Reading Time: 5 minutesYour brand new baby is a wonder, a mysterious little creature that upends your life and home. You lovingly and willingly cater to his or her every whim, imagining what new miracle you’ll discover from minute to minute and what chaos will rule your world today. While the excitement and wonder are sure to continue, establishing some routines will not only limit the chaos,but is also important to your baby, even from an early age.
Babies love routine: regularity helps them feel secure, so routines can be very stabilising. When she seems fussy and not easily settled, it might be a routine that your baby craves. Not all babies fall easily into the same fixed schedule, however, and your baby’s temperament will influence the routine you establish. During the early weeks after a baby is born, she will feed, feel sleepy, go back to sleep, and wake two to three times a night for a feed. But you can try to introduce a routine as early as four to six weeks.
Stay flexible, particularly if you have a busy life and your baby has
to fit into your schedule, and find the routine that works for you. Depending on the type of day you or your baby has had, your routine might vary.
Expect to change your baby’s nappy after feeding her from one breast, before continuing to feed her on the second breast. This wakes her up and prepares her to take in an adequate amount of
milk without being too sleepy. You may need to change the nappy again after the second breast. Once you’ve fed her, sit her up and burp her gently.
Now it’s playtime. Start with “tummy time,” where you lay the baby down on a blanket on her stomach. At first, she won’t be able to lie on her stomach for more than a minute or two, but, if you do it a few times a day, your baby will gradually want to stay longer. As the baby spends more time on her stomach, her neck muscles become stronger and she will develop better head control. Later on, tummy time helps her develop rolling over, sitting and crawling skills. Putting a rolled towel under baby’s chest or placing her on your leg or your chest will encourage a head lift and can be a good alternative to tummy time on the floor. Supervise your baby at all times, especially if you use your bed for tummy time, as babies are unpredictable, can move suddenly and risk slipping off your bed.
At first, she will only want to do this for a minute or two before she
complains. At that point, turn her on her back and play – talk to her, smile and laugh, direct her attention with rattles and toys, sing or say nursery rhymes.
You’ll know when it’s time to end playtime because your baby will get tired. If you keep her up too long, she’ll become overtired and be more difficult to settle to sleep. Take the first yawn as the sign to head off to bed.
Keep playtime outside the cot or crib, because you need her to
associate the bed with sleeping and not with playing. You can use a mobile above the changing table, to keep her entertained while you change her nappy, or in the playpen, but not on the cot. Also, during the day, it’s important to allow some light in the room where baby is sleeping, as this will encourage her to have a deeper sleep at night as she grows.
When you bring your newborn home, you can establish a night-time routine right away. The earlier the baby learns how to sleep, the more time you will have to recover and spend time with your partner.
Usually, the night-time routine, which includes a feeding or two, a
bath and going to bed, starts around 5pm or 6pm. Some mums like to
feed the baby from one breast, then give her a bath, then finish the feed with the other breast after the bath.
Try to keep the lights low for night-time feeds to encourage sleep,
though this might not always be practical since your partner will want to spend time with the baby if he’s just come home from work. But definitely keep things quiet and the lights low for the last feed, around 9pm to 10pm. From 9pm to the last feed of the day, there should be no playtime with the baby so she can relax and get ready
Feed your baby next to her cot at night, with the lights low, and
always sit her up for a short time after a feed to burp, even if she is
very sleepy. Otherwise, she may feel uncomfortable and unsettled
and wake again soon after her feed. Change her nappy with minimal fuss.
Newborn babies will generally sleep for two to four hours
after each feed. For the first month of your baby’s life
she will breastfeed ten to 12 times per day. Breast milk digests faster than formula, so your baby will require more feeds if you are breastfeeding. As your baby gets more established with feeding, you will need to start the first feed around 6am to 7am to give her sufficient daytime feeds so she can sleep longer at night and in the early morning. Hopefully your baby will sleep a four to five-hour stretch after the last feed of the day.
Sleep associations are aids or actions that help babies fall asleep. While they may be useful for new babies, it’s best for your baby to learn to sleep without them, and indeed should be withdrawn before your baby is three months old.
If you train the baby to sleep when certain actions happen, you may be committed to repeating those actions for months. However, some
sleep associations are useful, such as swaddling in the early weeks, which reproduces a familiar womb-like feeling and makes your baby feel more secure. The following sleep associations are acceptable for a baby under three months:
• Using a pacifier
• Holding baby in your arms until she falls asleep
• Rocking, patting or feeding her to sleep
• Allowing your baby to sleep with you
At six to eight weeks, give your baby about 20 minutes to settle. You
may sit by the cot during this time and stroke her gently. You can soothe your baby by putting your hand under the mattress and giving her a short lifting movement.
By the age of three to four months, babies need to learn to sleep
independently. If you’ve used sleep associations, here’s how to withdraw them slowly:
• Keep a sleep diary to check your progress on how long it took for the baby to go to sleep.
• Slowly withdraw each helping action until she can go to sleep
• If you have been feeding your baby to sleep, create a gap between
feeding and putting her in the cot. Always sit your baby up after
• If your baby has a pacifier, slowly withdraw it as she falls asleep.
• Try to avoid walking around or rocking her outside the bed;
remember, you need to put her to bed awake or drowsy so that she
learns to fall asleep on her own.
• If she becomes distressed, pick her up, give her a cuddle, and try to put her to sleep in the cot again. If she hasn’t really fallen asleep and now it’s close to feeding time, you should abandon the nap and feed her.
Consistency and lots of patience will serve you well as you try to
establish routines with your baby. There is an infinite supply of advice available on this topic, online, in books and from your healthcare providers. Read what’s available, and then take what you like and what works for you and your baby. Only you will know the best schedule for you and your baby and can find a way to introduce routines that work.