Updated February 2019
The first three months of your baby’s life is a transition between the womb world and the real world; it truly is the “4th trimester.” Your job is to usher baby through this transition as painlessly as possible.
In utero, your baby was naturally awake and active exactly when you weren’t: at night. Now that she is no longer living inside of you, you must gradually shift her from a nocturnal schedule to a normal daytime (diurnal?) schedule. This is a gradual process and won’t happen overnight, but you should start as soon as you get home from the hospital.
Many moms fall into the trap of letting the baby completely dictate their own sleeping schedule because it SEEMS very natural and wonderful. It’s the right thing to do, right? Let baby do what baby wants to do. Eh… not so much…
Remember: Your baby is just a brain stem at this point. She is just reacting to stimuli. You and your cerebral cortex have to do the heavy lifting and guide your baby through the transition to a daytime schedule. Otherwise, you will end up with an 8-month-old baby who is waking multiple times in the night demanding to be fed and ready to party – and you will not get any semblance of normalcy back in your life for a long, long time. You will have to hire a sleep consultant to cure you of your woes, blah blah blah. Just say no.
During the first week home from the hospital, your baby will be sleeping a LOT. They are recovering from birth and adjusting to the stressors of the outside world. They need a lot of sleep. Great! What a coincidence because so do you! The problem is, they will be coming to the trough to feed every 2.5-3.5 hours. They need frequent feedings to fill up those tiny little tummies.
Daytime Feedings – Fill ‘Em Up!
The daytime is when you really focus on filling up their tank with milk. Starting with the first feeding after sunrise, feed your baby every three hours (at a minimum!), timing from the BEGINNING of the last feed to the beginning of the next feed. Wake them from napping (during the day ONLY) if you must. You may feel bad about doing it, but don’t. This is very important and prevents them from napping too long during the day, which will in turn prevent them from sleeping well at night.
After some amount of time (a week for some, several weeks for others), you will begin to notice your baby sleeping for longer than a three-hour span at night. Ah ha! This is the first glimmer of normal night sleeping. Don’t worry – as the span gets bigger, your milk supply will adjust accordingly. You may feel a little engorged when it first happens, though. Just roll with it. You can also pump (just a little bit!) for relief.
As this interval widens, you will need to start cluster feeding at night. Cluster feeding just means that you nurse (or bottle feed) frequently right before bedtime. So, if “bedtime” is 8 pm, feed your baby at 6 pm, 7 pm, and maybe a top-off before going down for night-night. This will fill their bellies so they can go longer before waking up hungry. Some people also call this the “dream feed.” I call it buying an insurance policy on your own sleep that night. 😉
If done correctly, you will notice this span-of-sleeping-at-night gradually lengthen and lengthen. For my girls, it happened fast. Here’s how it happened with each of them (mind you, they were large, full-term babies — this matters!!)
A few weeks in, she started sleeping from 10 pm-3 am (weeeeeeeee!). The next night she woke at 4 am. The following week she slept from 10 pm-5 am, then 6 am, then (ohmygodddd) 7 am. It was a beautiful thing. I shed a tear. She was “sleeping through the night” by 7 weeks. This is the part where I have to say, **Results may not be typical. Being able to sleep through the night heavily depends on your baby’s weight, 11-15 lbs being the range where this becomes possible. This is why women who want small babies are nutso!
Nursing moms will also know your babies are sleeping longer because when you wake up, you’ll be engorged. Don’t worry, your milk supply will adjust and settle down over time, though there is a bit of a lag 😉
Point being: Life sucks when you have to wake up every 2-2.5 hours and you don’t get any continuity in your sleep. You feel like a zombie around the clock. No amount of caffeine can fix you. When you sleep? The angels sing and life is great again. This is when you become an obnoxiously happy mom. Yay. This is our goal.
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