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While your baby's a newborn, he should call the shots when it comes to his eating and sleeping schedule. This may mean that days and nights are interchangeable and that there's no clear pattern, but that's okay for now.
Your baby actually did have an intrauterine pattern that was disrupted by labor and delivery. New babies typically are alert for an hour or so after birth before settling into a deep sleep or grogginess for the next 12 to 24 hours. During this time, hunger probably woke your baby every hour or so. You may have been able to discern a bit of a pattern by the fourth or fifth day. (If you or your baby had any complications, it may have taken a bit longer. And any medications or anesthetics that you had during labor also could have affected your baby's sleep/awake pattern.)
While respecting your brand-new baby's peculiar rhythms, you can gently help him begin to establish patterns that are a bit more regular. (If you're in the hospital, keep him in your room if you can, because the stimulation of the hospital nursery can discourage any kind of natural schedule.) Feed your baby at least every two to three hours, and encourage his alertness during the day, with lots of talking, eye contact, and cuddling. At night, keep the lights and your voice low.
Internal factors, such as hunger and fatigue, seem to drive the rhythms of babies under 3 months, while older infants seem to be more influenced by environmental factors. Your baby's maturity and temperament also play an important role. And babies who eat, sleep, and wake in erratic patterns tend to be a bit more challenging in terms of temperament, too!
As for sleep schedules, in the first year of life there's a pretty wide range of what's considered normal. Some babies can sleep five to six hours at a stretch by the time they're 2 months old, for example, while others don't until they're 3 or even 9 months old. (In fact, 30 percent of babies don't "sleep through the night" at 9 months.) As long as your baby seems alert, playful, and happy during his waking hours, he's probably getting enough sleep.
Regardless of your baby's tendencies, there are a couple of things you can do to encourage him to sleep longer at night so that his pattern becomes more family friendly: Keep naps short, about one to two hours. And add as much predictability as possible to his day. Give him meals, baths, walks, visits to the park, and bedtime on a consistent schedule.
At the same time, if he seems hungry again before his usual feeding, go ahead and feed him. And if he's out of sorts, perhaps he needs to get to sleep a bit earlier than planned. Your goal should be to provide your baby with a consistent schedule that respects his natural patterns and personality, too.
Sooner or later, your baby will probably settle into a fairly predictable daily schedule. Even then, don't count on its being permanent.
Your baby may keep regular hours for a while and then become completely irregular, time-wise – during a growth spurt, for example, or when he's learning something new, such as how to roll over or sit up. At times, he may need to feed more often or require more breast milk or formula at each feeding. When this happens, rest assured that your baby will get back into a rhythm again, probably after just a couple of days.
- Baby schedule basics: Why, when, and how to start a routine
- How to create a parent-led, baby-led, or combination schedule
- Seven keys to creating a successful baby schedule
- Sample baby schedules for your child's first year