Eating and sleeping

Two important items on a newborn's agenda are eating and sleeping. Because most of a baby's energy goes into growing, many nonsleeping hours are spent eating. During the first several weeks, most babies will be hungry six to 10 times during a 24-hour period. Their stomachs don't hold enough breast milk or formula to satisfy them for long. That means you could be feeding your baby every two or three hours, including during the night. But there's tremendous variation among infants in how often and how much they eat.

Your baby probably won't have a feeding routine at first. Although you can roughly estimate the amount of time between feedings, the baby's schedule will be erratic. During growth spurts, feedings will be more frequent for a day or two.

You'll soon learn to read the signals that your baby is hungry, such as crying, opening the mouth, sucking, putting a fist in the mouth, fidgeting and turning toward your breast. Babies will also let you know when they've had enough by pushing the nipple or bottle out of their mouth or turning their head away.

As with eating, it takes awhile for newborns to get on any kind of schedule for sleeping. During the first month, they usually sleep and wake around the clock, with relatively equal parts of sleep between feedings.

In addition, newborns don't know the difference between night and day. It takes time for them to develop circadian rhythms — the sleep-wake cycles and other patterns that revolve on a 24-hour cycle. As a baby's nervous system gradually matures, so do his or her phases of sleep and wakefulness.

Sleep patterns and cycles

Although newborns don't usually sleep for more than about 4/2 hours at a stretch, altogether they sleep 12 or more hours a day. They'll stay awake long enough to feed or for up to about two hours before falling asleep again. By the time your baby is 2 weeks old, you'll probably notice that the periods of sleeping and being awake are lengthening. By 3 months, many babies shift more of their sleep to nighttime. But each baby is unique, and some babies may not sleep through the night until they're 1 year or older.

You can help adjust your baby's body clock toward sleeping at night by following these tips:

• Avoid stimulation during nighttime feedings and diaper changes. Keep the lights low, use a soft voice and resist the urge to play or talk with your baby so that you reinforce the message that nighttime is for sleeping.

• Start to establish some kind of bedtime routine. This might be reading or singing or having a quiet time for an hour before putting your baby to bed.

Feeding a sleepy baby

Many pediatricians recommend that parents shouldn't let newborns sleep too long without feeding. But you'll no doubt have times when your baby rouses to eat, only to doze again when you begin feeding.

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