To Wake or Not to Wake? Feeding Schedule for a Newborn

Mother staring down at sleeping baby who is on a feeding schedule for a newborn
Scene I

A dark bedroom. The clock on the nightstand reads 3:30 a.m. Mom is awake and nervously looking at the clock. A second figure snores under the covers.

Mom: Honey. Psst. HONEY.

Partner: Hmmmpf?

Mom: The baby’s been sleeping for three hours and seventeen minutes.

Partner: So?

Mom: So – we were told to feed him every two to three hours. Do you think we should wake him?

Partner: Are you crazy, it took forever to get him to sleep!

Mom: Ok, so if we don’t wake him NOW, what time will the next feed start then? Do I wake him up in an hour? Or two hours? But if I wait two hours, it will be, let’s see…FIVE hours since he last ate!

Partner: So?

Mom: So I think that’s too long, right?

Partner: I dunno. Won’t he just wake up when he’s hungry?

Mom: I don’t know! But if he sleeps for five hours, and we’re supposed to be feeding him every two to three, then we basically missed a feeding, and that can’t be good!

Partner: Well, waking up a baby who took two hours to put down doesn’t sound so hot either.

Baby starts crying and the parents look at each other, clearly relieved.

End scene.

Does the above situation sound familiar?

This question of waking or not waking your newborn to keeping them on a feeding schedule can make you really anxious. Your gut is telling you that a sleeping baby is a beautiful thing and why on earth would you disturb that? But the nervous mommy part of you is freaking out because someone told you, “The baby needs to eat every two to three hours around the clock.”

So what do you do?

As a nurse and lactation consultant, I tell parents that as long as you have a healthy full term baby and feeding is going well (baby has at least six wet diapers and four poop diapers a day and is back to birth weight by two weeks), you can let him sleep at night!

Here’s an updated feeding schedule for your newborn:

Step One:

Replace the “Feed your baby every two to three hours around the clock” rule with the new and improved “Feed your baby at least eight times in 24 hours” rule.

Eight good feedings per day is the minimum newborns need in order to gain well.

  • A good breastfeeding consists of 20-45 minutes of active sucking and swallowing. Most newborns will breastfeed 8-12 times every 24 hours.
  • A good bottle feeding consists of baby taking in about three ounces per feeding. As long as your baby is taking in at least 24 ounces every 24 hours, you’re in good shape.

Step Two:

During the day, if your baby is not asking to be fed every two to three hours, wake him up.

  • Watch the clock AND your baby. Babies have a 50-60 minute sleep cycle. This means that about once every hour, your baby is in a very light state of sleep. A baby in this state is much easier to rouse than a baby in deep sleep.
  • Babies in light sleep will stir, flutter their eyelids, and make mouth movements. When you see these signs anywhere around the two to three hour mark, pick your baby up, undress him and hold him skin to skin. Given some time, he’ll wake up and start looking for his food. If he falls deeply back asleep, you can just hold him until he’s ready, or put him back down and try again the next time you see those signs of light sleep.

Step Three:

Many babies will sleep for a four to six hour stretch at night if you let them, and then eat more during their waking hours to make up for anything they missed.

  • If you are breastfeeding, your supply will adjust to your baby’s demand. In other words, it will go down at night when he sleeps longer and increase during the day when he eats more frequently. Therefore, there’s no need to pump in the middle of the night.
  • If you are bottle feeding, you’ll notice your baby eating a bit more in some of his bottles. As long as he’s getting in at least 24 ounces in 24 hours, it doesn’t really matter how that is divided up.

So there it is, an updated feeding schedule for your newborn that might give you more sleep. Give it a try over a few days and see how it’s working for you. If baby continues to grow well and you’re getting more sleep…it sounds like a keeper to me!

If you are worried about your baby not getting enough to eat, contact your pediatrician.

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