As Julie walks in for her newborn's two-week-old visit, she declares, "I've had it!"
"I'm quitting breastfeeding. I'm exhausted. I nurse little Taylor and put her down to nap. Forty-five minutes later she starts to squirm around. She smacks her lips, her eyes flash open, and she whimpers. I figure she's ready to eat again, so I get her to the breast. But she immediately falls asleep. It takes me (and my husband!) another hour to wake her up to eat. Then it starts all over again. I know breastfeeding is best for the baby and me, but maybe I need to quit!"
I am delighted that Julie is telling me this story before she stops breastfeeding. Hers is a problem I can solve by sharing just a little more information.
Julie is confusing her baby's "light/active sleep" and her baby's waking "zone." (See this video clip at ) All babies have two sleep cycles. Deep/still sleep is easily recognized as a baby fast alseep: She is totally still, her breathing is deep and regular, her eyes stay shut and still under the eyelids, and she doesn't make any noises. That's the kind of sleep people refer to when they say, "She's sleeping like a baby!"
Light/active sleep looks very different. In light/active sleep the baby will stir, jerk his arm or leg, breathe more rapidly, flash his eyes open a moment, make sucking movements with his mouth, and grunt or make other newborn sounds. Such a baby seems like he's waking up, but, in fact, he is still asleep. All babies cycle between these two sleep zones a number of times during the night.
Julie is relieved. She returns for a weight check the following week with a big smile on her face. She reports learning to recognize her baby's light/active sleep. When Taylor gets to that zone, she leaves her alone and in a few minutes the baby goes back to deep/still sleep. Mom gets to sleep another hour or two. When Taylor is hungry, she transitions from that light/active sleep to waking up. After she cries for a minute or two, Julie knows that now she's really ready to eat.
Julie's breastfeeding is going great now, and she has become very popular with her neighbors by sharing this information. The whole neighborhood is sleeping better!