To help establish and maintain a predictable daily schedule, respond to your baby's needs and try to reinforce your baby's natural habits.
From birth, babies follow their internal hunger and fullness cues. They eat when they're hungry and stop eating when they're full. Experts agree that newborns should be fed on demand. This means that you breast- or bottle-feed your infant whenever he or she shows signs of hunger, rather than setting a strict schedule.
How often your baby needs to eat will depend on your baby's age and how hungry he or she is at that moment. As your newborn grows, you can try these tips:
At age 3 to 4 months, babies become more and more interested in the world around them. Babies often interrupt feedings by looking around, smiling, cooing, and reaching for a parent's face. This is a normal attempt to turn feeding times into a more social event and an opportune time for parents to interact with their babies. It may help to feed your baby in a quiet and dimly lit room.
At age 4 to 6 months, most babies can start to eat solid foods. This complements breast milk or formula. Try to be patient as your baby experiments and learns new eating skills like chewing and using cups and utensils.
For more information about feeding, see the topics Breast-Feeding, Bottle-Feeding, and Weaning. Follow your doctor's advice on when and what to feed your baby.
It's important to change your baby's diaper, because urine and stool can irritate your baby's skin.
You may be surprised at the number of diapers your newborn goes through every day. Many newborns who are breast-fed have 5 to 10 bowel movements a day. They may have as few as 1 or 2. After 2 weeks, breast-fed babies' bowel movements might be less frequent. Bottle-fed babies tend to have 1 or 2 fewer bowel movements a day than breast-fed babies.
Babies sometimes go 2 days or longer between bowel movements. This usually is not a problem as long as the baby seems comfortable and is healthy and growing and as long as the stools are not hard. Your newborn's bowel movements usually will change from black to green in the first few days. Then they will change to yellow or yellowish brown by the end of the first week. Breast-fed babies generally have more yellowish bowel movements than bottle-fed babies.
The number of diapers a newborn wets is sometimes hard to know, because disposable diapers work so well to wick moisture. In general, though, your newborn will likely have at least 3 wet diapers a day for the first few days. After that, your baby will have at least 6 to 8 wet diapers a day.
By monitoring your baby's diaper habits, you can get a sense of whether he or she is getting enough breast milk or formula. If your baby is not getting enough milk, he or she may act fussy and hungry, fail to produce tears when crying, and have a dry mouth with little or no saliva. Call your doctor if your baby does not regularly produce wet or dirty diapers and shows other signs of dehydration, such as strong-smelling urine that is a dark yellow color.
A newborn moves between sleeping and waking during a 24-hour day. Most newborns sleep for a total of 18 hours each day, waking for short periods at least every 2 to 3 hours. When your newborn wakes up, he or she will usually be hungry and need to be fed. This pattern dominates your baby's first few weeks.
Sleeping patterns vary with each child and gradually evolve over the first year. Sleep habits are influenced by the baby's temperament and feeling of being well fed and the parents' response to waking episodes. Some babies naturally seem to need more sleep than others.
Periods of murmuring and restlessness every 50 to 60 minutes are a normal part of the baby sleep cycle. These periods are known as "active sleep." The restlessness usually lasts a few minutes, and if babies are left alone, they usually fall back to sleep.
The sleep cycles include:
At first, babies often sleep through loud noises. But, at about 3 to 4 months of age, many babies become easily disturbed by noises like the phone ringing or a dog barking.
During a baby's first few months, maturing of the brain allows the baby gradually to sleep for longer periods. By age 3 months, most babies sleep for their longest period (up to 7 to 8 hours) during the night and develop set nap times. They are also more alert when awake and you can gradually add time between feedings. At about 3 to 4 months, start bedtime rituals to help your baby relax. Read a story, play quiet music, sing, rock your baby, or give him or her a gentle massage. Avoid loud music or sounds and bright lights.
Sleep patterns often change during the second half of the first year. By 9 months of age and into the second year of life, it can be hard for some babies to let go of the excitement of the day. Also at this age, many babies want to exert control over their actions. Because of these things, your baby may resist going to sleep at the times you want. To promote a regular schedule, stay with your routines when your baby resists going down for a nap or going to bed at the usual time.
Somewhere between 12 and 24 months of age, your toddler will likely resist a morning nap and want to rest only in the afternoon. Your child's attempt to switch to one nap a day often occurs at about 18 months of age. Many doctors recommend keeping both naps as long as possible for both the child and parents' benefit.
When your child resists taking a nap, you can try blocking out time in the afternoon for a quiet period. Even if your child doesn't sleep, he or she usually still needs a restful break.
A toddler's excitement about learning to walk and about his or her emerging independence can sometimes also disrupt afternoon nap schedules. Toddlers often are more eager to practice new skills than to sleep. You may want to try some of the following tips to help your child get needed rest:
Last Revised: April 2, 2012
Author: Healthwise Staff
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.