Babies sleep, and feed, and sleep some more, but caring for a newborn is not always that simple. In this extract from Dorothy Waide’s new book, You Simply Can’t Spoil a Newborn, Dorothy shares her tips for establishing a routine based on nurture.
In the first 12 weeks, time is largely divided between sleeping and feeding. Think of it as fitting together two major pieces of a jigsaw that influence and affect each other. Babies who sleep well, feed well; and those who feed well, sleep well.
The best routine is one that reflects the needs of both you and your baby — and one that fits into your world.
●Feeding and sleeping go hand in hand and will form the basis of your baby’s daily rhythm.
●Aim for flexibility with some structure.
●Babies aged zero to six weeks will ideally be up for no longer than 45 minutes to an hour at a time.
●Babies aged six to 12 weeks will ideally be up for no longer than 60 to 90 minutes at a time.
● During the day, aim for somewhere between two-and- a-quarter and four hours between feeds.
● Your daytime rhythm affects your night-time rhythm.
The first two weeks
Initially, there will be little differentiation between day and night. Time awake will largely be a blend of feeding, changing your baby’s nappy, burping and cuddles, before settling them for sleep. As they grow, the awake intervals will gradually increase to include floor and play time. At this stage, the rhythm is: baby cries, you respond. You feed, burp, change and swaddle them, then help them to sleep.
The next stage
When your baby is around 10 to 14 days old, begin introducing the concept that dark is for sleeping and light is for waking. You can do this by letting light into the room when your baby awakes from a daytime sleep, and feeding in adequate lighting during night feeds. At this stage, it is also good to encourage them to sleep in their bassinet or cot in their room, rather than in other rooms around the house.
When sleeping, keep the room suitably darkened to give the cue that it is time for sleep.
How long your baby sleeps will determine when and how often you feed. Some babies are better sleepers than others, some have larger appetites than others, and all babies digest at different rates. In the initial weeks, most babies will wake frequently, as they are still used to feeding constantly in the womb. Feeding and sleeping rhythms will vary from day to day.
As a guide, newborns aged zero to six weeks are usually awake for no longer than 45 minutes to an hour at a time, including feeding, burping, changing the nappy and returning them to bed. While this may seem fleeting, longer periods will tire your baby and make it more difficult for you to settle and resettle them to sleep. At this young age, sleep and food are more important than play.
For those aged six to 12 weeks, this awake interval increases to 60–90 minutes, including feeding, changing and burping.
To improve your baby’s sleep intervals, babies under 12 weeks should be encouraged to sleep for a minimum of 90 minutes so they are able to progress beyond light sleep to the all-important deep sleep phase, or from one sleep cycle to two sleep cycles, which happens somewhere around the 45-minute mark.
Encouraging them to reach the next sleep cycle is essential in helping set up long-term sleep patterns, and avoids catnapping and snack-feeding.
Keep in mind that every baby’s rhythm is unique. Some babies thrive on feeding every 90 minutes, some wake every three-and-a-quarter hours and others every two hours – all of these are fine. It all comes down to your baby’s individual needs at any given time. As a parent, it is good to know that this is okay.
How your baby’s daily patterns evolve in the first 12 weeks will largely depend on your baby’s personality, your household and other commitments you are juggling.
The overstimulated baby
Babies are sponges
Some parents, without realising it, keep their babies up for too long or expose them to frenetic environments: an active household, visitors coming and going, a loud television, a dog constantly barking or the sound of your voice on the telephone.
It is easy to be fooled into believing that an alert and active baby requires less sleep than others. This is rarely true. It is more likely that hyperactivity is a sign of an overtired baby.
Babies are sponges and don’t know their limits. While they may seem eager to be part of what is going on, it is more likely that, in reality, they are totally exhausted. Even a seemingly inert baby picks up on implicit messages and responds to stimulation – this is how they collect and process information to make sense of their world.
Young babies cannot self-regulate – they respond better to mellow environments, including your expression, loving touch, soothing tone of voice and nurturing body language to help them settle.
