As you get to know your baby, you’ll learn their cues and the schedule that works best for them. But from sleep to diapers to mealtime, there are a few basics you can expect from your newborn.
Most newborns will want to eat every 1 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours. Their feeding schedule usually depends on if you're breastfeeding or giving your baby formula. Breastfed babies generally eat more often than those on formula, because their tummies digest breast milk faster.
There are many ways babies can tell you they’re hungry. They may make sucking motions, put their hands or fingers in their mouths, or you may notice that your baby turns their head toward you and opens their mouth if you gently stroke their cheek. Babies do cry when they want to eat, but it’s usually a late sign of hunger.
Try to get your baby to burp during and after their feeding. If they stop eating and falls asleep, or turns their head away from the bottle, those are good signs they have had enough. If they cry toward the end, that may mean they are hungry for more. And keep the burp cloth handy -- most newborns spit up after feedings every once in a while.
Newborns have six or more wet diapers and four or more poopy ones each day.
For the first week or so, your baby’s poops will look thick and black or dark green. That’s called meconium, and it’s the substance that filled their intestines before they were born. After that’s out of their system, their poop will become soft and runny. If you breastfeed them, they will have light yellowish, seedy-looking poop. If they eat formula, it will be firmer and tan or yellow in color.
After a few weeks, the pooping slows down. Breastfed babies can go a week with just one bowel movement, while formula-fed babies should poop at least once a day.
Crying is the main way babies communicate, especially in their early days. The cries can be hard to decode, but you can think about their schedule or surroundings to figure out what’s wrong. If it’s been 2 hours since they last ate, there’s a good chance they are hungry. If they have been up for an hour and a half, they are probably due for a nap. Babies can also get bored or overstimulated.
If it’s not time to feed your baby and they have a dry diaper, you can try a few other ways to soothe them:
- Tightly swaddle them in a large, thin blanket, to mimic how they were snuggled in the womb.
- Snuggle them to your chest and gently pat them on the back.
- Rock, walk, or bounce them.
- Move to a quiet place and turn on a calming sound, like a fan or a white noise machine.
- Offer a pacifier, or help them find their finger or thumb to suck.
New babies often get tired after being awake just an hour or two. The first few weeks, your baby will snooze about 16 hours a day, usually in 2- to 4-hour stretches, any time of day or night. Many will fall asleep while they’re eating or sucking, and that’s just fine.
Yawning, drooping eyelids, looking away, fussing, and eye rubbing are all signs of a sleepy baby.
By the end of the first month, newborns start to fit their sleep into longer periods. But it will be a few more months before your baby gets into a predictable pattern of a morning, early afternoon, and late afternoon nap, and a longer stretch of sleep at night.
In between all the eating, sleeping, and diaper changes, newborns have short periods when they’re awake and alert. This is a great time to play with them. Your baby is learning the sound of your voice, the sight of your face, and your touch. Smile, sing, read, and talk to them, sway with them to music, make funny faces for them to imitate, and offer interesting objects for them to feel and look at. At this age, babies don’t need toys -- your face and eyes, your baby’s hands and feet, and simple objects like a rattle, shatterproof mirror, or colorful scarf will offer plenty of entertainment.
This is also when you can introduce your baby to tummy time. A few minutes of play time on their belly each day will help them build stronger head and neck muscles and work on the coordination they need to roll over and crawl -- some of the next big milestones they’ll reach.