How to get your newborn into a routine that works for you

How to get your newborn into a routine that works for you

Some babies slip easily into a routine, others are more unpredictable, leading to frazzled parents. I struggled with two babies myself who were unpredictable, fussy and colicky. My third was unsettled until he was 4 months – unless he was feeding or attached to me via a carrier, he was often not happy. It can be a lonely, frustrating, and exhausting time being a new parent, whether it’s your first or your fifth. You just want to do your best for your child whilst still feeling a sense of normality. I myself struggled when I was a first time parent, I knew how to feed and change a baby, the practicalities of looking after a baby, but beyond that I felt helpless, and struggled with the new demands and lack of sleep. In desperation I went and bought Gina Ford’s contented little baby book and tried to follow it to the letter. It didn’t work, just left me feeling that my baby was ‘naughty,’ ‘broken’ or worse, that I was just not good enough or consistent enough. A better read was The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. She sadly died of cancer in 2004, but her work is still popular today. She talked more sense. My method is loosely based on her book, and also from my research and experience as a Mum of 3. My youngest is 3 and a half as I write this and I have an 8 year old and a 7 year old. They have all been different in their sleep habits.

I often get asked about newborn and baby routines, specifically how to get newborns into a routine. The answer is not a simple prescription, more like a framework to follow. For some areas of parenting like attachment parenting, routine is a dirty word and they prefer to be baby led. For some parents, they need the bare bones of a routine to stay sane and for others a stricter routine will work. Whichever way you follow, there are no strict right or wrongs. I don’t believe in forcing young babies into feeding schedules and leaving them to cry (there is lots of research against crying it out), but there are ways of gentle nudging that work. Either way, the most important thing is not to beat yourself up if your baby isn’t in a fixed routine and sleeping through by 3 months old or sooner. Believe me there will be some smug parents with angel babies that proclaim they have all the answers. Basically they got lucky! Whether it’s luck, consistency or adhering to strict rules, everyone is different.

You will need to be adaptable as a parent, there are similarities of course, but you and your baby are individuals, and you may need to try something different if it’s not working. Try to be consistent in your approach, but if after a while it’s just not working for you, try something else, listen to your intuition (it’s there somewhere) and be reassured it will pass and you’ll be on to the next challenge. Having said that, I wanted to give you something to follow when you really don’t know where to start, and something to remember when you feel lost and don’t know what to do. I love an acronym, and I’ve come up with three different ones for you to help you on your journey.

The first 4 weeks – a learning experience

At least for the first 2 weeks, take time to get to know your baby. I’ve put 4 weeks here, and really that’s the time period I’d advise. The first week the baby is often sleepy, and will be put down easily, and it’s not a true reflection of how they’re going to be. For some this only lasts a few days, or the duration you’re in hospital for. It’s so common people think their baby doesn’t like being at home or they’re doing something wrong, when it’s just their natural ‘waking up’ time. Whether you breast or formula feed, the first couple of weeks are for establishing feeding patterns and milk supply, so these will vary. The third and fourth week you’ll start to notice your baby’s behaviour patterns. Are they more fussy in the evenings, a common time? They should have at least a couple of longer sleeps per 24 hour period. I will talk later in the article about nudging those periods into when we want (night time), but note when they are. Then you’ll be able to fit in routine tasks you need to do at home, and rest. After this learning period, you can start to plan a bit more of a routine if you wish.

Things to think about when planning your baby’s routine

Is this your first baby and the only child at home? If you have other children the new baby will need to fit into their schedule. If you have to do the school run, the first feed of the day may need to be earlier or later according to their schedule. Afternoon naps need to be built around school pick up. Do you plan on going to certain baby groups or classes? This is where knowing your baby’s habits will help. Are they sleepier in the morning or afternoon? Look for classes that will fit in around feeding and nap times. They should all be flexible anyway and don’t mind what the baby does during the class. What about when you are feeling more active, or tired? If you struggle when it comes to late afternoon, don’t plan any big changes then. Not a morning person? Don’t schedule classes at that time. Try to fit in a gentle walk in the daytime. It will help you both to get some fresh air, exercise for you and the movement will settle the baby to sleep.

A rough guide to what newborns (up to 3 months) need sleep wise

As a rough guide, newborns will sleep most of the time, and will wake 2-3 times a night for feeding. Of course this will vary from individual babies. The important thing to remember is that their sleep cycles are shorter than a typical adults, which will be around 3 hours. A baby’s sleep cycle is about 40 minutes. They will rouse every 40 minutes, sometimes going straight back to sleep without seeming to wake, other times they will need some sort of help falling back to sleep, be that holding, movement, swaddling, feeding, sucking etc. So while a baby may wake frequently, they are not necessarily waking from hunger, it could just be they are unable to transition into the next sleep cycle. After 3 months, your baby may have settled into longer waking periods in the day and longer sleep sessions at night, but they will probably still wake around twice at night, some more, some less. Newborns will not have any idea of day and night, and will wake frequently 2-3 hourly for food and attention.

