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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Baby Feeding Patterns
      Category : Health Centers > Children's Health

Baby Feeding Patterns

Newborns have different patterns of feeding behavior.

What is the information for this topic?

The feeding patterns of newborns can vary quite a bit. This is probably due to differences in their temperaments. Parents of a new baby should be aware that his or her feeding patterns might be different from those of an older sibling or the baby of a friend.

In the first few hours after birth, the newborn baby is very alert and oriented to faces. The baby often makes good eye contact with his or her parents. Infants usually nurse very well at this time. This "bonding" between baby and parents is thought to be essential for the infant's survival.

After these first few hours, most infants then enter a phase that lasts about 24 hours. During this time, they are very sleepy. They may not seem at all interested in feeding. This is probably because they are tired from the physical stresses of labor and birth. It seems to be especially true for infants who are breast-feeding. Often this causes lots of concern for the new mother. But after the first 24 hours, most babies become more alert and are more interested in nursing.

Most infants take to the breast well, but others have trouble "latching on" to the breast. This is more common if the mother's nipples are inverted, or do not protrude from the breast. In such cases, a lactation specialist can be of great value, to help the mother through this difficult phase of getting the nursing pattern established.

Once feeding becomes established, most newborns will want to eat every 1 to 3 hours around the clock. There is usually no difference in daytime and nighttime sleep habits for the first several months. The time between feedings varies from one infant to the next. In general, if a new baby is sleeping longer than 4 to 6 hours between feedings, he or she should be awakened and fed.

Some infants seem to have a need for sucking that far exceeds their need for calories. These infants often will fuss whenever they are not sucking. If this fussing is interpreted as hunger, these babies may be at the breast all the time. This not only wears out the mother and her nipples, but it also does not allow enough time for the mother's breasts to make more milk. So the baby is not getting a full feeding and is genuinely hungry again in less than an hour. Offering the baby a pacifier between feedings and keeping the feedings at least 2 hours apart may help. The baby and mother eventually figure each other out, and a feeding pattern is established that works for both of them.

Babies may differ in the age at which they give up nighttime feedings. Some infants will sleep through the night as early as 2 months of age. Others do not do this until they are close to 12 months old. This may be linked to the way the mother responds to an infant's crying. Some parents feel uncomfortable letting their baby cry and will do whatever they can to relieve the crying. Others prefer to let the baby cry for a while at night to see if he or she will go back to sleep. Some infants are more persistent than others and may cry for hours at a time if the parents do not respond.

Some babies nurse on a predictable schedule. Others may be more sporadic. Some nurse frequently for a while and then infrequently at other times. Some infants nurse more often than they need to for growth and sustenance. These infants can become quite pudgy in their first year. They usually slim down in the second year, however. This is when they become more active and are either no longer nursing or doing so less frequently.

Mothers and babies work out their own feeding patterns based on how they interact with each other in the weeks and months after birth. Much of this probably happens on a subconscious, or unintentional, level. After all, mothers and babies have been doing this for a very long time. It is very important for the mother of a new baby to have enough physical and emotional security so that she can adapt her parenting style to her baby's needs.

Author: John Wegmann, MD
Reviewer: Sandy Keefe, RN, MSN
Date Reviewed: 07/27/01

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