I have been reading a lot of questions from parents about how and when to create a routine for your baby so I thought it'd be best if I created a blog post to help do just that! What I want to mention is that there is a big difference between a 'routine' and a 'schedule'. I don't necessarily believe in rigidly scheduling a baby, I believe that there needs to be flexibility as babies can be very unpredictable. But without a doubt, babies thrive on routines. Babies like to know what to expect and they do not like surprises! If everyday is different, every naptime is in a different location at a different time, feedings are erratic and chaotic, then a baby may become overstimulated, stressed, overtired, and just miserable! This post is aimed at helping you decide if and when you should start a routine with your baby, or if your current routine needs a tune-up.
When should I start a routine with my baby?
I honestly think that it is never too soon to get into a loose routine with your baby. As we all know, newborns are never predictable. They sleep erratically, they eat around the clock, they spend as many hours awake during the day as they do at night. But you can still begin to incorporate a very flexible routine to your baby, and you may find that by 6-8 weeks, they fall into a very predictable pattern. So what type of a routine can you begin with a baby this age?
Soothing nap routines. As I mentioned above, newborn babies sleep around the clock. They are pretty much awake long enough to eat, and then they are back asleep. This is how it should be. Starting around 2-3 weeks, you will likely find that baby is starting to have more distinct awake periods, but still no more than 45 minutes at a time. This is a good time to start incorporating a soothing nap routine that does not involve feeding. We can do this by following the E.A.S.Y. routine (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You). What this means, is that once baby is awake from a nap they would receive a feeding -EAT- either nursing or a bottle. Depending on the length of the feeding, they would have about 15-25 minutes of -ACTIVITY- time (which at this age would likely involve looking at mom, a toy, tummy time, playmat time, etc.) Then it would be time for your soothing nap routine. This is a very short routine, only about 5 minutes long, and could involve a combination of diaper changing in a dimly lit room, swaddling, rocking, singing, books, etc. Again, the soothing routine should be short, only about 5 minutes, as we don't want baby to become overstimulated or overtired. At the end of the routine you would put baby down in her chose nap location -SLEEP- (possibly in her crib/bassinet/playpen, in a swing, or even on mom!) Then the Y in E.A.S.Y. which means -YOU- time which if you're like most moms involves some combination of cleaning, caring for older kids, cooking, and hopefully taking a nap yourself! Once she is awake from the nap, the routine would repeat itself again (and again...and again...babies sleep a lot!!)
Consistent bedtime routines. A bedtime routine is something else that can be started from day one. Bedtime routines are so incredibly important for all children, and even for adults! If you only take away one thing from this post, let it be the importance of a consistent bedtime routine for your child. The bedtime routine should't be anything too fancy or too long and drawn out - make it 30 minutes max. A feeding, a bath, a massage, jammies, books, songs, bed. This bedtime routine is going to help relax baby and prepare them for sleep (think of how chaotic the life of a baby is. Everything is new to them!) They need some time to decompress at the end of the day, and a bedtime routine helps them do just that.
What does a day in the life of a newborn (6 weeks) look like?
8:00am - wake-up, feeding, play time, then nap routine
8:45am-10:45am - nap, feeding upon wake-up, play time, then nap routine
11:45am-12:30pm - nap, feeding upon wake-up, play time, then nap routine
1:30pm-2:00pm - nap, feeding upon wake-up, play time, then nap routine
2:45pm-4:45pm - nap, feeding upon wake-up, play time, then nap routine
5:45pm-6:45pm - nap, feeding upon wake-up, play time, then bedtime routine
7:45pm - asleep for the night, likely 3+ feedings throughout the night
Routines at 3-6 months
By the time baby is 3 months old, they are very alert, curious, and vocal! While they should still only be awake 1.5 hours at a time, it gives you a lot more time to play and explore. If you haven't already, this is a really great age to start following the E.A.S.Y. routine (see above) to try and really start separating feeding from sleeping. In addition to the soothing nap routine and consistent bedtime routine, you can also start to implement a consistent sleeping place. If you had planned on your baby sleeping in their crib long-term, now is a great time to start making that the only place that baby sleeps (unless of course they fall asleep in the car or stroller). Babies this age learn habits at lightning speed (good or bad!) so as long as you are consistent with putting baby in the crib for sleep times, they will catch on very quickly.
Now that we have our consistent sleep place, we also want to ensure that this sleeping place is conducive to sleep. We want that room to be pitch black (daytime and nighttime!), white noise should be playing continuously, and the temperature should be kept fairly cool.
What does the day in the life of a 3 month old look like?
7:00am - wake-up, feeding, play time, nap routine
8:30am-10:30am - nap, feeding, play time, nap routine
12:00pm-12:45pm - nap, feeding, play time, nap routine
2:15pm-3:15pm - nap, feeding, play time, nap routine
4:45pm-5:15pm - nap, feeding, play time, bedtime routine
6:45pm - asleep for the night, likely 3 feedings throughout the night
Routines at 6+ months
If you've waited this long to begin a routine with baby, it's still not too late! If you are finding that baby is still completely unpredictable and erratic, take a look at the environment that you have created for him. Does he nap on the go all day long? Are some naps in the swing, others in the car, some in the crib? Does he sometimes get nursed to sleep, other times you let him cry in hopes he'll fall asleep, and other times he gets rocked to sleep? If so, then it's quite obvious that the inconsistency in his day-to-day life is leading to an inconsistency in his sleep patterns. It's worth mentioning again that babies thrive on routines and predictability. Now that baby is on a solid 3 (or less) nap schedule, it is easier to ensure that we are home for the majority of naps so that baby can get healthy, restorative sleep in their crib. If you're wondering how often babies 6 months and up should be sleeping, check out my blog post here for sample schedules, and note the amount of awake time I recommend in between naps. This is a great guide for you to know how long baby should be kept awake in between sleep times.
Baby is also now at a great age to really work on healthy sleep habits and falling asleep independently with no associations. If you are finding that your previous short soothing routines are now turning into hour-long ordeals before baby will fall asleep, only to find them awake 30 minutes later, that is a pretty clear indication that these soothing efforts are no longer working for your child and that they need to learn how to fall asleep on their own.
It is a pretty amazing feeling to be able to put your child down in their crib, walk out, and know that they will fall asleep quickly and easily, and wake up feeling refreshed and ready to take on the day. And everybody can attain this! It's all about being consistent and having these routines in place for baby so that they know what to expect and that their sleep space is a safe place.