When can I get my baby into a routine?
Are routines bad for new babies? Can I have a routine if I’m breastfeeding?
These are questions I hear a lot from confused mums and dads, and it shows just how many mixed messages there are about this subject.
The truth is, you can put any healthy baby of any age on a routine, even from birth. New babies thrive on routine, and it is totally possible to breastfeed and demand feed with a routine in place – as long as it’s the right routine. Nothing will ever prepare you for life as a new parent, and those first few weeks can become a confused blur as your day fills with feeding, winding, crying, and sleeping (or not!).
This is actually quite natural and normal as you and baby get used to each other, and after a few days, things tend to settle down and you can start thinking about how your days are going to go.
Do I need a routine?
Absolutely not! There is no rule to say you should have baby in a routine, just as there is no rule that says you shouldn’t. If you are the sort of person who is happy just taking things as they come, as long as everything is going well, baby is putting on weight, and you are all getting enough sleep then carry on doing that for as long as you are happy.
Different kinds of routines
If you are mostly happy but would love to know when you were going to get to bed at night, did you know it’s possible just to have a little routine for the end of the day that can help you predict your bedtime and allow you to pace yourself a little?
Or if you prefer to start the day at the same time every day, did you know that you can put a routine in place that can help make that happen?
Did you know that you can demand feed and still have a flexible routine that allows you to figure out when you can go for a walk, or do a school run?
Or that it’s possible to have one routine for weekdays, and another for the weekend, or that you can have a different routine every day?
If this comes as a bit of a surprise to you, it helps to remember that ‘routine’ simply means ‘a sequence of actions regularly followed’ *Oxford English Dictionary. It does NOT mean strict, or cruel, rigid, or harmful.
Routines can be very flexible, and relaxed AND, most importantly, they can, and should be, personalised to you, your baby, your family, and the situation. If you regularly start the day as a family at 7 am, but then go with the flow for the rest of the day, have an evening meal and family time in the late evening, that is your routine. If your baby feeds and sleeps at set times during the week, but you go with the flow at weekends, that is your routine.
There is no wrong or right way to establish a routine for your baby
There is no right or wrong way, but something I would say is that they should NOT be copied from someone else, or from a book, or from a blog, or a meme, or from a download or anywhere else. By all means, use these as a starting point but then build on it in your own way. If you create your own routine, it will be the right routine, fully understood, and controlled by you, and can be adapted by you when you need.
Where should I start?
A lot of my clients want routines, so I usually put their babies on what I call my ‘default’ routine, with baby feeding every 2.5 to 3 hours. This makes sure they are well fed, while providing enough frequency to establish breastfeeding if required. At the same time, it allows mums time to sleep and recover in between.
Over the next few days I get to know the parents, and what sort of routine or habits they want in place. I get to know baby and work towards nudging everyone onto the same schedule, gradually and gently. Most importantly, I also make sure they understand their baby’s personality, needs and signals, and I introduce them to all different types of routine, so they can tweak and adapt their routines as time goes on.
This is also something I teach those who are happy without a routine, just so they are prepared if they change their minds later.
Why might I need a routine for my baby?
- If you are tired or exhausted from frequent feeds and lack of sleep at night.
- If you want to reduce chaos and get some predictability so you know when you can do housework, or leave the house.
- If short and unpredictable daytime naps are stressing you out.
- If you need to go back to work.
- If you are struggling to manage partner, relationships, older children, work, pets, etc
- If you or your baby are unhappy for any reason, there will be something you can do right now to make life better.
- Life with a new baby can be chaotic, and while sometimes that chaos is ok and even fun, it can also be very stressful, confusing, and exhausting. If things feel out of control, the quickest way to help is to set up some sort of routine.
Routines offer predictability and regularity, and they also give you important information such as how much baby is feeding or sleeping, or how they react when over-hungry or overtired. If things are going wrong routines can be a real lifesaver.
I often hear from women who have ended up feeling like they do nothing but feed all through the day and night, or who just feel they can’t cope and are at the end of their tether. In this situation the quickest way to help them is to put them on my default 3 hourly routine just to restore a bit of order to the chaos.
This gives them time to recover, and time for us to figure out what is going on before figuring out how we move forwards on to a more permanent solution, so routines can also be used as a temporary fix.
I could write a whole book on this subject (on my list of things to do!) but in the meantime, if you have any questions, or need help I will be answering questions about this in a live My Baba panel as part of the The Baby Show Live @ Home on Sunday, 1st November, so please login and find me there.
You can also find me most days in my free Facebook group Lockdown Babies, which is a lovely safe group for mums and dads, with no judging and shaming, just reliable evidence-based information and support.
If you really want to understand your baby through every stage of their first year (including those first few weeks, dreaded sleep regressions, weaning, and teething!) and get yourselves off to the best start possible, check out my online membership, the Baby Detective Parent Academy for access to video courses, masterclasses, cheatsheets and downloads, as well as direct access to me and ongoing support through weekly coaching calls in our private Facebook community.
Article by Sarah Norris, The Baby Detective