Why is my baby drinking less milk and sleeping more? - Evidence Based Babies
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baby drinking less milk and sleeping more

Why is my baby drinking less milk and sleeping more?

Most new parents won’t even question it when their babies start sleeping for longer stretches at night as they’re just so happy for some more rest or better sleep after so many sleepless nights.

Some mothers may worry about this sudden change in their baby, and they may be worried whether their babies are getting enough milk and whether they should wake their babies for a feed and how it may affect their milk supply. This is especially true for breastfeeding mothers not knowing how much milk their breastfed baby is getting.

Reasons why your baby may be drinking less milk and sleeping more

There may be many reasons why your baby may suddenly be drinking less milk and/or sleeping more than usual. It can be normal in many cases such as growth spurts and cognitive development, but it can also be a sign of something more serious such as illness, sensory issues and failure to thrive, which can all cause your baby to drink less and sleep more.

It’s important to check for any signs that something may be wrong and if at any time you’re worried about your child’s health, get medical attention as soon as possible. Rather seek help and it’s nothing serious than ignoring signs of illness and not getting help for your baby.

Your baby is going through a growth spurt

One of the most common reasons for your baby to have big temporary changes in their eating and sleeping patterns are due to growth spurts.

A growth spurt is a time during which your baby has a more intense period of growth in both height and weight. This will cause them to feed much more frequently, sleep either less or more than usual and become both fussy at the breast and fussy overall.

Growth spurts can happen at any age, but the most common ages to expect growth spurts are in the first 3 weeks, 4 weeks, 6 weeks, 8 weeks, 3-4 months, 6 months, 9 months, 12 months and of course into toddlerhood too.

Growth spurts usually only last for a few days and usually no more than a week. So, everything should go back to normal again soon.

Your baby may be going through a cognitive leap

Just like with growth spurts, babies will go through many cognitive or mental development phases and stages during their life and this will also affect their feeding and sleeping habits. Mental development can also be expected every few weeks.

Whether it’s seeing patterns and colors or learning how to clap hands, it is very significant to your baby’s brain development and it probably may cause some mayhem for a while.

Your baby may be unwell

Babies may feed less due to feeling unwell and uncomfortable during feedings such as a stuffy nose, sore ears etc. This will usually go back to normal as they get better.

Make sure your baby is still getting enough milk and express milk if needed to maintain your supply until your baby is breastfeeding well again.

It’s no surprise that most people, including babies, sleep more when we’re unwell. We’re often fatigued, and our bodies need some more rest than it usually does. Rest does us so well and helps the healing along much quicker.

Once your baby starts feeling better, they will be much more alert again and go back to previous sleeping patterns, or some version of it.

Your baby is teething

Most babies feed much more and sleep much less while teething, but this is not a rule. Many babies do the exact opposite! This will usually only last while the tooth erupts through the gums, which is usually within a few days.

Signs of teething

  • They’re drooling much more than before
  • They’re being very fussy, especially at night
  • They’re breastfeeding more frequently than usual
  • They may rub their cheeks and ears a lot
  • Your baby is chewing on everything, more than usual
  • Their gums are red and swollen and there may be an eruption cyst present

Offering your baby something cold and age appropriate to chew on will help soothe their gums and reduce the risk of them feeling the need to bite you during a feeding.

They’re a bit older and much more efficient at the breast and may sleep longer stretches

Your baby won’t breastfeed every hour or 2 forever, some babies will breastfeed less frequently as they get older and more efficient at the breast.

Babies don’t breastfeed by the clock or on a schedule. Their needs change all the time and so will their feeding patterns.

As babies get older, they may start sleeping longer stretches during both the day and the night and this is completely normal. Sleep isn’t linear and before you know it, your baby will change up their sleeping patterns again.

It may also surprise you that babies only develop a circadian rhythm around 8 weeks of life, which may or may not make a difference in their sleeping patterns too.

There are external factors influencing effective breastfeeding and sleeping

There can also be external factors causing your baby to feed less and sleep more.

Things like pacifier use, overheating, overfeeding your baby by supplementation or solids, your baby not getting enough milk, swaddling, medical conditions and medications can all cause your baby to feed less, and sleep more than they should.

If you suspect something is wrong, or if your baby isn’t gaining weight as expected or they’re showing signs of dehydration, consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and/or a healthcare professional for help.

Both feeding and sleeping aren’t linear

Many people expect babies to feed less and less as they grow, and in some cases, they do, but it may take much longer than people expect it to take.

Just like with feeding, people often expect babies to sleep for certain periods of time or to sleep through by a certain age. Many people also expect a baby’s sleep pattern to stay the same and unfortunately that’s not very realistic.

Babies go through many stages and phases, growth spurts, mental development, feeling unwell etc. All of which will cause babies to sleep less or more than usual, and it usually doesn’t last long before changing again.

