Feeding and sleeping are the 2 things your newborn baby will do most of the time – usually in that order. Trying to balance the 2 and work out which 1 your baby needs, is how you’ll spend most of your time in the first few weeks as a new mum. But when it comes to developing a routine for your newborn, they make the rules, eating and sleeping whenever they need to.
Instead of focusing your energy on getting your baby into a perfect routine, the solution lies in learning to understand your baby’s needs, watching his signs of hunger and tiredness and trying to work around his routine. Here’s how.
Feeding your baby will take up a lot of your time in the first few weeks. Just as you think your baby is satisfied and fast asleep, he’ll wake up demanding another feed (and nappy change). The reason for this is that babies do not take in very much milk at a feed because their stomachs are very small and the milk digests quickly.
So feeding your baby is a learning process for you both and in the early days your baby’s needs change with just about every feed. Your baby will be in the driving seat when it comes to feeding, but there are ways to encourage a routine that suits both of you.
Your newborn might seem fairly alert and enthusiastic about feeding quite soon after birth. This has more to do with the strong desire to suck than with hunger. Your baby’s first feeds will consist of colostrum, a richer, more filling substance than ordinary milk. It’s possible your baby will lose interest after this initial spurt of enthusiasm. This is normal and eventually he’ll “wake up” and want to feed more frequently.
Your real milk will come in on day 3 or 4 and feeding will change a little. Neither you nor your baby should expect to have mastered breastfeeding right away! But you should be feeding when your baby demands – let your baby’s hunger determine the feeding schedule. As a guide, feeding around 8 to 12 feeds in 24 hours is normal.
Days 5 to 28
You’ll both find feeding a lot easier by now. You should continue to feed as and when your baby needs it. The guide of 8 to 12 feeds in 24 hours remains.
If you are concerned about your baby’s feeding pattern, it might help to write down each day when your baby feeds and for how long. You may begin to see a pattern; this will help you to understand your newborn baby and work out a better routine.
Tip: Breastfeeding days 5 to 28
If you express, you will notice that your milk is a watery consistency. That’s normal, but this “real” milk is not as filling as the colostrum was and you need to allow your baby to drink until he is satisfied.
Newborn babies are growing so rapidly that they need loads of sleep. The bad news is that newborns aren’t built for long stretches of sleep, as they need to feed regularly. This means that those naps you thought you were going to take often don’t materialise. Here are a few things you can do to make it easier:
- Learn to read your baby and recognise the signs of tiredness (arching back, yawning, balling his hands into fists, pulling one of his ears and rubbing his eyes. He may turn his head away from you and anything else that’s stimulating him and you may see faint dark circles under your baby’s eyes). By reading these cues you can get him settled before he becomes overtired. This will make it easier for him to fall into a deep sleep.
- Understand your baby’s sleep cycles and know his internal clock. Meg Faure, co-author of Baby Sense, says, “Your baby’s inbuilt clock primes him to fall asleep with ease and makes it much easier to establish a routine. The amount of time a baby can spend happily awake changes by age and is known as his ‘awake time’. These ‘awake times’ are the secret to establishing a baby-centric routine that is flexible and meets your baby’s needs for frequent feeds and sleep.”
- You can expect your baby to sleep in short bursts of 2 to 4 hour cycles for between typically 14 to 18 hours a day during the first week or two, and 12 to 16 hours a day by the time he’s a month old.
Make it work for you
Now that you understand why your routine will need to be led by your baby in the early days, here’s what you can do to make it work for you too:
- Watch for your newborn’s natural routine during the first couple of weeks. When does he wake, eat, sleep?
- Create lead-ins that signal what is coming next, such as a bath before bedtime, a nappy change before a feed, etc.
- Make sure that you share the routine with other family members and carers who are helping you look after your baby and other children. They can help you to make sure the routine is carried out each day.
- Schedule the rest of your life around the routine while you are in the very early stages of establishing the routine. You can mess with the schedule a little later on if needed, but not during the learning stages.
- Follow through. Newborns can seem like totally different babies on different days. Adjust the routine as needed to accommodate those changes.
Night & Day
Teaching your baby the difference between day and night is one of the first things you need to do if you’re trying to establish some kind of routine. Do this by making sure that night-time sleep and daytime sleep look completely different.
- During the day, do not try to block out light or make the house completely quiet.
- To establish night-time sleep, try a bedtime routine that includes a bath or wash, perhaps a quick massage and a lullaby, for example. Close the curtains to block out light and make sure the house is quiet.
Whilst it may be too early for your newborn to settle into a bedtime routine, getting into the habit of doing it now will help you establish a bedtime routine later on.