Having a new baby to snuggle, care for, and love on is simply one of life’s greatest pleasures.
It’s also one of the most difficult things you’ll do.
Newborn babies are fresh. Fresh to the world. Fresh to the way of life on this side of the womb. And they totally and completely depend on you. It’s beautiful and exhausting all at the same time.
It’s seems like it would be more straight forward, right? I mean, all they really do is feed, poop, and sleep…
…but, ask any new mom, it’s a lot more complicated than that!
Both nourishment and sleep are crucial for your baby’s growth and development. It’s important to prioritize both. If your baby is feeding well but not sleeping well, or vice versa, you’ll likely experience problems with weight gain and meeting developmental milestones. Your baby needs nourishment from your breastmilk or formula, and they also need to sleep in order for growth hormones to be released - to work in conjunction with the nutrients you’ve provided your baby while they were awake.
These things work hand in hand, and it’s important to make sure you have solid foundations for both.
You want to set your baby up for success - you want them to thrive! Today I’m going to share with you exactly how to do that: By establishing healthy feeding AND sleep patterns right from the start with your newborn baby.
Establish Lactation and Breastfeeding First (if this is how you’re feeding)
If breastfeeding is a goal of yours, it’s vital to make sure you’re feeding your newborn every 2-3 hours around the clock to help establish your milk supply. They also need to feed that frequently because their stomachs are so small and can only hold so much.
It’s always important to follow the direction of your child’s pediatrician. If they want your baby feeding every 2 hours, do that. If they want your baby feeding every 3 hours, do that. I recommend starting with 2 and pushing towards three. Whatever you’re doing during the day those first few weeks, you must also do at night, until they’ve reached their birth weight again or your doctor says it’s okay. You also need to feed your baby around the clock to maintain their insulin levels.
I also recommend introducing a bottle fairly early, even after a few weeks. This helps mom get a break from round-the-clock feedings and allows other caregivers to feed and bond with the baby. It’s also important your baby knows how to take a bottle if others will be caring for them during the day following your maternity leave.
Since feedings take roughly 20-40 minutes (at least the first few weeks), you may find that your baby is ready to sleep either during or shortly after their feed. You’ll start to experience a pattern of feeding and sleeping throughout your days, every few hours, with your newborn.
Try to Incorporate the Eat-Play-Sleep Routine During the Day
Newborns are sleepy little things, and you may notice your baby falling asleep at the bottle or breast. If you can, try your best to keep your baby awake while they feed. You want to ensure they’re getting full feedings and don’t become a snacker. Snacking and snoozing, snoozing and snacking. It can be a vicious cycle and can lead to “failure to thrive” - the thing we’re trying to avoid.
Here are a few things you can try to help keep your baby awake while feeding:
Do skin to skin while feeding
Stroke their cheeks with a bit of a wet cloth
Tickle their toes
Do a diaper change between breasts or halfway through a bottle
Talk to them
Break their latch if they’re starting to doze to wake them up again
Newborns are unpredictable though - try your best, but it’s okay if they do fall asleep.
Ideally, after a feeding, you’ll want to burp your baby well and have a bit of “play” time before it’s time for them to nap again. Play time with a newborn is simply a few minutes of staring into each other’s eyes, a little bit of tummy time (could be on your chest!), or looking at a page or two of a high-contrast book.
Before you know it, they’ll be ready to sleep. Newbor
n babies can only handle about 45-60 minutes of awake time before needing to sleep. So, if your baby has had a feed that took about 30 minutes, and they’ve had 10 minutes of “play time,” they’re just about ready for their next nap!
Do a quick nap routine - swaddle your baby in the same spot, give them a few cuddles, turn the white noise on, and let them drift off to sleep in their bassinet or crib. Or in your arms, of course!
After some time (anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours) they’ll wake. You’ll feed them again, doing your best to keep them awake. Offer some more “play” time. Then they’ll sleep again.
This routine is known as the Eat-Play-Sleep routine, and it can be followed loosely throughout your baby’s day. It provides a predictable rhythm and helps set them up for both feeding and sleep success.
I do want to mention, however, that while this is ideal, not all babies get that memo! If you can achieve it with your little one, fine! But if not, that’s okay. There’s no need to stress about it, as newborns are unpredictable.
When It’s Time, Stretch Night Feeds
After getting your doctor’s approval, you can follow your baby’s lead and let them sleep longer stretches at night.
If you’re prioritizing feeding your baby every two to three hours during the day, over time and as your baby’s stomach can hold more contents, they should start getting some longer stretches of sleep at night.
You may see a solid 3-4 hours to start, and that will gradually increase. Usually, a baby is capable of going as many hours at night between feeds as they are weeks old. So, if they’re 4 weeks, they should be able to go about 4 hours at night. This will vary from baby to baby.
Every baby is different. What works for one may not work for another. If you’re interested in learning more about your newborn baby’s sleep, soothing, and stretching those night feeds, I invite you to check out my blog, “How to Encourage Self Soothing in Your Newborn” where I go over the soothing ladder strategy that you can use in response to night wakings and feedings.
Also, want to nail newborn sleep? Grab my newborn sleep guide here!
And congrats on your baby!!