Written by Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, MS, IBCLC
As a NICU/nursery nurse and IBCLC who has worked with newborn babies her entire nursing career, I was mystified when I first heard the phrase “second night syndrome.” When I began to research where the phrase came from, it became clear that this phrase is not based on any scientific research, but rather based on a theory that describes behavior of exclusively breastfed newborns on their second day of life. I think it is a frightening phrase for new parents to hear, as the word “syndrome” is defined as a group of signs and symptoms that occur together and characterize a particular abnormality or condition.
Babies can go into a very deep, recovery sleep period after the first 2 hours from birth. This period can range from 8-12 hours after birth and is often a time that babies may not wake up on their own to feed every 2-3 hours. Babies often need gentle encouragement from their parents to wake them up for feeding sessions. Some babies will nurse for 5 minutes or suckle on a bottle for 5 minutes or less and fall back asleep. It’s well known that babies are fasting during this time and if they have enough caloric reserves, they may tolerate this fasting period without complications. Nursery nurses are quite skilled with performing clinical assessments of babies to ensure they are stable. They are looking for signs of hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels, jaundice and other abnormal clinical markers. Ten percent of healthy, full-term exclusively breastfed newborns develop hypoglycemia in the first days of life and may require specialized care until they are stable. All babies are transitioning from intrauterine to extra-uterine life and need skilled observation from the nurse while they are bonding with their parents in their room.
After babies begin to ‘wake-up’ from their deep recovery sleep period on their second day of life, they will begin to exhibit stronger hunger cues to nurse or bottle feed, every 2-3 hours and they become much more alert. This is a new opportunity for parents to bond because their babies become alert again, opening their eyes while gazing at their parent’s adoring faces. Some babies are a bit demanding during this time because they are very hungry. Newborn babies are very easy to console after their feeding by being held and snuggled. Every nursery nurse will tell you if a baby is not content after feeding, something is wrong. I suspect this is where the word “syndrome” came from, which describes abnormal infant behavior. Continue reading