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Babies - day and night patterns in the early months

pattern; routine; day; babies; sleep; settle; night; waking; settling; play; feed; unsettled; crying; feeding; patterns; routines; confusion; day; daytime; nighttime; time; predictable; unpredictable;

Parents often want to know how long it will take for their baby to get into a pattern of regular feeds and sleeps. Many babies establish their own pattern during the first few weeks, but some remain quite unpredictable.

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If you are reasonably happy with how things are going with your baby, that’s fine. 

But if your baby is very unsettled and this is getting you down, or if you are exhausted from having to be awake for long times during the night or beginning to resent feeding 'all the time', you may like to try the ideas in this topic to see if any of them make a difference for you and your baby.

Feeding patterns

  • Newborns can breastfeed very frequently at times to ensure a good supply of milk is established. They may need 10 to 12 feeds in 24 hours.
  • Babies continue to need plenty of breastfeeds in the early months, at least 6 to 8 a day and sometimes more.
  • Bottle fed babies also need to feed fairly often at first, about 8 times a day, gradually reducing to 5 or 6.

Day time patterns

You and your baby may find it helpful to develop a rhythm or regular order of doing things by day. This may make it easier for both of you to predict what comes next.

  • You will gradually learn to recognize the signs that mean your baby is ready for sleep, feeding or a playtime.
  • Babies grow rapidly, so their signals and patterns do change over time.

After the first couple of weeks babies do not need to sleep all the time between feeds. You may find you are spending a lot of effort getting them to sleep when they really need more time awake.

  • Babies are often awake and alert after a feed (though they may doze for a few minutes first if they’ve fallen asleep while feeding).
  • This is a good ‘get to know you’ time.
    • Talk to and smile at your baby.
    • Copy the expressions on her face and her noises, and watch for her to copy yours.
  • Walk around with her and show her and tell her about the house and surroundings.
  • Put her on the floor for a kick without her nappy, or hang some toys in front of her. Watch for her early efforts to hit them.
  • Give her some ‘tummy time’ each day.
    • It is quite safe to do this when she is awake and it is good for her development.
    • Make sure you are close by and don’t leave her on her tummy if she falls asleep.

When your baby shows she is getting tired (frowning, grizzling, clenched fists, jerky movements and does not want to go on playing) you can settle for a sleep.

  • You will gradually work out what are the best play and sleep times for your baby. Some babies are sleepier in the mornings and more wakeful in the afternoons.

When the baby wakes it may be time to feed again, followed by play time and sleep as above.

  • Some babies prefer to play first, then feed before going to sleep, which is fine.
  •  As babies get older they may switch from the first type of pattern to the second.

With these sorts of patterns, babies tend to feed about every 2½ to 4 hours during the day, with breastfeeders feeding a bit more often than bottle feeders on the whole. Breastmilk is digested more quickly than formula.

  • If it suits you and your baby, you can breastfeed more often by feeding when the baby first wakes then giving a short ‘top-up’ feed at the breast after the play time before settling your baby for sleep. This is a great way to boost your supply if you feel it is a bit low, or to help get through the fussiness that many babies have at the end of the day.
  • Bottle fed babies may like extra feeds at times too, but don’t re-offer a bottle more than an hour after the baby has first fed from it (as germs may grow and cause illness). Use a new bottle of formula.

Tired signs- sleep cues

As you get to know your baby you will start to learn when he is sleepy and needs to be put down for sleep. Long before they can talk babies have tired signs or sleep cues in their behaviour that show you what they need. Your baby will have his own special sleep cues but here are some that most babies have that will give you a start in watching for your baby’s cues.

  • Yawning
  • Jerky movements
  • Becoming quiet, not wanting to play
  • “Grizzling” or fussing
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Making a sleepy sound
  • Crying
  • Facial grimaces i.e. pulling faces
  • Clenched fists
  • Waving arms and legs about

If you miss the tired signs and don't help your baby to settle your baby may get more alert and overtired and be very hard to get to relax and sleep. Signs that the baby has got overtired included being very overactive, stare-y eyes, and being very quick to cry.

Night time patterns

All of the above is for daytime only. At night, feed quietly and help your baby get back to sleep as quickly as possible.

Day and night confusion

Even though newborns feed fairly regularly around the clock, most soon start to sleep between night feeds and be more wakeful after day feeds. Some, however, get night and day confused and tend to have at least one really long day sleep with some lengthy periods awake overnight.

If this suits you and your family that is fine, but it is possible to change this pattern around if you want to.

  • Make sure your baby has plenty of day feeds. If it has been 4 hours from the beginning of the last feed, wake him gently and offer a feed.
  • Encourage good active play times before or after day feeds, when your baby is awake and alert.
  • Keep night feeds 'boring'. Keep the light low, try not to talk to him (a smile is OK), only change the nappy if you really need to, and get him back to bed and sleep as soon as you can.
  • Even quite young babies tend to have one longer sleep in each 24 hours. If you want this at night, make sure he doesn’t get in the habit of having this sleep during the day. It is OK to wake a sleeping baby if you are trying to change a pattern.

Resources

South Australia

  • Parent Helpline: 1300 364 100
  • Child and Family Health Centres: Call 1300 733 606
    (9am - 4.30pm, Mon - Fri) for an appointment.

Books

Women's and Children's Health Network (SA Health)

More to read

 Pregnancy, birth and baby Pregnancy, Birth and Baby is a national Australian Government service providing support and information for expecting parents and parents of children, from birth to 5 years of age.
http://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/ 

Raising Children Network  Raising Children website is produced with the help of an extensive network including the Australian Government.
http://raisingchildren.net.au/ 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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