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baby feeding patterns

Newborn infants have different patterns of feeding behaviour.

What is the information for this topic? 
The feeding patterns of newborn infants can vary quite a bit. This is probably due to differences in their temperaments. Parents of a new baby should be aware that a baby's feeding patterns may be different from those of an older sibling or the baby of a friend.

In the first few hours after birth, the newborn infant is very alert and oriented to faces. The baby often makes good eye contact with his or her parents. Infants may nurse very well at this time.

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 the baby is tired from the physical stresses of labour 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 many 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 consultant can be of great value, to help the mother through this difficult phase of getting the nursing pattern established.

Once feeding becomes established, most newborn infants will want to eat every one to three hours around the clock. There is usually no difference in daytime and night-time 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 four to five 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 kilojoules. 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 dummy between feedings and keeping the feedings at least 3 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 a night-time feeding. 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 maintenance. These infants can become quite chubby in their first year. They usually slim down in the second year, when they become more active.

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.

Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 14/12/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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