“How do I get my baby into a routine?”
“I need a plan – but my baby throws it all out so I don’t know how to plan my day.”
One popular style of routine that is often advised consists of variations of ‘feed, play, sleep’. Rather than watching a clock for exact times to do things with (or to) your baby, this is usually based on understanding your baby’s cues –or non-verbal signals and translates to feeding your baby, then giving her time to play and then popping her into bed.
While this sounds reasonable and can help you feel more in control because you have a plan, it is often interpreted very rigidly. I have, for instance, heard of babies who have fallen asleep after a feed, then been woken up (yes, really!) because they missed their playtime and the routine would have been out of whack. I have also seen mothers who have been strictly advised that they must give clear messages to their baby about what part of the routine they are following, so while the mother is ‘allowed’ to hold her baby
while she feeds it (this is a safety issue – never prop your baby with a bottle to feed), she must put the baby down on the floor to play and then put the baby into the cot to sleep.
By being so rigid or trying to follow any style of routine very strictly, you can feel very out of control and confused when you can’t ‘make’ your baby sleep or feed when he isn’t ready. In fact, in the early weeks, as you get used to your baby’s signals that indicate he is hungry or tired or wants to spend time engaging and having a little ‘chat’ to you “ it may work better to follow a pattern of ‘feed, play, feed, sleep’. To make this work you would feed your baby, then have a little chat and play time and change his nappy then offer him a little top-up ( you can’t over feed a breastfed baby, he will only feed if this suits him). And please don’t feel stressed if he falls asleep on the breast –although you may be warned against this because it will create ‘bad habits’ it can be the easiest way to settle a new-born because of the amazing hormones in your milk and the relaxing effects of sucking. In a few months, he will naturally develop the capacity to fall asleep without so much help. This way, he is likely to take a longer nap too: when you consider that a newborn will
need to be fed around every two hours at first, if you have fed him, then he has had almost an hour awake, he may actually need a ‘top up’ before you put him to sleep again. Otherwise he will be awake again very soon because he is hungry.
Even if your baby seems to be ‘all over the place’ right now, he will soon fall into his own natural pattern and often the less you try to
force this, the quicker it will happen. And, if you watch your baby and learn his cues rather than relying on the clock, you will get to know his little expressions and signals and you will develop confidence very quickly that you do know him best. You will also be able to work out a gentle rhythm to your day that takes your baby’s needs into account. For instance, if your baby tends to be more settled in the morning, you may find it easier to plan outings for mornings and be home so he can have a quieter afternoon. If he takes a longer sleep in the morning, then perhaps this is a better time to be at home and get some tasks done: while your baby sleeps, you could prepare dinner ( make a slow cooker your best friend) then evenings will be easier, especially if your baby is unsettled or wants to ‘cluster feed’.
Above all, it’s sensible to use any style of routine as a general guide rather than a set of specific instructions and do try to filter anything you want to try with your baby by applying the criteria – ‘is it safe? Is it respectful? Does it feel right?’ Then do what works best for you and your baby and remember, there is a difference between a gentle rhythm and a rigid schedule.
For more guidance and gentle tips to manage and enjoy your baby’s first year, check out Pinky’s book ‘Parenting By Heart’