Your 16 Week Old Baby
Another milestone is reached this week – your 16 week old baby is now four months old!
It’s time to celebrate all she has achieved in such a short period of time. She is now a smiling, laughing baby who can move her arms intentionally and is making her first sounds that will lead her toward language. She loves her world and is learning about it every chance she gets. And you will enjoy sharing it with her.
But all this fun comes at a cost. Your 16 week old baby is on the brink of one of the most complex periods of brain development and the coming weeks will bring new challenges. You can expect a lot of changes ahead, and at times it will feel as if you are going backwards when it comes to sleep and settling. Others will continue to offer their opinions – helpful and otherwise – and you might also be facing the deadline of your return to paid work.
Feeding Your 16 Week Old Baby
Australian women currently have access to 18 weeks paid parental leave. If you’re not extending that with a period of unpaid leave, then you will be returning to work in just a few weeks. For a breastfeeding mother, this means it’s time to put into action your return to work plan. It might mean you now begin regular pumping sessions to stockpile a supply of breastmilk in your freezer, and become familiar with your milk output at different stages of the day.
Most mothers find double-pumping is the quickest option, as you can pump both breasts together in around 15-20 minutes. Single pumping will obviously take twice as long. You can find out how to make the most of your pumping sessions in our article 5 Tips To Help You Express Breastmilk Like A Pro. If you haven’t already selected a breast pump, you can work out which will best suit you in Choosing A Breast Pump – 4 Things You Need To Know.
Four months is often mistakenly considered to be the right age for introducing solids. After all, it has been recommended in the past. Most brands of baby foods still state four months plus on their labels, to tap into this confused market. Some health professionals also continue to suggest doing so at four months, which is very confusing for parents when all the guidelines clearly state six months.
Some of this confusion comes from a recommendation in 2008 that solids must NOT be introduced any earlier than four months and no later than six months. This was from the perspective of reducing allergy risk. The Australian Society for Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) has promoted this message, and many health professionals have taken it on board.
Unfortunately, this guideline about allergy risk has been misinterpreted by many doctors, nurses and parents, who believe it means all babies should start solids at four months, which is incorrect. The Australian Dietary Guidelines were reviewed in 2012, and this new information was considered. However, it was not applied to the recommended guidelines, which continue to be:
“In Australia, it is recommended that infants be exclusively breastfed until around 6 months of age when solid foods are introduced. It is further recommended that breastfeeding be continued until 12 months of age and beyond, for as long as the mother and child desire.” — NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines 2012.
This is in line with the World Health Organisations recommendations for all countries:
“Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.” — World Health Organisation Infant Feeding Guidelines.
There are no separate guidelines for formula fed babies, who also begin solids around six months. However, formula is only required for the first 12 months. Toddler formula (for babies over 12 months of age) is not necessary and is a waste of your money – read more about that here.
If your doctor or nurse talks to you about solids at your 16 week old baby’s check-up and suggests starting solids now, you can simply let him or her know you wish to stick to these guidelines, and will introduce foods around six months, as recommended.
If you've already tried your baby on solids – perhaps rice cereal (which is best avoided) or pureed fruit or vegetables – and you now wish to wait until around six months, it’s fine to stop. It’s unlikely a 16 week old baby (or younger) is nutritionally dependent on those foods, and stopping them won’t cause any problems. If you started solids on medical advice, perhaps for reflux, you might like to limit this to just one food type in controlled amounts until your baby is around six months and ready to explore solid foods normally.
Sleeping and Settling
One common reason parents start their babies on solids prematurely is the belief that hunger is leading to increased night waking. It’s true — most 16 week old babies wake more than they did just a few weeks ago. But the reason they are waking is not hunger or a lack of solids. Using formula or rice cereal in bottles won’t prevent them from waking.
Four to six months is a peak time for brain development, and your 16 week old baby is working hard while she sleeps. It’s normal and natural that such rapid growth in the brain will disturb sleep. A baby who has woken will seek the quickest way to return to sleep: which for breastfed babies is nearly always the breast. Your baby hasn’t woken to feed – she is feeding because she has woken.
However, your 16 week old baby will additionally wake because she is hungry and needs to feed This happens when babies are too distracted to feed well during the day. You can minimise this by changing how and where you feed in the day – you can find out more in our article 4 Month Monsters! 6 Ways Babies Change + Survival Tips.
Play and Development
As if there isn’t already enough going on, you might find your 16 week old baby is starting to show early signs of separation anxiety. Although she likes to explore the world around her, she likes to do so with you in sight. She may be happy to go into the arms of her father or grandmother — as long as she can still see or even touch you! But she might cry when handed to another family member or carer.
Only now is your baby becoming aware that you and she are separate people, and you might not always be in arm’s reach. This slow process will peak at around 9 months and ease after 15 months or so. However, separation anxiety can occur at any age, especially when a family is stressed. Moving house, a new sibling, illness or a death in the family are common times for it to reoccur.
For now, help your baby by not disappearing from view suddenly, handing her abruptly to others, or putting her down rapidly. Talk to her about what is happening, and reassure her you are still close by or will return soon. She won’t understand the words, but your tone will ease her alarm. If she cries when you leave her at daycare or with family, be assured those tears will stop quickly, as she is easily distracted by other people or interesting toys. She doesn’t yet have the memory to sustain her concern.
If your breastfed 16 week old baby is waking more at night and fussing during daytime feeds, it’s hard not to worry about your milk supply. In fact, many mothers reluctantly introduce solids or formula around this age because of concern their baby isn’t getting enough. So it helps to know the 3 Reliable Signs That Your Baby Is Getting Enough Milk.