So you have a newborn baby - it certainly is a bit of a blur in the first 6 weeks when trying to manage a newborn. Quite often you find your baby crying, which causes great distress to you as a parent and you feel quite helpless when trying to solve your baby’s crying. The best advice I can give you on how to manage and reduce the amount of crying your baby does is to establish a routine and then watch and listen for your baby’s cries and get to know the different cries for the different reasons. Watch and listen and you will soon pick it up, if you have a routine to guide you.
For a 0-3 week old baby I would expect them to be awake for about 40 minutes; for a 3 - 6 week old, I would expect them to be awake for about 40 - 50 minutes; for a 6-12 week old about 50-60 minutes; 12 – 24 weeks about 60 – 90 minutes. This time starts from when your baby first wakes looking for a feed, if you a breast feeding expect the feed to take just about all of this time. I recommend changing their nappy half way through a feed either after the first side or half way through a bottle, if your baby is happy for this. The reason for this timing is two fold. Firstly your baby is woken up by the nappy change, think cold wipes on little bottoms and lots of maneuvering of clothing etc. Your baby will then wake more to feed on the second side or if bottle feeding try to do this nappy change once their immediate hunger has been satisfied and they will return to the bottle to feed much better. Full bellies mean better sleep!
Secondly, once they have fully fed, they will be sleepy, sucking releases hormones in your baby’s brain to make them relax, thus why they like to suck and fall asleep, so lets go with it, they finish feeding and are sleepy. So for a newborn baby, by 40 – 50 minutes upon waking, be sure to place your baby sleepy but awake in their cot the majority of times and they will soon learn to fall asleep on their own without any drama. This is called self-settling. Again there are many benefits to this skill, the main one being able to stir and put themselves back to sleep without you being required to do ‘anything’. Once your baby has fallen asleep, a sleep cycle will last about 40 minutes. You can set your clock to this if you like. At 40 minutes your baby is likely to stir, murmur, maybe even cry out for a few minutes but if left to their own skills, will drift off back to sleep for another 40 minutes. The same will be repeated again at 40 minutes and again. This is how your baby will learn to sleep for longer than a 40-minute nap.
So if you have a routine, you will know when your baby cries upon waking that they are hungry and need to be feed. If they cry upon being woken about 40 or 50 minutes it is more like a grizzle and they are starting to get tired. They are giving you a 3-minute window of opportunity for you to help them go to their room and go to sleep. If they are crying upon going to sleep, this cry is the one that you feel quite helpless for as you can do nothing, but allow them to settle and sleep on their own. They will certainly reap the benefits of this skill for years. If they cry 40 minutes into a sleep then they are reaching the end of a sleep cycle, once again, do nothing but wait and within 5 – 10 minutes they will grizzle, maybe cry a little and then fall back asleep. A lot of parents make the mistake of thinking their baby is finished their sleep and rush in at the 40-minute mark and lift them. Within a few minutes their baby is complaining and this really is about the lack of good solid sleep so if this happens resettle and let them complete more sleep.
So you see, while getting to know your baby and their individual cries, if you have a routine, you will have guidelines with which to make decisions about what cry your baby is giving you. As you get to know them and their cries you will be able to pinpoint what they need. Golden rule: stick to the basics of food and sleep and make sure your baby gets enough of both of these and your baby will feel understood and you will enjoy being a parent.