10 tips to get you through the first weeks of your newborn's feeding needs
New babies typically sleep little and often, and feed in the same way. 'In the first month, forget all about a feeding and sleeping routine, and concentrate on establishing feeding, whether it's by breast or bottle,' says Tina Southwood, a sleep consultant and maternity nurse. Once things are established, here's how to get into the swing of the night feed.
1. Don't be fooled by the first few weeks
'Your baby may sleep a surprising amount in the first week of their life,' says Southwood. 'If your baby is otherwise healthy and has no problems with feeding, they should sleep a lot.'
The tip that Southwood offers to all her clients is to swaddle in the first few weeks. 'Babies have a strong Moro reflex,' she says. This is a startle reflex, which can wake them up at night. 'Swaddling in the first few months reduces this and helps them sleep for longer.'
3. Give them a comforter
'The other newborn sleep tip is to offer a comforter, like a small bunny or muslin, very early on, and especially during sleep times, in the hope they become attached to it,' says Southwood. 'It also offers them a cue for sleep time.'
4. Get everything ready before you go to bed
If you're breastfeeding, Southwood recommends taking a couple of large glasses of water to bed with you, so you stay hydrated in the night during a feed (along with your calorie intake, your water needs increase when you're breastfeeding). And have a comfy feeding pillow (or regular pillow) close to hand. If you're bottle-feeding, have the whole kit ready – the last thing you need to be doing at 3am is listening to your baby cry as you sterilise a bottle!
5. Nudge them (gently) into a routine
From 12 weeks onwards, Southwood suggests nudging baby into knowing the difference between night and day. 'While it's still early days, start to introduce a gentle routine like a story and a cuddle before daytime naps, and a bath, massage, bottle and story before bed,' she says.
6. Whisper at night
They may wake for a feed right up until their first birthday, which is fine, but if they still need feeding in the night, make sure they know it's night. Keep the lights low, whisper softly and keep eye contact and chatting to a minimum.
7. Feed them up in the day
In the first month or so they will probably want to graze all day and night. But as they grow, try to encourage them gently to take in most of their milk during the day – which should help them sleep better at night.
Always offer both breasts at a feed (if you're breastfeeding), and don't let them nap for too long in the afternoons. Always give them a feed at bedtime and ideally again when you go to bed yourself, at around 10-11pm.
8. Change before a feed
If your baby wakes in the night, change their nappy first and then feed. That way, baby won't fall contentedly asleep with a full nappy, which may wake them up in a few hours when it becomes wetter still.
9. Get your partner to help
Once feeding is established, try to get your partner to help with the night feeds. This is much easier if you're bottle feeding, but even if you're breastfeeding, you can either express some milk before bed or get your other half to change, burp and settle baby after a feed.
10. Don't use your phone during night feeds
While it's tempting during a lengthy 3am feed to while away the time on Facebook, studies increasingly show that the blue light emitted by phones stimulates our brain in a way that makes it harder for us to fall asleep. And you need your sleep more than ever right now. So put your phone down and rest, or read a book during feeds.
By Maria Lally