Babies can go from feeding every 3-4 hours to suddenly cluster feeding again. They can also go from sleeping through the night for a week to waking multiple times a night for months, and this is completely normal.

Your baby may be distractable

Babies go through many phases where the outside world distracts them so much that they forget to feed frequently. Around the age of 3-4 months and again around 8-10 months are especially well-known ages of this happening.

This is usually temporary, but if this is the case, you can try and feed your baby in a “boring” room with very little distractions such as the tv, toys, other people, bright lights etc. a lightly dimmed room with just mom and baby often works very well.

When your baby goes through phases like this, it’s important to offer feedings to them frequently, they’ll probably be very happy that you did. As for sleep, they’ll adjust just fine.

Your baby may be reverse cycling

If you separate from your baby during the day, such as when you return to work, your baby may choose to reverse cycle.

This is where they’ll drink the very minimum and sleep much more during the day, but feed more and sleep less during the night. Basically, like switching around their day and night a bit.

Your baby is becoming more established on solid foods

In the first few months (or even for the first year or two) most babies will barely eat anything. But some babies do have more of an appetite for solid foods and as they get older it’s only natural for your baby to start feeding less as they get more calories and nutrients from food.

Babies don’t need any solids until 6 months of age, and even then, they need very little food.

Do remember that milk is the main source of nutrition in the first year, so there’s no need to rush babies on the solids journey. Also remember that both newborn babies, older babies and older children all breastfeed for more than just milk, so keep going for as long as you’re both mutually happy to do so.

When eating less and sleeping more may be a problem

  • Your baby isn’t getting enough milk
  • Your baby is dehydrated
  • Your baby is sick, especially for longer than a few days
  • Your baby is listless
  • It’s an ongoing issue and it’s affecting your baby and their growth
  • You’re unable to wake your baby

Signs that your baby is getting enough milk

  • Your baby is breastfeeding frequently. At least 8-12 times or more in a 24-hour period in the first few weeks.

There are clear signs of sucking and swallowing.

  • Your baby is having enough wet and dirty diapers in a 24-hour period.

1+ wet and 1+ stool on day 1

2+ wet and 2+ stools on day 2

3+ wet and 2+ stools on day 3

4+ wet and 2+ stools on day 4

5+ wet and 2+ stools on day 5

5+ wet diapers and 2+ stools every day from day 6 onwards.

After about 6 weeks, sometimes a bit sooner, breastfed babies may have less frequent stools. As little as 1 in 10 days are common. Wet diapers should always remain the same, never less than 4 in a 24-hour period.

  • Your baby is gaining weight as expected.

Losing weight in the first few days is normal and babies can lose around 8% of their birth weight. It’s expected that babies will be back at their birth weight around 2 weeks after birth.

Weight gain will vary greatly from each individual baby, but the expected weight gain per week in the first 4 months is between 140-250g or more per week.

  • During awake times, your baby seems to be active and alert.
  • Your baby seems content after most feedings.
  • Your baby is growing well in weight, height and head circumference and they’re hitting their milestones as expected.

Signs of dehydration

  • Sunken eyes
  • A sunken fontanelle
  • Not enough wet diapers. Less than 4-6 in a 24-hour period.
  • No bowel movements in the first 4 weeks
  • Being listless
  • No tears when crying

Important notes on feeding and sleeping behaviors in infants

Milk is the main source of nutrition in the first year of life. It’s important to make sure that your baby has frequent feeds and are fed responsively. Night feeds are just as important as daytime feedings, it’s a large part of the milk intake for your baby and it helps reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Sometimes you may need to wake your younger baby for feeds too, especially newborns. Always remember that frequent feedings are normal.

Babies and even older children don’t feed or sleep by the clock or a routine, they do so on an as needed, on demand case. Variations in their usual eating habits and sleeping patterns are normal and changes can be due to many different reasons. As long as your baby is getting enough milk and is healthy, you probably have nothing to worry about.

Skin-to-skin contact is beneficial for babies of all ages, and it may help with sleepy newborns who’s not feeding as much as they should. Do try to do frequent skin-to-skin contact with your baby as it holds many benefits for you both.

It’s important to remember that breast milk digests within 45-70 minutes. It’s biologically normal for breastfed babies to feed frequently during the day and night. Feeding your baby on early hunger cues, on demand and responsively is always a good idea.

If you ever need any evidence-based information or support related to anything breastfeeding, contact an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

If your baby shows any signs of dehydration or if you’re ever worried about your or your baby’s health, contact your baby’s doctor or another medical provider immediately.

Additional information and resources

Baby‐led compared with scheduled (or mixed) breastfeeding for successful breastfeeding

Normal sleep patterns in infants and children: a systematic review of observational studies

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