The benefits of having a baby routine
Sleep consultant, Katie Bartley, talks about how implementing a routine can help to make your day more manageable.
I am not a planner. In fact, I often say that I loathe plans. But when I had my first child I felt an overwhelming sense of chaos. This is certainly a common feeling as a new mother but I quickly realized that in order to regain some semblance of control, and, consequently freedom, I had to have a plan to follow. And thus, my love of baby routine was born. I soon found it incredibly liberating to know when feeding and sleep times would occur and what to expect next. It made it easy to have occasional sitters or to let family step in and help. For many, however, it might be more liberating to never have a routine and that is great too. You definitely have to find your own rhythm and go with what’s best for you and your baby.
For some reason, the words “plan,” “routine,” and “schedule” can strike fear into even the most Type-A parent. There’s a prevailing thought that having a routine means that you will forever be enslaved to your home and constantly be staring at a clock. But this is just not so. It just means that you have a bit more structure to your day.
Many babies thrive on consistency and one of the best ways to foster this is by having a balanced and predictable routine. You can initially start to implement a routine with your baby at around 8 weeks or when they are over ten pounds. I often tell parents to start simple and to remember that establishing a routine is a process. It does not happen overnight. But with time, repetition and patience they can learn amazingly fast. The best way to do this is to follow the eat/wake/sleep cycle. This helps to create healthy eating and sleep patterns and helps to avoid food-to-sleep associations.
One of the biggest myths concerning a routine is that you can never have one if you are breastfeeding. Not only can you have one but it can eliminate the constant guessing game of when to feed next. It can also help your baby become a stronger breast feeder as they learn to take in full meals instead of small snacks throughout the day and night.
The beauty of a good routine is that once it’s established it really shouldn’t change. Yes, there will be growth spurts, sicknesses, teething and travel but if you lay a good foundation those brief rocky periods shouldn’t shake things. I often tell parents to “stay consistent despite their child’s inconsistencies.” It sounds so simple but parents can get into trouble if they constantly change the routine and push panic buttons. I do think this is where a real world resource like a sleep consultant can be incredibly beneficial. It’s one thing to read about all of these recommendations but actually implementing them can be tough. Many questions come up that are not easily addressed on a blog or in a book and so if you do want more support then absolutely seek help and advice.
It’s important to remember to keep sleep a priority during the challenging periods. Our first child was on sixty flights in her first two years and although it wasn’t always as smooth as it was at home, we tried to maintain our routine as best we could. A good tip to remember is that however long you are away from home is likely how long it will take to be back to normal. So if you’re gone for a week, expect a week of transition. But it’s up to you as the parent to get things back on track.
Here is a great basic routine you can begin when your baby is 8 weeks old. It is best to look at things in two 12-hour blocks, one for day and one for night so this is with 7pm-7am in mind. Naps should range between 1.5-2 hours.
From 8-weeks old
7am- wake, feed, play
10am- feed, play
1pm- feed, play
4pm- feed, play
6:30pm- wake and do bedtime routine.
7pm- feed and night so no play time. Right to bed.
10pm- feed and bed.
1am- feed and then let go as long as they can with idea you don’t have to wake. This is where you can start pushing the night stretch to extend. Initially it will probably still be about 3-4 hours but once they show you they can go longer, try to extend the time until the next feed. The first goal is 1am-7am without a feed. And then after 3-5 nights of that, see if you can start dropping the 1am backwards towards the 10pm feed – so 12:30am-7am, 12am-7am, etc.
7am- start over
The only big changes between 2-6 months are that most drop the late afternoon nap sometime between 6-8 months. And hopefully by some point in that range they have gradually dropped night feedings and are sleeping through the night.
6-12 months old
7am- wake, feed (milk and solids in same sitting,) play
11am- wake, feed (milk and solids in same sitting,) play
3pm- wake, feed (milk,) play
5pm- nap (most drop this sometime between 6-8 months. Once it is dropped you add in dinner solids but leave milk for bedtime).
6:30pm- bath, bedtime routine
7pm- Feed and bedtime. Hopefully by this point you have dropped night feedings so they are going 7pm-7am.
7am- start over.
Once little ones hit 12 months they become more mobile and more verbal. Most will drop the morning nap sometime between 13-18 months. Teething can be especially difficult during this stage because the big molars usually pop through. However, stay consistent and make sure to keep prioritizing their sleep routine to help during these tricky periods.
18 months old
7am- wake, breakfast, play
11am- lunch, play
12:30/1pm- nap (anywhere from 2-3 hours is ideal)