From birth, babies follow their internal hunger and fullness cues. They eat when they're hungry and then stop eating when they're full. Experts agree that newborns should be fed on demand. This means that you bottle- or breastfeed your infant whenever they show 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 they are at that moment. Here are some things to expect or try as your newborn grows.
At about 3 weeks, you can try to delay feeding for a short time by cuddling or talking with your newborn. Your newborn's nervous system is mature enough that they can wait longer between feedings and interact with you more at this age. But take cues from your baby. Don't force your baby to interact when they are not engaging with you or seem very hungry.
You might be able to limit nighttime feedings if you avoid socializing with your baby and lingering after they have finished eating. Your baby will feed and go back to sleep easier if they are calm.
- As your baby wakes up for feeding, try to respond before they start to cry a lot.
- During the feeding, keep the light off and use a soft voice.
If you want to give your baby more attention during nighttime feedings, plan for a time you can rest the following day to avoid fatigue.
By age 2 months, many babies start to eat less often at night.
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. It's a good time to interact with your baby.
Adding solid foods
At about 6 months, most babies can start to eat solid foods. Some babies may be ready for solid foods at 4 or 5 months. Solid food is given along with breast milk or formula.
- Ask your doctor when you can start to feed your baby solid foods. Follow your doctor's advice on when and what to feed your baby.
- Try to be patient as your baby experiments and learns new skills like chewing and using a spoon.
You may be surprised at the number of diapers your newborn goes through every day. It's important to change your baby's diaper, because urine and stool can irritate your baby's skin.
Paying attention to your newborn's diapers can give you clues about your baby's health. Call your doctor if your baby doesn't regularly produce wet or dirty diapers.
Wet diapers: What to expect
It's sometimes hard to know the number of wet diapers a newborn has. That's because disposable diapers work so well to wick moisture. In general, though:
- Your newborn should have about 3 wet diapers a day for the first few days. After that, your baby should have at least 6 wet diapers a day throughout the first month of life.
- The urine should be yellow in color. Don't be alarmed, though, if you notice a pink color to the urine during your newborn's first 3 days of life. It's common for newborns to pass crystals in the urine, which makes the urine look pink. Call your doctor if the pink color lasts or if your baby ever seems to be in pain while urinating.
Dirty diapers: What to expect
Many newborns have at least 1 or 2 bowel movements a day. By the end of the first week, your baby may have as many as 5 to 10 a day.
Your newborn's stools 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.
Breastfed babies typically have more yellowish stools than formula-fed babies. They also tend to have stools more often.
Sleep habits are influenced by a baby's temperament and feeling of being well fed. They're also influenced by how the parents respond when the baby wakes up. Some babies naturally seem to need more sleep than others.
Sleeping patterns vary with each child and slowly evolve over the first year.
The first 6 months of life
Most newborns sleep for about 18 hours each day. They are awake for short periods at least every 2 to 3 hours. When your newborn wakes up, they will usually be hungry and need to be fed. This pattern dominates your baby's first few weeks.
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, the brain matures. The baby gradually can 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 than they were when they were younger.
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 your baby a gentle massage. Avoid loud music or sounds and bright lights.
Ages 6 to 12 months
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 help get on a regular schedule, stay with your routines when your baby resists going down for a nap or going to bed at the usual time.
Ages 12 to 24 months
Sometime between 12 and 24 months of age, your toddler will probably resist a morning nap and want to rest only in the afternoon. A 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's and the parent's benefit.
A toddler's excitement about learning to walk and their emerging independence may disrupt afternoon nap schedules. When your child resists taking a nap, you can block out time in the afternoon for a quiet period. Even if your toddler doesn't nap, they usually still need a restful break.
Building good sleep habits
You can help your baby become a good sleeper. Here are some ideas.
- Set a regular nap and bedtime schedule for your baby.
- Put your baby down for a nap as soon as they act sleepy.
- If your baby misses a nap, try to keep them awake until the next nap time.
- Create a soothing bedtime routine. Give your baby a bath, sing, or read to them.
- When your baby is getting sleepy, put your baby in their crib in a quiet, darkened room.
- Don't rock your baby to sleep. Rock your baby, but put them down to sleep while they're drowsy but still awake.
- Keep the light dim, and use a soft voice when feeding your baby or changing their diaper before sleep.
Current as of: August 3, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Susan C. Kim MD - Pediatrics
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics