How do I get my baby on a feeding schedule?

Keep in mind that it’s perfectly normal for your newborn to have totally unpredictable eating and sleeping habits. He may even have his days and nights mixed up. So don’t fight his rhythms. In fact, it’s important for you to learn and respect his cues — those that tell you when he’s hungry and when he’s full. That said, there are some things you can do to gently coax your baby into a schedule of sorts:

  • Establish other schedules. Give your baby a bath and take him for a walk every day at about the same time. It’ll get him used to the idea of daily routine. In fact, he’ll probably take comfort in it. With a little luck, other schedules will fall into place more easily, too.
  • Help your baby sleep soundly. Sometimes your baby will fall asleep at the end of a feeding, as if to signal that he’s finished. Other times he may doze off in the middle of a feeding, only to wake up half an hour later because he’s still hungry. So when you nurse your baby or give him a bottle, don’t overfeed him (by trying to get that last ounce in him) if he’s awake and clearly has had enough — but do try to make sure he gets his fill before he sleeps. Play lively music, talk with him, or change his diaper mid-feeding if you think he’s nodding off in the middle of a meal.

    If you’re breastfeeding, offer both breasts at each feeding. Make sure your baby takes the rich hind milk from at least one breast, even if he doesn’t need to empty both breasts to be satisfied. (This high-fat hind milk will help him sleep longer between feedings.) If your baby has a weaker suck, you can help him get the hind milk by massaging your breast during the last few minutes of nursing. If you have a very strong baby with a powerful suck and a good latch-on, then he’ll most likely have no difficulty obtaining the hind milk all by himself.

    Remember, too, that babies are different. Some can empty a breast in four or five minutes, while others — especially tiny babies — may need 15 to 20 minutes. Efficient nursing is a skill that babies master as they get older and stronger.

  • Pay attention to your baby’s rhythms. When your baby is very young, feed him whenever you notice hunger signals — even when they seem completely random. This might be up to a dozen times a day in the first few weeks. Once he becomes a more efficient eater, though (at around 4 weeks), he’ll likely drop to about eight feedings in 24 hours. This is a good time to look for a pattern in his feeding.

    If you observe closely, you may be able to detect other consistencies, too. Note when he’s alert, how long he sleeps, and when he has a bowel movement. Sometimes BMs occur at regular intervals in relation to sleeping and eating. Your baby might not be able to settle down until he’s had one, for example, or he may be ready to eat only after his first BM of the day. Once you begin to pick up on his consistencies, you can both settle into a (flexible) schedule of sorts.

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