Famously known in Australia as ‘the parent whisperer’, Dr. Daniel Golshevsky, aka Dr. Golly explains why dads might be better than mums at resettling babies...
Room-sharing for the first 6-12 months of your baby’s life is widely recommended on a global basis. This has been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and makes it more convenient for new parents to comfort, feed and watch your baby. This advice for the baby to be in your room is excellent, but it doesn’t specify exactly where in the room. Here’s my answer …
It’s magnificent that families come in all shapes and sizes; mother and father, two mothers, single parent, etc – for ease of conversation, I often refer to a mother and father – but understand when I reference dads or fathers I’m always referring to the non-breastfeeding (or non-birthing) parent in any family unit.
In the first few weeks of a baby’s life, establishing a good milk supply for breastfeeding mothers requires overnight feeds. Once the supply and demand are well matched, we can begin to elongate the night sleeps.
When I ask parents of newborns where they plan to position their baby’s cot, there is an assumption that it lives beside the breastfeeding mother. This makes logical sense; but there are many other factors to consider.
We wake babies just as often as they wake us. Overnight, we move around and make noise, all of which can disturb a sleeping baby, but perhaps the least appreciated trigger is the smell of breastmilk!
Sometimes moving the cot to the other side of the bed where the non-breastfeeding parent is sleeping, or at the end of the bed – can be helpful, as your baby is less likely to smell the breastmilk, or be woken by your movements.
The benefits don’t end there. When a baby wakes overnight, if the father is the first to tend to them, they’re much more likely to re-settle for another sleep cycle (or longer), as hunger is not the only reason a baby wakes overnight. They wake from the temperature, they wake from dirty nappies, from trapped wind, from becoming unswaddled… just to name a few.
If you immediately assume the cause is hunger, you might fall into a negative cycle of frequent feeds – this is enormously taxing on the whole family. Moreover, if a breastfeeding mother holds their baby right next to the food source in an attempt to re-settle, it’s extremely difficult to achieve this – not to mention uncomfortable if you have begun a let-down due to being woken through the night.
Fathers are far more successful at re-settling because, firstly, we don’t smell of breastmilk, and, secondly, we send a strong message to the baby – in our handling – that they aren’t necessarily going to be fed.
This gives an invaluable benefit to the mother, who has carried the baby for nine months, given birth and is often the main source of nutrition for the first months of life. Stimulation, sleep and water are the three main ingredients to making breastmilk. Stress and fatigue are two of the main causes of low milk supply! So to stretch the overnight sleeps and nurture the breastfeeding mother as much as possible, have the baby further away from her and have the partner try to troubleshoot and resettle before preparing for a night feed. It’s one important piece of the puzzle to get your baby closer to sleeping through the night.
Remember: wherever your baby is sleeping always ensure their sleeping environment is compliant with SIDS safe sleeping guidelines.
NOTE: Newborns are supposed to wake during the night to feed, this is inevitable. Not only does it help them grow, night breastfeeds help to bolster milk supply too. From about 6 weeks (5-6kg) most babies with the removal of hurdles should be able to sleep from around 11pm to 7am
Dr Daniel Golshevsky AKA Dr Golly is an Australian paediatrician, who, with a team of experts, has developed the Dr Golly Sleep Program, an online sleep and settling course to help get children (birth to five years) sleeping in a routine that works for families. Content ranges from feeding, nutrition, winding, routines, settling techniques and more, Dr Golly sleep programmes are available at www.drgolly.com starting from £59.00.