What to expect during the first three months
Amidst the joy of new parenthood, you might look at your newborn — that small, sweet person who is only slightly less foreign than an alien — and wonder, “Now what?”
BabyMap has prepared this easy-to-follow guide to what parents should expect from newborns during the first three months.
Your baby is learning to communicate from birth. She quickly learns that hunger “cues” such as rooting, sucking, putting hands to her mouth and eventually crying, help her receive food.
Babies should be fed when they are hungry. Some babies eat frequently. Some babies feed in “clusters” followed by longer stretches between feeding. Still others eat regularly every few hours, like clockwork. All of these patterns are normal as long as a baby eats at least eight times every 24 hours.
A breastfeeding baby may immediately nurse like a champ. Or you and your baby may need help with the logistics of breastfeeding. In such a case, a lactation consultant can be better than a fairy godmother. (See How dads can help with breastfeeding in this issue.)
Diaper changes help assess whether your baby is eating enough. Jeff Ernst, M.D., from Richmond Pediatrics, advises that up to five wet diapers in 24 hours is adequate. “Ideally we also see at least two stools every 24 hours for the first few days. Once we verify baby is healthy and growing adequately, usually around three to five days, stools can vary considerably.”
Babies cry to communicate. And, sometimes babies just cry. “Infants have a predictable fussy period between 3 and 12 weeks of age,” says Ann Keppler, R.N., M.N., facilitator of the First Weeks program at the Community Birth & Family Center. That fussy period peaks around 4-6 weeks of age, explains Jonathan R. Fox, M.D., a pediatrician at Virginia Mason Federal Way.
Crying infants can challenge exhausted parents. Wearing your baby in a sling may reduce crying. His vestibular system — the sense of balance and motion, which is an important aspect of healthy brain development — craves stimulation. Rocking, swinging, bouncing and the natural rhythms of walking, all serve this important purpose.
Some babies need a lighter touch, and comforting your baby will get easier as time goes on. “During the first few weeks, parents tend to learn the different cries that their babies have. They learn to recognize the tired cry, hungry cry, ‘hold me’ cry, and so on,” Fox says.
Despite best efforts, some babies are extremely difficult to comfort. While harrowing, it can be completely normal to have a baby cry persistently. Always address health concerns with your baby’s doctor. If he is healthy but just cries more than you can manage, many resources exist to help. (See sidebar.)
Your baby needs plenty of cuddles and caresses, which enhance her brain development, physical growth, emotional well-being and overall health. “You can never hold your baby too much,” Ernst says. “All primates hold their babies fairly constantly. Research shows babies who receive more human touch develop more complex brain structure. I encourage everyone to touch and hold their babies as much as they can.”
Many babies sleep a lot at first. Gradually, newborns begin to wake more for food or comfort, sometimes surprisingly frequently. Newborns sleep 16-18 hours daily, distributed evenly over six to seven brief sleep periods, according to Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Their sleep cycles are shorter and more numerous than adult sleep cycles, with much more time spent in light sleep.
Feeding solids or switching to formula is not likely to extend baby’s sleep. “Sleep is much more complex than just hunger,” Ernst says. “In fact, early feeding of solids may disturb a baby’s sleep.” Likewise, no data suggests that formula-fed babies sleep better or longer than breastfed babies. Instead, some parents find it useful to sleep with baby close to minimize night waking for everyone.
“Most babies begin clustering their sleep at night by 3-4 months of age,” Fox says. “Most parents will start to notice a more predictable pattern of sleep by this time.”
When a baby first sleeps through the night, parents may rejoice and believe they have reached a milestone. Yet, “most babies awaken two to three times a night up to six months and once or twice a night up to a year,” according to Pantley.
Each baby has a unique temperament. She is born with her own propensities, unique tolerances and personal responses. It is impossible to predict your baby’s behavior based on what your best friend’s baby does. Part of the adventure of parenting is learning about your baby’s temperament and parenting her as an individual.
While the early months can be disorienting and challenging, it is precious time when you begin to really know your baby. Listen not only to experts, but also to what your baby teaches you, and you will both be grateful.
Freelance writer Tera Schreiber and her husband have enjoyed getting to know two newborns, both of whom have grown into exciting older children.
- The No-Cry Sleep Solution, by Elizabeth Pantley
- What's Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life, by Lise Eliot, Ph.D.
- Your Amazing Newborn, by Marshall H. Klaus and Phyllis H. Klaus
- Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn; The Complete Guide, by Penny Simkin, P.T., Ann Keppler, R.N., and Janet Whalley, R.N.
- The Happiest Baby on the Block, by Harvey Karp, M.D. Note that Happiest Baby on the Block classes are also available in Seattle. You can find a Happiest Baby certified educator at http://thehappiestbaby.org.
- Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Revised Edition: Birth to Age 5, by the American Academy of Pediatrics
- Safety Guidelines for Cosleeping from Within Reach, formerly Healthy Mothers Healthy Babies of Washington State www.hmhbwa.org/forfamilies/child_safety/sids.htm
- The First Weeks at the Community Birth & Family Center
Drop-in group for parents with babies up to 12 weeks old that meets Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 2 p.m.
2200 24th Ave. E., Seattle, WA 98112
- Northwest Association for Postpartum Support
- Postpartum Support International of Washington
- Seattle-King County Public Health Breastfeeding Support
- Within Reach Toll Free Family Health Hotline 1-800-322-2588