Parents frequently ask me “What is the best routine for my baby?”, or I often hear “I haven’t got my baby into a routine; am I creating bad habits!” My answer can take parents by surprise when I reply: “There is not one best routine out there for every baby, and there are NO bad habits to be created. Simply, there are just habits and a routine that feels right and works for you and your baby.”
There are lots of different routines and variations of them out there in parenting books. Many are written by experts with their own many years of experience, knowledge and their own personal opinion on what is best for a baby. As parents we need guidance for many reasons, not just because babies do not come delivered with their own instruction kit! Parenting books are useful to us, and an invaluable source of information and advice. They can guide us, but they are just that; a guide, they aren’t gospel unless you want them to be. Every baby is so beautifully unique, so there cannot be a 'one size fits all routine' that fits every baby! The only expert of your baby is YOU; you know your baby inside-out and what works and what doesn’t - the author hasn’t had the privilege of meeting your baby.
These routines may create stress and frustration for both you and your baby, if your little one won’t fall asleep bang-on a set nap-time or they need feeding before a scheduled feed time. Routines are just a guide for you, and if it doesn’t feel right or it doesn't suit you can tweak it so it fits you and your baby perfectly.
Whatever routine you choose, they can be helpful to give you and your baby structure in the days when the time can seem to sprawl endlessly in front of you, and they help reassure your baby, making them feel safe and secure.
Here is how to find a perfect fit routine for you and your baby:
Eat, sleep, poop, repeat
In those special early days your baby is in the '4th Trimester (please see my last article for all about this) and this time is all about meeting your baby’s needs. Go with them, hold them close and get to know your new baby, as there are no bad habits to be made. Try not to worry about set timing - they don’t wear a watch, and their own routine will emerge in time.
Drum to the baby beat
We all have our own natural rhythm that we beat to. If we listen to our body it will tell us when we are tired, hungry or need a cuddle. Babies are the same; they all beat to their own drum. To find your baby’s beat, start noting down their natural feed, sleep and awake times. Over time you will see a natural pattern emerge, and a routine can be based on that. It may be easier to find a routine that fits them than to fit them on to a routine.
Routines don't have to mean restriction
A routine can be anything you want it to be and can be tailored around your daily lifestyle and needs. Routine simply means to repeat, and you can pick exactly what you want to repeat for your baby. There is no written rule that all naps must be taken in the cot, that lunch time should be at midday, that it is right to leave a certain gap between feeds, or that bedtime is bang on 7pm every night.
Timings aren’t as important as the order
Babies don't wear a watch, but they do come to remember the order of the things that happen and can then anticipate what is about to come next. Having your own little rituals with feeds, sleeps and naps in your routine can help comfort and settle your baby, making them feel safe and secure.
The most vital part of a sandwich is the bread, because without bread there is no sandwich! Morning and night time are the bread; they are consistent every day, as we know that every day your baby will wake up and need to start the day off with a feed and at they will go to bed at the end of day (fingers crossed!) These are the only two parts of a day that are consistent for everyone. Try to be consistent when you can with these, by starting the day off with a morning feeding ritual and finishing the day with lovely bedtime routine. It is never too early to start gentle rituals that will, in time, become a bedtime routine. The filling in your sandwich may be different every day, and this is because no one day is ever the same for your baby - they are constantly changing, learning and processing. A routine needs to change constantly just like your sandwich!
Some days your baby will wake late because they had a late-night party, or you visited some friends at lunch and your baby fed later than usual. If this happens just move everything slightly earlier or later as needed and keep to the same order of rituals at bedtime and wake-up the next day.