Is it okay to put a newborn on a feeding schedule?

I am not a fan of strict routines for young babies. I find that it puts so much pressure on mum and baby and really sets you up to fail. Young babies need to set the pace as to when they need to feed – not the clock. A newborn baby has a tiny tummy and so may need to be fed as frequently as every two hours, in those first few weeks. It’s also important when establishing your milk supply, for those mums who breastfeed, to feed your baby when they are hungry, as this will set up a supply that will suit your baby’s needs.

That said, you can definitely have a little pattern to your day, which can help you feel like you have some control over things. The routine should be focused around how long your baby can be awake for, and for very young babies, they can really only cope with being awake for about 60 minutes at a time. If you watch your baby you will notice they will start to display tired signs around the 60-minute mark. This is the way your baby tells you they are ready for sleep. In that 60 minutes of awake time, you will feed, burp and settle your baby, that will be about it!

It is a great idea to let your baby find their own rhythm, and most babies will start to extend their night-time sleep around the 8 to 10 week period. If you have your baby on a very strict routine, often this will override the baby’s natural rhythms and can cause sleep disturbances as they grow.

You can also help your baby find their rhythm both day and night by encouraging sleep patterns. Things like having the same little ritual every time you put your baby to bed is a great one. Sleeping your baby in a quiet room, both day and night can also help. Overnight, when feeding, keep it dark and quiet as this will help them understand that it is night, and swaddling your baby before sleep can also help them settle and calm before bed.

When babies are about 8 to 10 weeks, you may also find that they will naturally start to wake around the same time in the morning, and be ready for bed around the same time in the evening. Some babies will want to start the day early, around 6am, and others will be able to sleep in till around 7.30am or 8am. Again, each baby is different so we want to find out the best rhythm for your baby.

Keeping a record of when your baby eats, sleeps and is awake, can help you notice these patterns emerge. I really encourage mums to try and tap into their instinct about their own baby. We all have an instinct about our children, it just can be hard to find it sometimes with all the information around us. Take some time to stop reading and googling, and just watch your baby, this is the most important thing. Your baby is always trying to communicate with you. Just by noticing them, you can have a better understanding of what is working for your baby and what might not be. Then you can really start to understand their patterns and this will help you start to establish the best routine for them.

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.