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Baby’s Need to Eat… Need to Sleep

As breast milk is the perfect food for babies, try hard to persevere during those sleepless weeks! Your baby’s stomach will gradually grow larger, and their nutrition needs will slow over time, allowing them to take larger feedings less often… and for parents to sleep.

“Does your baby sleep through the night?” is one of the many questions new parents are asked. And bleary-eyed moms and dads of newborns almost always say, “No.” Newborn babies have a need to feed and to sleep in order to grow and develop.

At first, the drive to feed will outweigh the need to sleep. Newborns have tiny stomachs that hold as little as 30 to 60 millilitres of ‘milk' and don't know the difference between day and night yet. They need food every few hours, no matter what time of day or night it is. On average, the young baby will need to eat at least every three hours, or more frequently for small or premature babies. Breast-fed newborns will also need to nurse more often - every two hours in the first few weeks - because breast milk is more easily and quickly digested.

All babies have periods of rapid growth when they seem to be eating all the time. Periods of accelerated growth or ‘growth spurts’ do occur at two weeks, six weeks and three months. You can expect your baby to need to feed more often at these times. During these peak times, it is especially important to have help from family or friends so that you can get some sleep.

Parents often hear that feeding cereal will help babies sleep through the night. Research shows that this is not so! Babies will be able to sleep through the night as they grow and develop. While infant cereal is an important starter semi-solid as a source of iron and B vitamins, starting cereal before six months of age is not recommended. Giving cereal or other solids, too, soon will displace calories from breast milk (or infant formula) and may reduce breast milk supply.

Other effects of introducing solids include an increased risk of allergies (if given before four months). Waiting until six months of age to start solids is recommended. With the time and the right feeding and nutrition, your baby will soon be sleeping through the night.

Monica is a registered dietitian and mother of two young adults. Her areas of practice are paediatric nutrition and education.

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