Managing Mealtimes - Newborns
In this little mini-series, I’m summarising how I went about feeding my eight children from the time they were newborn to the time their mealtimes lined up with the rest of the family's. This post's focus is on the very early stages – newborn to up until they begin solids.
From what I've learned over the years, the way I managed my child’s feeding mattered. It had a flow on effect into other parts of their lives such as their nap times and and their mood. I also see that what I did in the very early stages of my child’s life set the stage for how things flowed when they were ready to start solids and beyond.
In a nutshell, I didn’t demand feed. I also didn’t clock feed. Before we had our first bub I learned about some strategies that helped my baby establish some feeding patterns, learn to sleep through the night, and have regular nap times through the day. The process of establishing these things took a few months, but it paid off dividends. It didn’t require bub going hungry and crying while they waited for a feed and it didn’t require letting them cry it out to sleep, although I did try that sleep strategy a couple of times (more about that in another blog).
Basically, I had goals I was working toward. It was about giving my babies what they needed and, at the same time, gently guiding them toward feeding and sleeping patterns that I believe were good for them and the family. In the first week or so of my new bub’s life I did demand feed. I rolled with it and enjoyed getting to know my new baby. Then the slow, gradual transition to feed and sleep patterns began.
The basic things I did in the first few months were this:
1) Tried to keep bub awake during the feed so that they got a full feed.
2) Fed every 3-3 ½ hours, sometimes 4hr, but usually never more than that through the day.
3) Tried to establish a pattern of feed, wake time, sleep, that would repeat throughout the day.
4) Tried to curtail long sleep sessions in the day, so would wake bub up to feed if needed.
5) Did the last daily feed at about 11pm and then let baby sleep as long as they wanted.
You can see below a little note I wrote out after I had my second child. Now, the times on the side were an aim, not what was happening. And, the hours between feeds mentioned were based on what my daughter did. Her eating patterns just naturally slipped into a three hour cycle. She was actually my easiest baby! Sleepy-head and laid back. And, she's still the same today! All the specific times and gaps between feeds aside, I guess the big thing from this note that stuck with me through the years were the "phases". I didn't need to get hung up on the details of times, but just knew the gist of what to do through the phases.
As you can see above, the first phase when they were newborns was really about guiding bub into a flexible routine and sleeping through the night. The next phase involved extending that night time sleep and dropping the late night feed. And, the last phase involved dropping another feed. However, I must say that with the last phase I really didn't rush to do it as you can see why below.
In terms of breastfeeding I made mistakes along the way that I think affected my supply. For my first child, I was in too much of a rush to drop feeds and went back to high intensity exercise as soon as I could. By six months I discovered my supply had suddenly dropped too much, so I sadly stopped breastfeeding him. I learned from this that there was no rush to drop feeds and that there was no rush to get back into exercise. Another issue I had was that a couple of my babies went off the breast at about 8 months and I think that was when I switched from giving a milk feed before solids to doing the milk feed after the solids. So, with my younger children I kept the milk feed first for a while longer try and stop that happening again.
I guess the thing I learned from these types of experiences was to not just do things because it's the recommended thing to do or what is written in a parenting book. I also learned not to be in such a rush to get back to "normal" and to enjoy the "abnormality" of having a baby. It is a time to cherish.
In those early months, when you’re getting interrupted sleep and doing lots of feeds, one day can flow onto the next and you don’t know if you’re Arthur or Martha. To help me, I kept a log book on the feeds until they were sleeping through the night. It helped me keep track of feed times, if I had to wake them up for a feed, which breast they fed from, how many wet nappies they had, and any other details that I thought were important to note.
Below, are a couple of the logs I kept for my second child. The first log is in week two and the second one is for week six. You can see by the sixth week that she was extending her night time sleep. Now, it’s important to note that it wasn't a race to get my baby to sleep through the night. Some of my bubs slept through as early as 7 weeks and others took until 12 weeks or slightly longer. They were all different, but they all got there.
As I reflect, I think one thing that helped my bubs sleep through the night and learn to start their day at decent hour of the morning, was that late night feed. Sometimes it was torture waking up to feed them at 11pm, especially if they were asleep, too. But, they would all eventually start to extend their sleep from the 11pm feed until they were sleeping at least 7-8 hours a night. Middle of the night feed gone! I would keep on with this late night feed until bub was sleeping through until 6am consistently and then I would start to extend their night time sleep more.
To do this, I would bring back the last feed gradually. So, 11pm would slip back to 10:30pm for a while, and then to 10pm, to 9:30pm and finally to 9pm where I felt normal again! I kept the last feed at this time for quite a while simply for my milk supply. The day time feeds would change slightly to become more predictable and naps also became more routine. So, by the time we were ready to start solids my littlie was sleeping at least 9 hours at night, had regular meal times and nap times through the day, and their feed, wake, sleep cycle was still loosely in place.
There’s so much more that can be said about how this process went, but this is just a summary. I do want to admit right up front, with each new bub I became more and more relaxed. I was less stressed and more flexible. Having goals and strategies are good, but being a “by-the-book” person, did make me more prone to rigidity and feeling stressed with my first few children. However, my kids wore me down and it was a good thing. I learned with each bub is that it’s all about balance. I learned what was important and what wasn’t. I became more relaxed and just soaked up the joy of having a baby.
I did things I didn’t do with my first few, like fed bub in bed with me for the middle of the night feed….and would sometimes doze off to wake up 3 hours later with bub still next to me, partly latched on. And, I’m going to say, it was lovely to have them snuggled next to me. Now, this wasn’t the norm, otherwise it would have hindered my attempts at establishing those patterns. And, I know that we’re told that sleeping with your baby is not good. So, I’m not advocating for one thing or the other. I’m just reflecting on my experience.
I'm so thankful that I learned these strategies that helped me with my newborns. I'm a big picture type of person, so I found it great to see an overall outline of what could lie ahead with my babies. It also gave me direction and an understanding of what babies need. I learned that leading and guiding my children actually could start when they were newborns. Just by helping my babies establish feeding and sleeping patterns, I could prepare and lay a foundation to work from as they progressed into solids and beyond.
DISCLAIMER: This information is not medical or nutritional advice. It is a recollection of events.