Coming from an organised, predictable world prior to having a baby, many parents find the disorganised, haphazard way that newborns feed and sleep very unsettling.
It is natural to crave a semblance of order and predictability in your day. But while you may be feeling the need for routine, is it the best thing for your baby? The answer is that routines can work well but you need to carefully consider when to start establishing a routine and the best way to go about it.
Newborns have come from a world where feeds were not scheduled and they slept according to their own time clock. In the early days, pushing your baby into a routine is likely to be difficult and even more likely to make you feel stressed if you don’t get it right.
There are two areas most moms want to manage – their baby’s feed and their baby’s sleeps.
Since breastfeeding is so good for your little one, it is worth focusing on establishing your breast milk supply. Allowing your baby’s demands for feeds to generate your milk supply is the best way to achieve this. So for at least the first six to eight weeks, you should feed your baby on demand without having a feeding routine in mind at all.
Exceptions to this rule occur in a few circumstances when managing your baby’s feed times may be helpful. If your baby was born premature or is not gaining weight, you may be advised to wake her to ensure she feeds at least three hourly, day and night. If your baby is not thriving, you may be told to feed on demand during the day but wake her at night for feeds.
Do not let your newborn stretch more than four hours between feeds during the day; rather wake her if she is still asleep three and a half hours since the last feed started. From six weeks, if your baby is thriving on breastmilk and still demanding to feed two hourly, you can start to stretch her towards three to four hourly milk feeds and start to get your head around a feeding routine.
Sleep routines, on the other hand, often do need to be managed from early on. Your baby needs a lot of sleep in the early days and you will probably find that with no help from you, your baby sleeps well for the first 10 to 14 days of life.
At around that time however, most babies become more alert and may fight going to sleep. If your baby misses a sleep or is awake too long, she will become overtired and fractious. This is the time to start guiding your little one into a sleep routine.
The critical thing with sleep routines is to watch your baby’s awake times. After only 45 minutes to an hour of being awake, your newborn should be settled back to sleep.
By watching her awake times, you will start to establish a flexible day sleep rhythm, which will become a routine by about four months of age (by which time her awake times will have lengthened). Look up your baby’s awake times online or find them in the book Baby Sense (Metz Press).
Starting a routine
By four months of age you can start to develop a daily routine that is predicable and age appropriate. It is likely to consist of the following:
Three to four hours between day feeds.
90 minutes between day sleeps.
A regular bedtime of 6:30pm, with a firm bedtime routine that includes:
- Stay in the baby's room after bath.
- Feed quietly.
- Put baby down to sleep when drowsy but awake.
Leave your baby to wake you (may have or two night feeds).
Eight to ten hour stretch or sleep after being put to bed for the night.
Your own routine
Your routine will revolve around your little one in the early days and if you have realistic expectations, you are likely to accept your new routine with greater ease. That said, you also have needs and so try these tips to make your life easier:
Have one parent do night feeds consistently (for a breastfed baby this will be mom), while the other parent sleeps. The parent that does night feeds gets to sleep in after the first feed of the morning (especially on weekends).
Schedule time for exercise. If you have no support or person to leave your baby with, schedule time to walk with your baby in a pram or sling between 4pm to 5pm. You will not only get some fresh air away from the house but this movement can also be beneficial for your baby’s sleep too.
Shift your night-time routine to ensure you are in bed by 8:30pm so that you can benefit from a longer stretch of sleep when your baby is sleeping. A midday sleep is also great, if you can be disciplined to stay away from Facebook, email and housework or work, while your baby sleeps.