Forget tired signs
Some experts suggest looking for tired signs as an indication that your baby is sleepy or overtired. This can be tricky as babies are unique and it is only through getting to know your baby that you will begin to recognise these indicators.
Some babies yawn or rub their eyes or seem excessively fussy when tired, yet not all do so – on the whole, babies are wonderfully inconsistent. Also, if your baby is swaddled, they won’t be able to demonstrate jerky hand movements or rub their eyes. Learning to read your baby’s tired signs could take weeks, maybe months – meanwhile your baby is missing out on precious sleep.
As a reference, it is a good idea to keep records in a notebook, for example:
●the time of day you begin feeding
●which side you start with (if breastfeeding), or amount (for bottle feeds)
●the number of wet nappies
●the number of soiled nappies
Your record-keeping can be as basic or detailed as you wish, although the less of a chore it is, the more likely you will update it. Keep the notebook next to your feeding chair, and total the columns at midnight before starting a fresh page for a new day. The advantage of a book over an app is you have a record for life. It’s also useful to refer to when another baby comes along.
With modern technology, many parents now have access to apps via the Internet for their devices. Do your research to find one that suits you and your family.
When to wake a sleeping baby
The old adage ‘never wake a sleeping baby’ is somewhat misleading. While alert babies are unaware they need to sleep, sleepy babies are often unaware they need to wake to feed. One needs to be taught how to sleep; the other needs to learn how to wake. This is where you must guide them.
Many parents are reluctant to wake their sleeping baby from day sleeps and let them sleep for longer, assuming they must need it. In my experience, it is best to intervene and wake them so they don’t go longer than four hours between feeds. For example, if your baby’s last feed began at 10am, be sure to wake them by 1:45pm so you are feeding by 2pm. Otherwise you will inevitably find yourselves wedged in a nocturnal feeding pattern, where your baby becomes accustomed to eating at night and sleeping by day. This sort of rhythm is tricky to reverse and is taxing on all of you. Keep in mind that your daytime rhythm affects your night-time rhythm.
TIME TO FEED
Never keep a hungry baby waiting
Some parents become confused because they are under the illusion that their babies should feed every three hours. This time frame might work for some, but stretching your baby out to three-hourly intervals purely because you read it somewhere doesn’t mean it is the right thing for your baby. My motto is 'never keep a hungry baby waiting'. It inevitably leads to a distressed and overtired baby who is unable to feed well and sleep well. Consequently, you become flustered, tired and anxious, which only adds to your baby’s stress levels.
If, after your baby’s appropriate time awake, they still appear alert and able to stay up for longer, it is your role to guide and support them to sleep.
A feeding interval begins from the start of the previous feed and extends until the beginning of the next feed, including sleep time. Add together the time awake and the time spent sleeping – this will give the feeding interval.
For example, if your baby is awake for 45 minutes, then has a 1½ hour nap, the feeding interval (or time between feeds) is 2¼ hours. If your baby is awake for 1½ hours, then has a 2 hour nap, his feeding interval is 3½ hours.
To avoid setting up a nocturnal feeding pattern, the maximum feeding interval during the day should ideally not exceed four hours.
If your baby was born prematurely, or if you’re concerned about your baby’s feeding patterns or weight gain, consult your doctor for specific recommendations.
A good guideline as to whether your baby is getting enough food is the number of wet nappies they produce in a day. While the number of bowel movements is also significant, this can vary as some babies soil every feed or daily, while others can go for up to 10 days. This is okay as long as your baby is producing wet nappies, is happy and contented, and is putting on weight.
If your baby isn’t producing wet nappies every feed, then check with a health professional.
Dorothy Waide is a baby whisperer and member of the OHbaby! panel of experts. Visit her at babyhelp.co.nz or ask her a question here.
Edited extract from You Simply Can’t Spoil a Newborn: The essential Kiwi guide to nurturing your baby in the first three months, by Dorothy Waide, released in July 2015, RRP$39.99, published by Bateman Publishing.
Photography: Sam Mothersole, sammothersole.co.nz