This is the second instalment of our guide for new parents and how to take care of your precious newborn baby. This part focuses on the first 2 weeks with your newborn and covers feeding, establishing your baby’s routine, newborn sleep advice and tips on soothing your baby.
Your newborn baby’s first two weeks: what to expect
You’ve made it through the first few days back at home - congratulations! Now, here’s what to expect from your 2-week-old newborn.
The first two weeks or so are still a time of recovery and adjustment. Not only to the probable tiredness from regular night feeding, but to the recognition that one small infant can eat up the hours in a day! Prioritise any essential domestic tasks and don’t attempt to fit too many in one day.
This is also a time to be gentle with yourself. Becoming a parent brings with it an immense range of emotions and it is important to recognise and respect these, so don’t try and keep to ‘pre-baby’ routines. It doesn’t matter if you stay in your pyjamas all day; it is more important that you eat regularly and rest when you can. Keep domestic chores to the bare minimum and keep meals simple. ‘Share the load’ with family and friends close by, or if COVID-19 restrictions make this impossible, consider hiring a night nanny to help make things more manageable.
Feeding and mealtime routines for newborn babies
Feeding will seem erratic in the early stages, but be reassured that this is normal. Over the coming weeks, you will be aiming to help your baby develop a rhythm that ensures they are fed every three hours during the day for the first few months. If you aim to feed your baby every three hours between the first morning waking (e.g. 6am) up to the last evening feed (9-11pm), over the next few weeks your baby will hopefully be able to sleep for slightly longer periods during night time hours.
It is critical, however, to not offer the breast or bottle every time your baby cries between feeds. Crying does not always mean hunger. Before leaping to conclusions, conduct a process of elimination to see what the cause could be.
Establishing your baby’s bedtime routines
As your newborn baby begins to make their way in the world, their sleeping patterns may seem erratic to begin with. In this section, we will provide an overview of the steps you can take to gradually build up your baby’s bedtime routines and how, in the meantime, you can soothe and settle them throughout the learning process.
Context for a baby doesn’t exist at the point of birth; up until now, their sole experience has been within the womb, where all conditions are constant. Upon entering this world, there is an assault on the senses, and while some babies appear quite ‘zen’ about this post-birth experience, others are utterly bewildered.
How can we help them? By establishing concrete bedtime routines.
Soothe your baby after feeding
After feeding your newborn baby and checking for any wind which may be causing discomfort, allow a little time to engage with your baby. Although their vision is still a bit hazy for the first few weeks, they will soon be able to make out the features of your face from a distance of about 15 - 20cm and their sense of smell is strong. They will also get comfort from your closeness and voice.
Should I cuddle my baby to sleep?
It is very tempting to cuddle your baby to sleep or to let them nap on you, as this is, after all, the most familiar and wonderful place for comfort. This is likely to be commonplace in the first fortnight, as not only is it lovely for both you and your baby, but it is also an important part of recovery, adjustment and learning. Just be conscious that doing it too often and for too long may unwittingly become the only way that your baby will settle, and any attempt to be placed into a crib will be met with abject distress!
Signs your newborn baby is ready to sleep
Around 60-90 minutes after each nap your baby will need another rest, and will give ‘sleepy cues’ to indicate this is the case. If you observe this window of opportunity and act swiftly, there is a better chance your baby will settle. Some signs to look out for include:
- Disengagement from you (restless turning of eyes or head)
- Restlessness of limbs
Helping your newborn baby to settle in a crib
When starting to settle your baby into the crib, it’s important to remember, they have no context of what a crib is and that they are expected to sleep in it. Therefore, it’s important to establish a routine when settling your baby to sleep.
Swaddle your newborn baby
As mentioned previously, life in the womb was cosy, warm and snug and swaddling is one of the best ways to replicate these conditions. Swaddling also helps to reduce the ‘moro’ or ‘startle’ reflex which will be a barrier to settling. If the baby appears restless, soothe them first and then swaddle - never attempt swaddling while the baby is crying!
Use white noise to soothe your baby
Since the womb is never silent, complete quiet can worry them. Therefore, before you lay your baby down in the crib, consider using ‘white noise’ to help settle them.
The best sounds to use are low in pitch, either ‘nature’ sounds, such as rain or tides, or a steady mechanical thrum, such as a washing machine. White noise is most effective when used for day and night sleeping, and continued for the sleep duration.
Rock your newborn baby to sleep
A rapid but smooth, rhythmic backwards and forwards rock, accompanied by a gentle rhythmic patting on their bottom is an effective aid for pre-nap relaxation. You can also use a rapid ‘shhhh shhhh’ sound a few inches away from their ear.
Should I give my newborn baby a pacifier?
Although a controversial point for parents, it is worth noting that many babies suck either a thumb or fingers while in the womb. Therefore, it is natural that immediately after birth, they ‘root’ and search to suckle as it is a primeval response. If other soothing methods have been tried and not been effective, offering a pacifier may be the final comforter that assists your baby to finally settle. Not all babies want them, and as with many things moderation is key.
If you prefer not to offer one, allowing your baby to suck on your (thoroughly washed) little finger is an effective alternative. Ensure that the nail side is down against the tongue and not against their palate.
How long does a newborn baby sleep? Newborn baby sleep cycles
Baby sleep cycles change from active to quiet sleep at around 30-40 intervals. A baby can appear restless and as though they are about to wake up at these times.
Try not to let your newborn baby go right off to sleep before laying them down. Whenever you can, aim to place your baby in the crib when they are very relaxed and not quite asleep. Some babies need a hand on their tummy to help them get to sleep completely.
If the baby wakes up restless, try to re-settle your baby while in the crib or, if unsuccessful, repeat the holding and rocking process as described above. This is why white noise is more effective when left on for a full sleep period, as waking to silence can upset some infants.
Looking for newborn support or a night nanny to help you through the first few weeks after birth? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up today to find the best postnatal support for you.
This blog is the second in our ‘A New Parents' Guide to Baby Sleep and Routine’ series.
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