Q. We have a 2-week-old baby girl who loves to sleep. She wakes every 3 hours during the day to eat, but at night we have to wake her to feed her. How long do we need to keep doing this? When can we start letting her sleep for longer stretches at night?
A. Although newborns spend the majority of the day sleeping, most of them do not consolidate sleep into longer stretches until closer to 2 months of age. In other words, a typical newborn wakes every two to three hours for feedings and stays awake for only a brief period of time before dozing again. These frequent wakings and short sleep intervals can lead to serious sleep deprivation for parents. For this reason, it is important for parents to know when it’s OK to let a sleeping baby stay asleep.
On the other hand, the adage “Never wake a sleeping baby” is not always good advice. When babies are first born, many of them are excessively sleepy and need to be awakened and encouraged to feed. This is particularly true for preterm infants and infants with jaundice.
Newborns should initially feed every two to three hours – and often need to be awakened for these feedings. Infants will initially lose a small amount of weight during the first several days of life. Most babies are back to birth weight by 2 weeks old, then begin gaining weight at a rate of 1 ounce per day.
For a healthy full-term baby, it is generally acceptable to allow her to sleep for four to six hours overnight once she is past 2 weeks of age, past her birth weight and gaining weight at an adequate rate. Daytime feedings, however, will remain frequent (every two to three hours) to make up for the missed overnight feeding.