Your 3 Week Old Baby
As you settle into your new life with your 3 week old baby, it’s normal to find everything a bit overwhelming.
Family and friends want to meet the new arrival and there might be medical appointments to juggle — around baby's feeds and sleeps of course!
Housework takes a back seat, and maintaining order in the home becomes a distant memory.
Tiredness, hormonal changes and a healing body can leave you vulnerable to tears and mixed emotions.
Mothers in various cultures around the world have traditionally been given 40 days to recover and heal, both physically and emotionally after childbirth. They're also surrounded by wise women and guided through this transitional period.
While you might not have a village around you to offer such support, you can take heart in the knowledge you shouldn’t be expected to have it all together at this stage! So forget about housework and expectations – it's okay to put yourself and baby first.
Your 3 week old breastfed baby will be feeding at least 8-12 times in 24 hours – including frequent feeds during the night. Most mothers and babies find it takes a good month or more to get breastfeeding working well. You might be finding the demands of sore nipples, cracked nipples or breastmilk supply concerns are taking their toll. Perhaps you're questioning if you can keep this up much longer. Rest assured, you aren’t alone. It’s common to feel this way.
Find out more in our article, breastfeeding: 7 tips for keeping your confidence.
Almost all Australian mothers set out to breastfeed their babies – 96% are doing so when they leave hospital. However, maintaining this commitment in these early weeks is a big challenge, and more than a third of babies receive some formula in the first month. You might feel discouraged if you've needed to occasionally or regularly top-up with expressed breastmilk or formula after breastfeeds, and wonder if you will ever manage to fully breastfeed your baby again.
Although it can take some time, nearly all breastfeeding problems can be solved. Finding the right support to help you work out why your baby can’t get a good latch; why your supply seems low or why you are getting blocked ducts or mastitis can be hard. You might be consulting multiple professionals, including your child health nurse, local doctor, IBCLC lactation consultant and breastfeeding counsellor. It’s easy to feel frustrated if each offers a different opinion or conflicting information. It's important to be aware of the big difference in education and training for these professionals – see our article here about what training medical professionals receive about breastfeeding – it may shock you.
If you need to supplement breastfeeding, it helps to know this will not mean the end of breastfeeding. In fact, careful use of expressed breastmilk, donor milk or formula can allow you the time you need to work through ongoing issues and return to fully breastfeeding, if that is your goal. On-going mixed feeding (the combination of direct breastfeeding with feeds from a bottle) is also possible, without always leading to full bottle-feeding. There are even supplemental nursing systems (SNS) which allow you to give your baby additional milk while at the breast, which enable longer breastfeeding where there are permanent supply issues.
If you are weighing up your options, you might like to first read our article 8 things to know before you give up breastfeeding to help you make your decision. If that decision is to partly or fully formula feed your baby, here are some important tips to get you going: how to get started with baby formula in 6 easy steps.
Sleeping And Settling Your 3 Week Old Baby
Everyone warns you about losing sleep once you have a baby, but somehow the reality is still a shock to most parents. Babies wake often at night to feed, and they sometimes need a lot of support to settle back to sleep, only to wake again… unbelievably soon.
There are some nights where periods of sleep are few and far between, with the baby needing to feed constantly and not settling at all. For at least the first three months – and usually much longer – your baby knows no difference between day and night, and just feeds and sleeps as needed, around the clock.
If you’re breastfeeding, you might be wondering if your baby would be more settled and sleep better on formula. Other parents, family and friends may tell you your baby is waking too often, and should be sleeping longer between feeds. You might start to feel like you're doing something wrong. Although it might sound as though you will get more sleep by formula feeding your baby, research actually shows that breastfeeding mothers get more sleep!
Demanding as night waking is for parents, for babies it’s what they need to do. Frequent feeding – day and night – is important to maintain the rapid growth in the first year. Night feeds help maintain your milk supply as well and fuel this growth.
There are probably more myths and misconceptions about infant sleep than any other aspect of raising a child – and you can’t believe everything you hear. In fact, as many as one-third of parents admit to lying about their babies sleep patterns in an effort to conform with societies beliefs about what’s normal. Find out more in baby sleep myths: 4 major myths busted.
Not all unsettled behavior is due to hunger, and with your 3 week old baby, you might be starting to see some periods of unexplained crying. Recognised by its pattern and intensity — although this stage has many labels — we don’t truly know why crying gradually increases from around 2-3 weeks, peaks at 6-8 weeks, and gradually reduces again by around 3 months. This crying period appears to be common to all young mammals, though science is yet to work out why. Although commonly known as “colic” or blamed on “wind”, which implies some sort of gut disturbance, there is no evidence to support this, and it’s likely that any tummy pain is the result of continued crying, not the cause.
While this type of unexplained crying is generally something you can only soothe your baby through, there are other times your 3 week old baby will be unsettled due to a known cause. Some of the most common reasons for infant crying can be found in our article, 10 reasons why your baby might be crying.
Lack of sleep and a frequently crying baby quickly take their toll on all parents – both fathers and mothers. If you're finding it hard to cope, it’s important to reach out for support. All parents need a support network they can call on for help, but if you have a wakeful or unsettled baby, knowing who you can call when it gets too hard is crucial.
There are also some things you can do to make the most of the opportunities you do get to sleep. Here are some ideas to try: 6 things to do when you need more sleep.
Play And Development At 3 Weeks
Your 3 week old baby still spends most of his time feeding, sleeping… or crying! While you might feel like you are managing a demanding machine, you will begin to see more interest in looking around this strange new world and the people who live in it. Faces continue to be his favourite thing to look at, so surprise him with some of the things faces can do:
- Poke your tongue out and watch him try to mimic you
- Introduce him to a friend or family member with facial hair or glasses, which alter the appearance he expects
- Show him your face upside down and watch as he tries to make sense of familiar features in unfamiliar places!
At 3 weeks of age, his hearing is still immature but developing rapidly: he recognizes close family voices from life in the womb, though they are now much less muffled. Sing songs, tell him stories – if you did this during pregnancy, he will recognize the rhythm and pattern of familiar words. Play with your voice in high and low tones. Babies prefer high pitched, exaggerated sounds – which is probably why everyone you know suddenly speaks this way when they meet him!
If you're formula feeding, you might have noticed there's a great deal more information around for breastfeeding mothers. You might resent this and even see it as a bias towards breastfeeding women. But that isn’t the reason – read more about why there are (a lot) more breastfeeding articles than formula articles.