04 Feb No Longer a Newborn-Now What?
Congratulations on making it through the first three months with your baby! By now you’re probably getting into the swing of this parenting gig and feeling like those very first days of having an newborn are far behind you.
Moving out of the newborn stage can bring its own challenges and questions though, so here are a few tips on some of the most common concerns.
One of the most common questions I get asked as a Lactation Consultant is from mums who are worried that they have “lost their supply” at around three to four months. This is almost always because their baby’s behaviour at the breast changes, as well as the way their breasts physically feel. Babies around three to four months usually become very efficient at breastfeeding (after all, they’ve had lots of practice), and they are able to drain the breast quite quickly. The duration of a feed can shorten, while the volume of milk taken in remains the same. Babies are often real sticky beaks at this age and can be quite distracted during a feed, preferring to look at the cat, or that shadow in the corner, or the person walking past the café, than focus on the task at hand. Many mums discover just how elastic their nipples actually are during this stage! “Snack feeding” is quite common around now, and nothing to worry about. It’s not a sign of not making enough milk, rather it’s a sign that neurologically your baby is developing an interest in the world around him and is just too busy and important to concentrate on a breastfeed right now, thanks very much.
Around now your breasts are making milk in response to your baby’s needs, rather than the “default” setting that exists in the initial weeks after having your baby. Women who have had an “over supply” often find that their supply settles somewhat. Your breasts now fill just before a feed, rather than being full all the time. It can feel like your breasts are empty, but in fact your body has just worked out how much milk it needs to make, rather than making too much. As long as you are following your baby’s lead and breastfeeding on demand you will continue to make the right amount for your baby.
I often hear and read about some mythical thing called “The Four Month Sleep Regression”. I find this to be a deeply unhelpful way to discuss the normal behaviour of 3 to 6 month old babies, as it immediately sets up negative expectations, and places an arbitrary value on the biological function of sleep! Babies do not, in normal circumstances, regress! Your baby is growing at a rapid rate, not just physically, but also neurologically and emotionally. This can change their sleep behaviour, but change is not regression. (Anyway, what are they regressing to? The womb?)
In the second three months of life, the vast majority of babies continue to wake several times a night to feed. On average, most babies feed three times between 10pm and 4am. There is no ‘magic’ age or weight where your baby will suddenly start ‘sleeping through the night’, so don’t stress yourself out with unrealistic expectations. Their brain requires a high intake of calories to fuel that growth, so night feeds are important. For a distractible 5 month old, who snacks and sticky beaks her way through the day, the quiet hours overnight will probably be when she feeds most effectively and calmly. Enjoy those sleepy night time snuggles, and remind yourself that you are responding to your baby’s needs in the best way you can.
You may find that day time sleeps become a little more predictable now, and that your baby has definite ‘awake’ times when she’s ready to play. Other babies continue to cat nap. Both of these are completely normal. Parents often spend a lot of time and effort in getting a cat-napper to sleep longer, which often involves a lot of crying (from everyone). As a baby’s sleep cycle is still short (around 45 minutes), it is neurologically normal for them to wake and need re-settling. This is something that will change naturally as your baby grows, and there is certainly no need to “teach” your baby to sleep longer. He will still grow up to be a teenager who never gets up before noon, regardless of how long he slept at 4 months!
Many parents find that they are able to have a bit more structure in their days during this time. Routines do not have to be strict, but rather can give a sense of security with some gentle order to your day. By now you have become familiar with your baby’s cues and recognise when she’s likely to need a nap or a feed and when she’s ready to have a little play. Try to structure your activities around these times. For example, if your baby is usually at her calmest in the morning, try and get the groceries done then. If the afternoon is a difficult time, perhaps a regular walk to the park will help. Having a defined beginning and end to the day will help your baby to gradually expect and become familiar with routine. So try to be up and dressed by a certain time each morning, and end the day with a bedtime routine of your choosing for your baby. The ‘bath, feed, bed’ routine is a lovely way to wind down, especially if you introduce reading a bedtime story to your baby into the mix. Even if he doesn’t understand the words, he will love listening to Mum or Dad’s voice before drifting off to sleep.
- Continue to have that bar set pretty low and be kind to yourself. It’s completely normal to still have days where you get absolutely nothing done, other than keeping a baby safe and alive.
- Babies are unpredictable and often do odd things for no reason. It’s Ok to feel like you don’t know what to do sometimes!
- Most babies wake up lots at night. The ones who don’t are called “trick babies”, because they trick their parents into having another baby, who is a normal baby that wakes up a lot.
- Find your village. If you haven’t already found a mother’s group or playgroup that you like, keep searching. Realising that you’re not alone in this is so important.
- Ask for help early if you’re struggling. Bad days are not uncommon, but if you feel like all your days are bad ones, see your GP or Early Childhood nurse for help and advice.
- Enjoy your baby! This age is full of delightful smiles, coos and giggles. Make the most of it and congratulate yourself on creating such an amazing little human.