Eat. Poop. Sleep. Repeat. That’s the life of a newborn – and it’s not very predictable in the beginning. As your baby grows, you will start to recognize patterns in eating and sleeping that will help you to feel a little more in control of your days (and nights!). Some parents want to be a little more structured and scheduled – a more predictable schedule may make you less stressed. Knowing what’s normal will give you a starting point to make decisions for your baby.
Newborns sleep on average 16 hours per day, and this is typically broken in two to four hour chunks. Babies are all unique individuals, though, and your baby may sleep more than or less than the mean. Baby will wake, eat and perhaps stay awake for a bit, and then sleep some more. As he gets older, he’ll spend more time awake and interacting with you. Wakeful periods will happen around the clock in the beginning – it’s not until three to four months of age that babies begin to consolidate sleep in the nighttime hours. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone that is unrelated to feeding. In fact, experts agree that it’s normal even for older babies to continue waking a couple of times at night – whether they are breastfed or formula fed.
As for feeding, breastfed newborns need to eat often – eight to twelve times in 24 hours. These feedings aren’t always evenly spaced – some may be clustered together, while other may be spaced a few hours apart. When formula feeding, newborns should be getting a bottle every two to three hours. As baby grows and gets more efficient at eating, the nursing sessions begin to follow an expected pattern, and the formula feeding tends to get spaced out a little (though the amount per feeding is increased). Research shows that formula fed and breastfed babies tend to get the same amount of sleep overall each day – it’s just the timing that’s different between the two groups.
Often feeding and sleep go hand in hand – as soon as baby wakes, he’s probably hungry. And many babies nurse (or take a bottle) to fall asleep. One of your first tasks as a new parent is to learn your baby’s cues – for hunger, fullness, and need for sleep.
- Smacking, licking or sucking lips
- Sucking on hands or fingers
- Squirming and fidgeting
- Crying (though this is a late sign of hunger)
- Decreasing sucking
- Releasing or turning away from nipple
- Extending fingers, arms and legs
- Arching away
- Falling asleep
- Glassy, less focused eyes
- Decreased motor activity
- Calmer or slower limb motions
- Drooping eyelids
- Rubbing eyes, ears or head
- Whining or soft crying
- Clinginess or fussiness
Sleep deprivation is hard on new parents, and many people describe their baby as having sleep problems. But more realistic expectations about sleeping (and eating) will help parents to cope more easily with their baby’s around the clock needs. In addition, new parents should rest when baby sleeps, even setting an earlier bedtime for themselves.
Keeping track of feeding times and amounts, as well as documenting when baby sleeps, can help you recognize predictable patterns. Does your baby have one longer stretch of sleep around the same time every day? Does he eat shortly before or after? Are you feeling more stressed around a certain time of day? You may be able to use baby’s patterns to shift a nap or a feeding session to ease your schedule a bit.
You are the expert on your baby and your family. Before long you will begin to feel confident in guessing when your baby needs to eat or sleep, and you will feel more in self-assured in your parenting. You know what works best for you – maybe being much more proactive in getting baby on an eating and sleeping schedule may keep you sane which will keep baby happier. Keep in mind that milestones such as starting solids, teething and mom returning to work can disrupt eating and feeding schedules. But after a bit, you’ll both fall into a new pattern, and life will be back to normal.