Find out why a routine is important for baby, and can help with their sleeping and feeding patterns.
Laying down a routine for your baby can make life easier for all the family. Some parents decide to have little or no routine at all, happy to follow their baby’s lead. While others find that a very simple, flexible routine can benefit their baby, and helps them to feel more in control. Bear in mind that in the first few months of your baby’s life, it’s best to take it slowly and use the time to get to know your baby, which will help you to work which style works best for you and your little one.
Feed, play and sleep pattern
There are ways to help your newborn establish a sleeping and eating routine. From about four to six weeks on, you can look at implementing a routine around sleep. But remember that it pays to be flexible about when your baby sleeps and feeds.
An example of a routine could include the following:
When your baby wakes up:
- Offer a feed.
- Change your baby’s nappy.
- Take time for talk and play.
- Put your baby back down for sleep.
Your newborn doesn’t know the difference between night and day, so there will not be a regular pattern of feeding in the early weeks. You may start to notice a feeding pattern emerging naturally, which will make life a bit more predictable for you.
You will know that feeding is going well when:
- your baby appears satisfied and contented after most feeds
- your baby is bright, alert and active when awake
- your baby is settling and sleeping after some feeds during the day or night
- your baby is having plenty of wet and dirty nappies
- your baby is gaining weight
How to establish a regular bedtime routine
A structure around bedtime provides babies with cues, ensuring an easier transition from being up to going to bed. While the full routine is not always required, you should try to develop the same habits when putting your baby down for their nap or night time sleep. It could be something as simple as lying them down in the cot, tucking them in and saying ‘sleep well, I love you’. Feed your baby after a bath or after you change her into pyjamas.
Use a dim light to feed your baby at night. A light that is too bright may over-stimulate your baby. Do not talk out loud when you feed your baby at night. It’s better to whisper as talking might encourage your baby to stay awake. Reading your little one a story, no matter what stage they are at, can be a really special bonding time for all to enjoy. If your baby is breastfed, story time can be a nice activity for daddy and baby to have together. Your child’s bedtime routine should be consistent and it’s important to keep it as calm and peaceful as possible.
Recognise the signs
A newborn baby will usually become overtired if they have been awake for more than one and a half hours. At three to six months, your baby will be overtired after they have been awake for one and a half to three hours. Watch your baby for signs of tiredness. It’s not a good idea to keep her up longer than she wants, as an overtired baby will struggle to fall asleep and may then only sleep fitfully.
If you think your baby has become overtired, it’s a good idea to reduce stimulation by:
Speaking in a soothing, quiet voice.
Using soft lighting.
Closing the curtains and blinds.
Taking your baby to their cot.
Calming your baby with a cuddle or by reading a story or singing.
No television or screen time of any kind at least two hours before bed.
Encouraging an end of day activity like tidying toys away before going upstairs (and they do not return downstairs again). This will be more suitable as your baby gets older.
Always putting your baby down awake. They may grizzle a little, but listen to your baby without letting them cry or becoming upset. This teaches them to self-soothe and to become comfortable in their sleep environment.
Having a flexible bedtime routine so that it can be used on holidays or in relatives’ houses; the familiarity of their routine will help your little one to settle well in a strange place.
In the beginning, your newborn won’t be able to tell the difference between day and night, so it will take a while to establish regular feeding habits.
But you can try and figure out your baby’s cues that signify that your baby is hungry or when he is full. Some feeding cues may include the smacking of her lips, turning her head towards you or sucking her hands or fingers. Watching your baby closely will help you spot other patterns in your baby’s behaviour. Take note of when she is alert, how long she sleeps for and chart her wet/dirty nappies. Try to make sure she has eaten before falling asleep. If you think she’s about to doze off, play some nursery tunes, talk or sing to her.
Some babies feed very frequently at one particular time of the day, often in the evening. This is called ‘cluster feeding’ and is quite normal. Some babies ‘cluster feed’ for two to three hours before they settle. They may then settle for a long sleep. If your baby has a particular time they like to ‘cluster feed’ it can be helpful to alter your routines to make time to be able to feed your baby on demand at this time and rest when they have settled.
Naps are important
Ensure your baby takes regular naps throughout the day. Where possible, those naps should take place in their own cot. While younger babies will easily drift off in their pram or in the car seat, sleeping in their own bed for their daytime naps ensures that they get a better quality sleep and it sets a precedent for napping well during the day, an essential ingredient for good night time sleep.
“I tried not talking with my son if he woke during the night. I would comfort him with cuddles and shushing but never spoke to him. During the day I constantly talk to him and I think it helps him learn the difference between day and night.”
A newborn baby’s (0-3 months) tired signs:
- Fluttering her eyelids
- Jerking of arms and legs
- Arching her back
- Having a worried expression on her face
- Sucking on her fingers
- Difficulty focusing her eyes
Some of your older baby’s (three months +) tired signs may include:
- Crying easily
- Looking for constant attention and becoming clingy
- Losing interest in toys
- Becoming fussy with feeds
- Displaying grizzly behaviour