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Newborn Sleep: Noisy Sleepers & Not-Wakings

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

I’ve read and loved you since Noah was wee, and even read the Pregnancy Calendar (probably twice, let’s be honest) before I was pregnant, plus I’ve been a nanny for many years, so I can’t believe I’m sending in a question but my own little one is mystifying me! My son is 7 weeks old and has been giving me a blessed 6-7 hour stretch of sleep at night for about two weeks. The problem is, he spends the last hour and a half or so rooting around and grunting in his sleep, and I’m not sleeping when he does. I keep getting up to turn the sound machine back on, see if he wants his binky, check to see if his swaddle blanket has come up over his face, or if he’s really awake this time. His eyes are always tightly shut and when the noise machine comes back on or (of course) after I’ve gotten up he drifts back off again for 20 minutes or so. He sounds awake…but he’s sleeping! But so loudly! And sounding so hungry! I am at a loss…should I keep trying to put him back down to a solid sleep or just get him up for a diaper change to wake him up all the way and then feed him? We are staying with my in-laws for a few months so we all sleep in the same room…there is no escaping how loudly he sleeps. Help!


Sleeping With a Noisy Newborn

Hey! You got a Baby Ike! Just like mine! We match, with the loud, snorty, grunty, squeaky newborns.

I COMPLETELY understand what you’re going through — this was definitely our sleep curveball this last time around, because I’d never HEARD such a noisy baby. Who was asleep, and pretty soundly so, but who had already trained ME to leap to a wide-awake high-alert state at the slightest noise. So…I woke up a lot, usually unnecessarily. Then I would struggle to fall back to sleep…just in time for Ike to wake up for real.

I had the luxury of a crib down the hall, and a sympathetic pediatrician who told me to go ahead and turn the monitor off, too, since Ike’s sighs and noises would sometimes be loud enough to broadcast right on through. “You’ll hear him,” she said, “believe me, when he needs you, you’ll hear him.”

And she was right. We DO hear our babies, when they really need us. I swear motherhood has given me bionic ears. I went from someone who could sleep through anything and everything to someone who jolts awake at the sound of my three-year-old’s feet hitting the floor in the morning.

So since a separate room isn’t an option for you, what can possibly be done to block out sounds coming from just a couple feet away? You mention a white noise machine that shuts off after awhile…perhaps try one that has a stay-on-all-night function? We rarely use the auto-shut-off setting on ours — that puppy stays on alllll night long. (In fact, it’s still on down the hall as I’m typing this, since I forgot to shut it off when I retrieved Ike for his first breakfast at 5 am. When he woke up hollering, with no question that he was UP and READY, as opposed to just snorfling around in his sleep.) It’s not anything particularly awesome — Ike is the first of my three to even use it — but since you mention getting up to turn it back on so much (and the fact that it does seem to settle him back down) it might be worth upgrading to a continuous-play model.

A bedside co-sleeper might also be something to consider, since then you will at least be spared getting out of bed for those blanket/binky checks. You can simply reach your hand out, confirm that he’s still asleep and okay, then roll back over and bury your head under your pillow for another hour.

To Wake or Not to Wake?

The other option is something in between fully waking him up with a diaper change/feeding thing (since I am diametrically opposed to ANYTHING involving waking a sleeping baby unless absolutely necessary), is to skip the diaper change but offer just a little milk/sucking and see if that will coax him back into a deeper sleep for that final stretch of the morning. (If you’re breastfeeding, this is easy to do, but even if you’re bottlefeeding you can keep a box of those little 2oz. pre-mixed no-refrigeration-necessary bottles by your bed. Just crack it open and attach a ring and nipple.) Yes, yes, you’re not supposed to encourage falling asleep on the breast/bottle but I swear: All three of my babies did it at that age and nothing terrible happened. They still learned to put themselves to sleep without boob later. Seven weeks old is still solidly in that “do whatever it takes” window, in my opinion, and nowhere near the realm of “ZOMG A LIFETIME OF BAD SLEEP HABITS IS NOW.”

Ike still wakes up at least once before he’s up for “good,” between 5 and 6. I don’t change his diaper at this point, but just nurse him either in the rocker in his room or in our bed. Then he sleeps for another hour or two, either back in the crib or with us. It’s POSSIBLE that your son’s early morning sleep-rooting could change to full-on waking for food within the next few weeks, once he makes that cognitive leap that he is separate from you and becomes immediately aware of that fact once he’s semi-awake. That’s kinda what happened with Ike, and while it’s always dismaying to think that your 6-7 hour stretch may not be permanent, it is important to know that newborn sleep does not always move in a straight, forward-progress line. Growth spurts, sleep regressions, teething, all that jazz. Today’s big sleep problem can be completely different than next week’s big sleep problem at this age. And that’s not necessarily a problem. It just is how it is.

But I agree with my pediatrician — when your baby is awake and needs you, you’ll know. Even if you were to, say, pop in a set of earplugs while he’s still consistently waking you up with this noisy not-waking. He’s in your room, safe and sound within arms’ reach of both of his parents, and will be fine. And eventually you’ll be able to hone those hair-trigger new-mama waking instincts and get every precious minute of sleep possible.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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