Should I have a routine for my newborn baby?

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Newborns have come from a world where feeds weren’t scheduled.   (Supplied/liquidlingo Communications).
Newborns have come from a world where feeds weren’t scheduled. (Supplied/liquidlingo Communications).

Coming from an organised, predictable world before having a baby, many parents find the disorganised, haphazard way that newborns feed and sleep very unsettling.

It’s 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 weren’t scheduled and they slept according to their time clock.

In the early days, pushing your baby into a routine is likely to be difficult and 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 sleep.

1. Feeding times

Since breastfeeding is so good for your little one, it’s 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 6-8 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 isn’t gaining weight, you may be advised to wake her to ensure she feeds at least three hourly, day and night.

If your baby isn’t thriving, you may be told to feed on demand during the day, but wake her at night for feeds.

Don’t let your newborn stretch more than four hours between feeds during the day. Rather wake her if she’s 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 get your head around a feeding routine.

2. Sleep times

Sleep routines on the other hand often need to be managed from early on. Your baby needs a lot of sleep in the early days and you’ll probably find that with no help from you, your baby sleeps well for the first 10-14 days of life.

At around that time, however, most babies become more alert and may fight to go to sleep. If your baby misses a sleep or is awake too long, she will become overtired and irritable. 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’ll 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 read Baby Sense.

Starting a routine

By four months of age, you can start to develop a daily routine that’s predicable and age-appropriate.

It’s likely to consist of the following:

Day feeds:

Three to fours hours between day feeds.

Day sleeps:

90 minutes between day sleeps.

Bedtime routine:

A regular bedtime of 18:30, with a firm bedtime routine that includes:

  • Bath
  • Baby Massage
  • Stay in the baby’s room after bath
  • Feed quietly
  • Put them down to sleep when drowsy, but awake

Nighttime feeds:

Leave your baby to wake you (may have one or two night feeds).

Nighttime sleep:

8-10 hour stretch of 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’re likely to accept your new routine with greater ease.

That said, you also have needs, so try these tips to make your life easier:

Have one parent do night feeds consistently (for breastfed baby this will be a 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 16:00-17:00. You’ll get some fresh air, and get away from the house; plus, this movement is beneficial for your baby’s sleep.

Shift your nighttime routine to ensure you’re in bed by 20:30 so that you can benefit from a long stretch of sleep when your baby is sleeping.

Midday sleep is also great if you can be disciplined to stay away from social media, email and housework or work, while your baby sleeps.

Top 5 Tips for establishing a routine

1. Watch your baby’s awake times to establish a day sleep routine.

2. By four months, day feeds can be fairly set, according to time between feeds.

3. Have reasonable expectations of your baby according to her age.

4. Be flexible, your baby hasn’t read the book!

5. Have a set routine for bedtime, which sets the tone for nighttime sleep.

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