What can you expect from your new baby's sleeping and feeding cycles? You might be surprised, so read on to find out more.
During the first two weeks, your baby's feeding and sleep cycles will usually be the main focus for both you and your newborn baby. You will soon discover that everything you do revolves around when your baby feeds and sleeps (as well as how much sleep you get). As every person is different, so every baby will be too. If your baby is not behaving the way the 'text books' (or we) say they should, it may be more to do with how your individual baby is, rather than what you are (or are not) doing.
Most full term babies will spend a great deal of their first few weeks eating and sleeping. On average, a newborn baby will sleep from 16 to 19 hours a day - but not all at once (sorry!) When awake, babies will feed, and at times be 'unsettled' and/or cry. They will not usually need (or want) to be entertained for very long (if at all), until they are at least 6 to 8 weeks old.
Working out a routine
Newborn babies generally have ever-changing feeding and sleep cycles to suit their individual sleep and food needs. We now know that if we encourage 'baby-led', or 'demand' feeding, (rather than a rigid, timed feeding pattern), newborn babies will usually get into a 'good' routine sooner themselves, put on weight more quickly and be more settled.
Trying to feed a baby that is not ready, or 'putting off a feed' because it is 'too soon', can make the feed an inefficient and/or unrewarding one for both of you. This is because the baby is usually too sleepy, or they have become exhausted with excessive crying. As they say - 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink'.
Trust your instincts
Trusting (and believing) that very young babies (up to 3 to 4 months) just rely on their instincts to survive can often be half the battle for new parents. Babies are not 'knowing' or 'manipulating' at this early time. Therefore, accepting what your baby is doing in the early weeks, rather than trying to change it, will usually make everyone feel much better about what is going on. After the first 12 weeks or so, you may choose to start 'training' your baby into more 'adult friendly' habits. However, you may not feel ready to do this for a while (if your baby is not already sleeping more on their own). Trust your own instincts with what is right for you and your baby.
Be aware that not all babies will be able to follow a demand- feeding regime. For example, babies who are born to diabetic women, large babies over 4,500 grams, small babies less than 2,800grams and premature babies (before 37 weeks) may need to feed on a regular basis (every 3 hours or so). This is because these babies usually have different energy requirements, possibly fluctuating blood sugar levels and/or problems maintaining their body temperature. Caregivers will usually recommend waking these babies for regular feeds, whether they are ready or not, which can be difficult.
Parents of twins or more may find that gently 'coaxing' all their babies into a similar schedule is more practical, thus making them easier to care for.
This article was written for Birth, Australia's most comprehensive pregnancy and baby website.
Last revised: Saturday, 15 December 2012
This article contains general information only and is not intended to replace advice from a qualified health professional.