starts crying is a good idea. But if you miss that cue, and baby cries to get your attention, and you tend to baby within, say, 5 mintues, that's fine.

Unless a baby is very very young you don't wake them up for feedings. You let them wake you up. If they are room-sharing, you might be able to hear a baby make noises short of crying, but some babies are also noisy sleepers.

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  • Yes I was suggesting that it's a good idea not iron-clad law. – Canadian Coder Feb 26 at 21:55
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Your baby will be presumably beside you in a bassinet. As a new mother, you'll become hyper aware of your babies cues. You will probably waken from them just starting to stir and move around. This is usually 10 or so minutes before they begin to cry. As a very experienced mother myself, when they begin to stir, I lift them, feed them and return them to the bassinet before they really have a chance to waken. So it's all done as a kind of a dream feed. You only need to change them if they've poo'd or if their nappy has a fair bit of urine in it. Even then, do so with just a night light on, and don't speak or turn a big light on. When you put them back down, if they're a bit fussy, hold their hand or stroke it, or pat their butt rhythmically until they're close to dropping off. Doing this from newborn makes them become very secure very fast because they don't have to get themselves into a state in order to be fed. They can smell and feel you close by patting them and it really does work. I'm a mum to 6 babies soon to be 7 and I've done this with them all successfully. Even severely refluxy babies, and babies with colic and other issues.

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  • Very similar to our experience (although just with 1 :-) ). Keep the baby close by, make feeding low-threshold. Often mother and baby will fall asleep together. Of course, do not drink (in any case!) or take sleep pills or barbiturates or other drugs -- in that case keep the baby out of your bed. – Peter - Reinstate Monica Feb 28 at 13:44
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I couldn't make my real answer fit into the stackexchange format/size.

My short version:

Please, ignore "popular wisdom."

Do what is right for you and your family. This is going to be different for everyone.

Get as much healthy sleep as you can without neglecting your baby.

Please listen to your instincts and pay attention.

Your genes have millions of years of genetics of experience here.

My wife and I deliberately chose to treat our new-born as a "real" person from day 1. We treated our inability to understand his needs as a failure on our part.

There was one night that we drove him to the ER because we couldn't figure out why he was screaming. When we got there, we panicked because he was so quiet (because he'd finally fallen asleep).

She wound up spending years (literally: he decided he was done right after his 4th birthday) sleeping next to him so he could nurse whenever he wanted in the middle of the night.

I slept in "our" room. I'm still not sure how much of that is due to my snoring.

I have a longer answer that I published at https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=6134525105837820871#editor/target=post;postID=8924362830311936720;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=0;src=postname

It is not a good fit for stackexchange. I apologize in advance if the link (there isn't any sort of affiliate thing: I don't have any money to gain) is not appropriate.

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Popular wisdom is that we shouldn't let the baby get to the point that they're crying before we feed them. Instead we should be looking for signs that they're hungry and feed them pre-emptively. This makes it easier to feed baby and is comfortable for everyone.

This isn't a hard-set rule and perhaps this was easy and comfortable for the person who originally said this, but this does not apply to everyone. It might turn out that this is neither easy nor comfortable for your family, and that's perfectly okay.

That raises the question of how to best handle our baby's hunger throughout the night. If we're trying to sleep is waiting until he cries the best we can do? Or is there a better way to handle night feedings?

As the biological mother of my child, I had unique hormones that allowed me to fall asleep at the drop of a hat (I usually have a bit of insomnia), so I too was able to sleep when the baby slept, which made night feedings easier for me than my partner.

I've always been a light sleeper, and perhaps being the biological mother of my child made my light sleeping even lighter (or hormones, who knows), but having the child in our room in the early days made it so I'd wake up just hearing her lick her lips, which was one of her signals that it was time to feed. I was breastfeeding at the time, so it was easy for me to scoop her up and feed her while she was half asleep like this (called "dream feeding") and put her back to bed without a fuss. Mind you, I did this in the dark, no talking, and with a white noise machine playing to keep her mostly asleep so she'd eventually learn the difference between night time and day time.

If your wife is breastfeeding, it's also possible that she might feel pain in her breasts as they become engorged with milk and that can also wake her up to tell her it's time for feeding or pumping.

With all this said, just go with the flow. Follow your baby's lead and trust your pediatrician. If you don't trust your pediatrician or your gut instinct feels something different, don't be afraid to get a second (or third or fourth) professional opinion.

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