More about normal newborn behaviour - what's a normal feeding and sleep pattern?

Yes, I know, "normal" and "pattern" are words I rarely use when I talk about feeding a baby but sometimes it's the only way to put what they're doing into any sort of context. Otherwise the only thing you're left with is "babies feed whenever they want", which is absolutely true, but not always very helpful. I have written about it before, but thought may be good to chat about it some more.


When it's our first baby we have usually left a fairly scheduled life. Even if we decide not to schedule a day, it basically meant we scheduled the whole day for ourselves to do what we want. So to get our heads around our new "no-schedule life" it can be useful to have something to hang on to. Our new life has no defined day or night, weekday or weekend. We live 24/7.


When healthy, full term babies are first born they will have 1 feed within the first 3 hours-ish. Sooner if it was an unmedicated vaginal birth and later if it was a scheduled ceasarean birth with no labour. Once they've had that feed they usually sleep for quite some time with a few sucks here and there for up to a couple of days even depending on how long and difficult the birth was, because they need to recover. During those days, we tend to get lulled into a false sense of security and we think something is very wrong when they are awake and hungry ALL day on day 3 (or before) and we try the same techniques; feed and put baby in cot and baby isn't having any of it. In a way day 3 is baby's first growth spurt. He is making sure you will make the milk he needs in the future. And when a baby needs something, all you can do is give it to him, because he knows best. But that doesn't mean he can never be put down again so you can have a moment to yourself.


Babies hormone levels are what controls him and in the early days they rise and dip quickly. When a baby sucks (on anything at all) a hormone called CCK goes way up. CCK tells your baby he is full and he is tired (among other things) and he falls asleep. As adults we know that it's hard to sleep if we're hungry. It can be pretty much impossible even and we use this logic and apply it to our babies and attempt to put him down in his cot. If he's sleeping he must be full, right? But he isn't full at all, so as soon as the sucking has stopped, the levels begin to drop and he'll be awake again wanting to (and this bit is important) CONTINUE his feed. So you need to put him back to the same breast so he can carry on. He may repeat this pattern 3 or more times before he is actually full, which will mean he will sleep longer, 45mins-2hours perhaps. But even then we need to be aware that babies don't go from awake feeding to deep sleep instantly, so we need to keep him close to our breast when he comes off (i.e. not get dressed) for 10-20 minutes to allow him to transition into a deeper sleep before we can attempt to put him down.


That is the normal way a baby feeds. It isn't simply "frequently", because even with that type of explanation we still assume a schedule according to a clock, such as hourly. But babies don't do anything according to the clock for weeks and weeks.


A baby has come from a place where it's been fed non-stop and carried around, snuggled up in close contact to his mother and that is all he knows. It will take time for him to feel comfortable doing anything other than those things. Because babies expect to be carried, having a good sling can be a life saver. Imagine having a big meal and then trying to sleep flat on your back. Sometimes the only way to feel better is to go for a walk to aid digestion. It's the same for babies. When they've eaten, they need to be upright and they need movement to settle quicker. Because we don't know which feed was the big feed and which was a snack, the only choice we have is trial and error. If you're trying to put your baby down and he's having none of it, put him in a sling (it's a great task for the dads or other helpers to have).


I didn't know I was a big fan of baby wearing until I had my second and we were doing up our house at the same time. There were builders everywhere so I ended up carrying her around. I didn't even notice the moment she fell asleep. I would look down at her and she'd be fast asleep and I could then put her down. Foolishly, I didn't invest in a good sling so I actually carried her in my arms and my neck and back suffered. But my mind benefited hugely from having a much "easier" baby than my first.


Going back to the CCK. It is important to understand how sucking stimulates a baby and why it's therefore a bad idea to introduce a dummy too soon. It's not just to do with nipple confusion/preference. If a baby gets a dummy he will fall asleep and he will miss a feed. He will suddenly wake up when the dummy falls out and he'll be starving hungry. Trying to latch a starving hungry baby is very difficult and it can seem like a good idea to calm baby using the dummy again. Baby will fall asleep and miss another feed. This is obviously worst case scenario but it's surprisingly easy to end up in this negative cycle of starving and hungry baby or sleeping baby. At the same time as baby is missing a feed, you are missing a feed to and this can affect your supply unless you have an abundance of milk. If it's your first baby, you won't have an idea of how much milk you have so setting up your supply is really important. There will always be babies who've had dummies without encountering any issues, but those who do have issues struggle a lot.


This sort of info is easier to give face to face so I apologise if I've been rambling on a bit. If you want me to expand on any bit then just message me. Hope you find it helpful


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Malin Lindberg

Doula & Breastfeeding Coach

Worcester

Worcestershire

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