When you first bring your newborn home, it might feel like your life has been turned upside down. But while it’s unrealistic to expect everything to run like clockwork when you’re adjusting to your new role and getting to know your little one, getting into some kind of routine can benefit you and your baby. ‘A lot of the work you do in caring for your baby involves repetitive tasks, and these will be much easier to manage if you can work out some sort of timetable,’ explains parenting expert Dr Miriam Stoppard. ‘But be careful not to confuse organisation with regimentation. You don’t want your life to be inflexible, as the needs of a young child can change hourly.’
Gina Ford, author of The Contented Little Baby Book, explains the theory behind her routines: ‘The aim is not to push your baby through the night without a feed, but to ensure that by structuring the feeding and sleeping during the day, your baby’s night time waking will be kept to a minimum.’ So more sleep for everyone!
It’s a good idea to start feeding and sleep routines as early as possible. It may sound regimented, but a simple routine will actually follows your baby’s own feeding and sleep patterns. Wendy Dean, author of The Baby Sleep System, says, ‘Parents can begin to introduce a sleep routine from birth. There are a few simple things that help from day one, such as putting your baby down to sleep in his bed awake. Doing this, he’ll learn to self-settle rather than rely on being rocked or fed to sleep.
Consistency is key, so follow the same structure every day: wake, feed, play and sleep. It’s also very important to differentiate between feeding, sleeping and social times from the outset. As Gina explains, ‘If you talk too much or overstimulate him while feeding, he could lose interest after a couple of ounces, and then he may not settle well to sleep, which could result in you feeding him to sleep, which in the long term can create sleep problems.’
In the first few weeks your baby will need to be fed a lot, and it can be helpful to keep a diary of the feeds so you can see a pattern emerging. Gina says, ‘In order to avoid excessive night-feeding, it is important to structure and establish a good daytime feeding pattern.’ If your baby feeds at regular times until he’s full, he’ll feel satisfied, nap better in the day, sleep better at night and be much happier all round.
In the early days Gina recommends a three-hourly feeding routine, but says, ‘Of course, if a baby is demanding food before the recommended time, I always advise that he should be fed. Only once a baby has regained his birth weight, and continues to gain approximately 30g a day, do I recommend that the times between feeds are extended, and only if the baby shows signs of happily going longer between feeds.’
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And so to bed
He may look peaceful, but while he’s asleep your baby is working harder than ever. ‘During sleep babies grow, interpret the information they’ve seen in their waking hours and rest their vital organs,’ says Wendy. ‘If a baby doesn’t get enough sleep he’ll be grumpy and unsettled.’
Following your baby’s cue, Wendy has these tips to getting your baby’s sleep routine on track. ‘Having a regular getting-up time is a great start. Naps can be introduced at regular times by closely observing when your baby is getting tired. If your baby is too tired, he won’t settle well, likewise if he is not tired enough.
Once you’ve developed a routine, you can build and adjust it to suit your baby (and you) as he gets older. But remember not to panic if your routine doesn’t work like clockwork. ‘Mums and babies need to get out of the house,’ says Wendy. ‘If you’re not home by the prescribed nap time – that’s life! Similarly, you should use your common sense and watch your baby, rather than the clock.’ After all, if things don’t quite go to plan you can always start again the next day!
Wendy suggests this basic routine for a 6 week old baby:
- 7am: Feed
- 9.30: Feed, then put down drowsy, but awake, for a nap
- Midday: Feed, followed by some activity
- 1pm: Put down drowsy, but awake, for a nap
- 3.30: Feed
- 5pm: Catnap to get through bedtime routine, if required
- 5.30: Feed
- 7pm: Feed, followed by bed
- 11pm: Dream feed (can be given while the baby is still asleep – stroke his bottom lip to start sucking reflex)
Through the night, feed on demand, but leave for an initial 15-minute period if the last feed was less than three hours ago. This gives him a chance to self-settle, but not to get really distressed.
Gayle Smith, 36, is mum to Sebastien, eight months, and swears by Wendy’s sleep routines.
‘I was feeding Seb to sleep, but he was waking up every two or three hours and would be awake from 4.30am. Then I found Wendy’s website – she advises tried and tested options, and you choose one to suit you. We chose the controlled crying technique, where you go up after five, then 10, then15 minutes to reassure them, without picking them up. It was really hard for the first night – he just cried and cried. The second night, however, he cried for 40 minutes, the third 20, and the fourth only seven minutes. He does still wake sometimes at night, but has now learned how to self-settle. Of course, there have been blips, but we’ve remained consistent and it’s worked.’
Clare Collins, 34, is mum to Freddie, two, and Esme, nine months. She favours a more relaxed approach to routine.
‘I was a nanny and followed strict routines because it was my job, but I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. With my children, I let them lead the way. I breastfed on demand and let them sleep when they liked and, as they’ve got older, they’ve settled into their own routine. It’s different for everyone, and I know many people fear looking after their kids without frameworks to build confidence. But for me, I think routine does the opposite – if things didn’t go according to plan it would make me panic. And children are never going to stick to strict guidelines anyway!’