A newborn's tiny tummy can only digest small amounts of food, and both bottle fed and breast fed newborns require frequent feeds during the day and night. Breast fed newborns typically feed about every 3 hours, although some may feed more frequently, which can prove challenging for sleep-deprived moms. However, you can introduce healthy sleep habits and soothing bedtime routines even if you have decided to breastfeed your newborn on demand. "Don't let feeding become comfort nursing," advises Dr. Barton Schmitt, author of "My Child is Sick." Once your baby is fully fed and begins to show signs of sleep readiness, encourage him to fall asleep without the help of breast or bottle so that he learns the art of self-soothing at bedtime.
Offer the breast or bottle as soon as your newborn displays early signs of hunger, which could include rapid eye movements, muscular tension, squirming movements, rooting movements of the head, sucking noises, lip smacking and fist sucking. For newborns, loud crying is often a late sign of hunger. A breast-fed newborn who becomes distressed with hunger can have difficulty feeding because he fails to latch onto the breast properly. Consequently, if your newborn has fed poorly, he will have difficulty settling down to a peaceful sleep at nap time.
Stimulate your newborn after feeding him during the day by holding him, chatting to him and singing to him. Entertaining your newborn when he is fully fed, calm and alert helps you to bond with your infant and supports his early cognitive development. Daytime stimulation will also help to tire him out ready for that all-important nap time later on.
Learn to recognize your baby's early signs of sleep readiness, which could include eye-rubbing, yawning, looking away from you and intermittent, whiny cries. When your newborn looks sleepy, do not rock him to sleep in your arms. Sleep readiness cues offer you a window of opportunity to lay your baby into his crib while he is drowsy but still awake so that he can learn to soothe himself to sleep.
Tips & Warnings
- Play gentle music to help lull your baby to sleep at bedtime.
- Place your baby onto his back when you put him in his crib, as back sleeping is the safest sleeping position for newborns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- You can offer a pacifier or comforter to a bottle-fed baby if he is awake and distressed, but not hungry. If he is already drowsy, let him fall asleep without a pacifier to avoid creating dependency on pacifiers as sleep inducers.
- Avoid offering a pacifier to a breast-fed newborn as it can interrupt and slow down the process of learning how to suckle correctly.
- Children's Physician Network: Sleep Problems: Prevention (Birth to 6 Months)
- NHS Choices: Getting Your Baby to Sleep
- Lucile Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford: Newborn -- Sleep Patterns
- La Leche League International: Feeding on Cue
- La Leche League International: Pacifiers: Yes or No?
- "My Child is Sick"; Barton D. Schmitt, MD, FAAP
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Breastfeeding FAQs
- Photo Credit BananaStock/BananaStock/Getty Images