Getting into a baby schedule with your new bundle of joy takes a little time. How do you fit all those feedings, naps and diaper changes in and still make it out of the house on time to meet a friend? How much should your baby be eating and sleeping — and when should it all take place? Getting into a routine for sleep, feeding and activities can definitely make life easier for you (and Baby). Here are tips to get the ball rolling:
A Comfy Bedtime Routine Starts Early
Once you have a consistent bedtime worked out, a daytime routine will fall into place, says Tanya Remer Altmann, M.D., a pediatrician and editor-in-chief of The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones (Bantam; 2007). The easiest way to establish a regular bedtime is to start a bedtime routine that you can both rely on day after day for awhile. “A bedtime routine is the most important thing to consider when establishing a schedule,” says Altmann. “You can’t force it in the first few months, but you can start practicing at around 2 months.”
Keep it simple: a warm bath, jammies, a feeding, then lights out. It’s fine if feeding lulls your baby to sleep in the early months, but by 3 or 4 months you can try putting him down awake so he’ll learn to fall asleep on his own.
Teach Baby the Difference Between Night and Day
Babies can easily mix up day for night and vice versa, sleeping long periods during the day then growing wakeful just in time for your head to hit the pillow. Sorting out day from night for your baby is an important first step to getting him into a workable routine.
Jan Rick, mom to 8-month-old Christopher, offers these tips: “During the day, keep the house bright. Do the exact opposite at night. Keep the house dim and quiet. Don’t stimulate your baby as much at night so he’ll learn what happens during this time of day. Be playful with him in the morning and after his daytime naps.”
Discover Your Baby’s Cues
While your pediatrician, mom, friends and books can all help you decipher your little one’s cues, your baby is actually your most important guide, so listen when he tells you what he needs.
“Instincts come from learning about your baby’s temperament and what works for him,” says Altmann.
Dad Peter Komstock says paying close attention to 5-month-old Gus has helped him anticipate his needs, which makes life easier and more fun for both of them. Learning what your baby needs takes time and patience, but you’ll see patterns emerge over time. If you log your baby’s naps, feedings, playtimes and so on in a notebook or with an app like Baby Connect, you can use your findings to come up with a timetable for doing things and being able to make plans around his life.
During the first couple of weeks home with your baby, follow his lead by observing what he does, and don’t rush things. Make this process a top priority for at least the first couple of weeks.
Stick to the Routine as Much as Possible
Once you establish a pattern for your baby’s sleeping, waking, changing and feeding times, doing things differently isn’t going to mess him up too much, but it’s best to keep your baby’s schedule as consistent as possible while he’s getting accustomed to it.
Changes Happen with Growth Spurts and Development
Your baby will nearly triple his weight in the first year, plus he’ll master feats like sitting up, crawling and perhaps walking.
During periods of growth, or when he’s working to achieve a new milestone, don’t be surprised if your baby diverges from his usual routine. He may be hungrier than usual, need more sleep or return to waking up several times a night. Be flexible — a new schedule will emerge shortly, so know that routines are meant to evolve.
When you get used to things in a predictable way, things may aburptly change again — and that’s the way it goes. As your baby gets older, he’ll need fewer daytime naps and more playtime and stimulation. You may find yourself in the two naps to one nap per day transition and Baby Sleep Made Simple says it requires more patience from you than any other nap schedule. The site states the naptime switch occurs between 13 - 18 months (the average age is 15 months). Just watch for signs from your toddler.
He’ll also need to eat solid foods — first just once a day, but eventually several times a day. Read up on baby milestones to understand what’s coming up.
Practice Does Not Make Perfect
In the world of parents seeking perfection, just know that will rarely happen. There will be fewer days where your baby’s routine works like a charm than days that do not.
Sometimes, without warning, your baby will want to skip a nap, breastfeed more, wake up at the crack of midnight and so on. Life happens!