Feeding schedules and patterns

Anyone can tell you to feed 4 hourly, 3 hourly, on demand, and any variations. Sticking to a rigid schedule will help you, the parent to schedule your life, but it may not be best for the baby. The weather, growth spurts, constipation, illness, teething and mood will all affect the baby’s feeding pattern, just like it can affect you. One day you might be extra hungry and other days not fancy much. Babies are no different. This doesn’t help us out when we are control freaks who just want to know when we can nap or have a minutes peace! As a guide, here’s a sample feeding routine for a baby who is 4-12 weeks old.:

  • Have a first feed of the day when baby wakes or when the day starts (this is different from night feeds or 4/5am feeds)
  • Mid morning feed around 10/11 am
  • After lunch feed around 2pm
  • Tea time feed around 5pm
  • Evening feed around 7/9pm
  • Optional dream feed around 10/11pm
  • Night feed on demand

Don’t forget, if baby is really sleepy at any of these times you can delay the feed, or is really unsettled/ hungry at other times, offer a feed to see if hunger is the cause. You don’t need to stick to the feeding times. If you feed more often in the day, then they will in theory feed less at night, but it is normal to have some night waking for the first 2-3 years, although some will sleep through earlier. Yes I did say years!

For breastfeeding mums, you won’t know exactly how much milk your baby is taking, and as they get more effective at nursing, the feeds can be shorter, yet they are taking in more milk. As long as they are gaining weight and have plenty of wet and dirty nappies, they are getting enough. If you express your milk, it is different to the baby emptying the breast, so you may get less out. It is not always a representation of what the baby is taking. For formula fed babies, initially they may only take 2-3oz of formula, then increase to 4-5 in the second month, and then increase again over the next 4-6 months. By the time you introduce solids, they will most likely be on around 7-8 oz. Each baby is different though.

Your baby’s development in the first 3 months

Once you’ve completed your learning experience in the first few weeks and have an idea of feeding and sleep patterns – you can use a chart if you like to help; you’re ready for some gentle nudging. Firstly, you need to stay SANE. There’s an old saying, if the plane is going down, remember to put your own oxygen mask on before your child’s and basically it means you need to look after yourself first in order to be the best at looking after others. So here’s my stay SANE guide:

S – Sleep whenever you can to keep your energy levels up

A – Accept help from others, from small things like holding the baby while you shower to cooking meals and doing housework for you

N – Nudge the baby into a routine that works for you

E – Enjoy your baby, and manage your expectations.

Now let’s add in some nap time suggestions to our feeding schedule, and you can see how your day will shape up.

  • First feed of the day when baby wakes or when the day starts, e.g 7am (different from night feeds or 4/5am feeds)
  • Activity and/or nap
  • Mid morning feed around 10/11 am
  • Activity and/or nap
  • After lunch feed around 2pm
  • Activity and/or nap
  • Tea time feed around 5pm
  • Bath time
  • Evening feed around 7/8pm
  • Bedtime
  • Optional dream feed around 10/11pm
  • Night feed on demand

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I’ve used the word activity, but they don’t need lots of stimulation under 3 months. Don’t forget they are awake and active during a feed which will wear them out in itself. Here are some examples of ‘activities’ for babies 0-3 months:

  1. Spending time in their bouncer chair or swing
  2. Floor time in a play gym or blanket
  3. Tummy time over a pillow or on their floor gym
  4. One on one time with you (you can sing, listen to music, talk, dance)
  5. Going for a walk in the stroller
  6. Going for a walk in the baby carrier
  7. Baby massage
  8. Bath time
  9. Sensory play (see some ideas for sensory toys here)
  10. Swimming (after 4-6 weeks)
  11. Meeting other babies and children

You don’t have to do everything every day, or even one of them. Your baby will learn and develop from interacting with you and watching your daily routine, so don’t feel under pressure to stimulate the baby constantly. What you can do is try and stick to these feed and nap times. They will be getting 5-6 feeds in during the day and on demand in the night. If they wake early, say 4.30am onwards, you could give a small feed and try and re-settle, so that they will take a good morning feed. If this doesn’t work just go with the flow and still offer the morning feed. Most babies will cry from basic needs, so hunger, pain and tiredness. A good amount of day sleep actually makes them sleep better at night.

I will keep looking over this post to update it, I welcome your feedback and any questions you may have. You can comment below or email me, or message me on social media, I’m @midwifeandlife.

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Are you expecting a baby but not sure what it will be like? Advice from a Midwife and mum of 3 with sample routines and schedules, plus a free downloadable printable you can customise to suit you. When and how to get your newborn baby in a routine that works for you and your family. #newborn #routines #baby #schedule #schedules #routine #samplebabyroutines #freeprintablebabyroutine #newborns #breastfeedingschedule

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