So we finally have among us the beautiful baby we were expecting. Everybody comes to meet him; they congratulate you, and give you some advice (some of them better received than others). Suddenly, we hear among the many conversations: “What a good baby!” “Look how calmly he sleeps” “He’s such a good baby”, and of course, our chests fill with pride thinking how lucky we are by having such a good and perfect baby.
However, after a few hours –about 24- our baby starts to change; he’s not the calm and sleepy baby anymore; he’s more awake and active, but he seems a little anxious too. Apparently, he wants to live in our breast, that’s the only thing that calms him down, now he seems insatiable. “Do you think he’s still hungry?” “He seems mad” “He doesn’t stop eating” “I don’t know, he’s not satisfied with my milk, he wants to be 24/7 on my breast!” “Maybe I don’t have enough milk”. These are some of the questions that come to our minds. They may seem familiar to some, and not so much to others, but I’ve heard them more often than not, including my own two children.
This craziness usually appears on the second night of the life of our little one, or during his second 24 hours of life. Some specialists have described it as “The Second Night”. In the hospital I volunteer at the mother-baby unit, nurses called it “The Second Night Syndrome”.
For many mothers, this situation becomes a problem, a source of stress, which in many occasions truly affects the breastfeeding relationship. In reality, it’s simpler, it has an explanation, and it shouldn’t affect our confidence as food providers for our babies.
The first thing to learn is how is the typical newborn’s behavior. So, just about the time of birth (and if the mother wasn’t highly medicated), the baby is in a very alert state. If he’s put on mommy’s breast, he’ll easily find the nipple and start to suckle. Even if he’s placed on the mother’s belly, he’s capable of crawling towards the breast seeking his precious food. This is a very instinctive behavior that every mammal experiences at birth, which assures its survival. Now, this state of alert lasts for approximately two hours; then the baby enters a very sleepy state, they become passive, and less interactive, some of them take a long time to wake up to eat. These are their first 24 hours of life. Here is where we hear the typical “Oh, what a good baby!” (Which by the way, I honestly don’t know what that means). In fact, the baby is just recovering from labor, just as his mommy.
Following this period of time, our baby starts to increase his state of alert; he spends more time awake and wants to eat frequently. HANG ON, MOMMIES! It’s NOT you or your milk. The stomach of your baby is so tiny at this time -it’s barely the size of a cherry- which means it could be filled with only a teaspoon per feeding. That is precisely what our body is producing in the form of Colostrum, that yellowish liquid released by our breasts up to 3 or 4 days after delivery, before we can notice the typical and abundant milk.
There’s no scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Jan Barger, IBCLC, refers to it as very scary episode of motherhood. After almost ten months in the mother’s womb, this baby lands in a completely different place; new voices, smells, colors, and sensations; for a newborn’s eyes this could be overwhelming. And the only thing that brings him closer to his longed-for womb is his mother’s breast; he feels safe there. I don’t blame him; being born is tough! Then, after knowing this, wouldn’t you allow your little one to spend all the time he wants there, on your breast?
There’s another possible reason, I would like to explain it with the following question: When do you usually go to the grocery store? Is it when your refrigerator is completely empty, or when some the food is about to finish and you want to replace it? I guess most of us will choose the second option. So yes, our baby knows that very soon he’ll need many more calories in order to grow up. He also knows that the only way his mother will produce such amount of milk, is by suction (at the same time it will stimulate the release of prolactin and oxitocin, the hormones responsible of the production and release of milk). That is why our baby seems anxious for suctioning frequently; he’s going shopping! In my opinion, this is a very wise baby. Nature is wise, so our bodies and our babies know what to do; never doubt it.
Now, what can we do in this situation?
First of all, knowing that this is a normal and logic behavior, we can relax, we know everything is OK, and probably our baby will perceive that.
Second, just breastfeed and breastfeed, all the time he wants to. Allow him to remain on your breast (Skin2Skin if possible) for a while, once he’s asleep. As soon as you notice he entered into a deeper sleep, then try to transfer him to the crib.
If you count on safe conditions for co-sleeping, then do it; you and your baby will probably sleep better.
Don’t get desperate. Daddy can also help by distracting him, maybe taking him for a walk, rocking or singing to him. You can also try inserting your index finger in the baby’s mouth, with the fingertip upwards just touching his palate; this will stimulate the suction reflex; allow him to suckle on your finger. Or just help him to find his own hands and help him to take them into his mouth; this is a natural pacifier, and it’s also a good way to explore his own body.
Our breasts are a very powerful tool that will always be with us during our motherhood journey. I can tell you that I felt there was nothing that putting my babies Skyn2Skin and breastfeeding them couldn’t resolve. At the end, we are the ones who bring them into this world, and serve as anchors for them to stay among us.