Babies and young children thrive on regular, routine days. They like having a predictable schedule and a comfortable rhythm they can depend on day after day. A routine can seem intimidating, however, especially with a baby.
Many people think about harsh schedules and hours of crying for babies when they consider baby routines. Fortunately, setting up a routine does not mean forcing your baby to cry or adhering to rigid scheduled feelings.
It does mean observing your baby's natural patterns and your family's natural patterns. These will help you gently mold the day into something that works for you and your child. This can bring a lot of peace, and surprisingly, freedom for you.
Set a Routine Around Your Baby’s Natural Rhythm
Begin by observing your baby's natural rhythm. You will notice that once you get out of the early weeks of the newborn period your baby will probably slip into a familiar routine.
Notice how frequently your baby wants to nurse. Feeds are the driving force in a baby's day. I do not advocate scheduled feelings, though some parents find they work just fine. I recommend that you look at how often your baby prefers to nurse.
Most breasted babies will want to nurse every 2-3 hours. My 5th baby, Honor, wanted to nurse much more frequently, however. She nursed every 45 minutes or so for months. My 6th baby, Corwin, nursed every 3 hours from morning until evening, when he wanted to cluster feed until bed (nurse several times in a short length of time). My 7th baby, Sadie, seems much like Corwin in her nursing preferences. Figure out what your baby's pattern is for the daytime hours. Sometimes fussiness can be due to getting a lot of foremilk and not a lot of hindmilk. If you think this is baby's issue, space out feedings and try nursing on only one side per feeding.
After you've looked at nursing, take a look at when your baby is sleeping. Chances are a young baby will be napping at least three times a day (and possibly more). An older baby will take two naps a day, and a toddler will move down to one. I recommend you keep the afternoon nap or at least a “quiet time” until your child reaches school age. A period of quiet is an excellent time for you to recharge and teaches your little one to value a down time 🙂 .
A small baby will probably take a morning, afternoon, and evening nap before going to bed close to the same time as you. If you rise early with your baby, her or she may also need an early morning nap. This was true for Honor since we got up early and she did too. Corwin and Sadie both slept for awhile after I got up, and didn't need that early morning nap. As I write this, Sadie is 6 weeks old and still has trouble being awake for more than 45 minutes or so, so she takes many naps. Look at your baby – keeping a sleep log will give you a good picture of how baby is sleeping (even if you think there's no “pattern” there probably is – a log will make that clear).
Considering the Family
Okay, now that you've gotten a feel for these things, stop and take a looks at your own life. Think about when you need to sleep and when you need to eat. Do you have older children that you need to take into account?
Do you need a nap every afternoon? There is no shame in mom having a daily quiet time! Here's what my afternoon looked like when Honor was a baby: I enjoy having a period of time every afternoon where the demands on the “Mama” side of life are less. We homeschool, so my older children do schoolwork, art projects, or nap, play or read quietly. My toddler plays quietly then naps. My baby naps in the office near me for an hour and a half, then I carry her to my room and spend the last 30 minutes of naptime nursing and cuddling. This time is vital for me and I work to make sure it happens on the weekdays.
You can see how I planned this time around Honor's natural afternoon nap – working the family's afternoon rhythm around her (and some around the family… keep reading).
In order to get her to where she's ready to nap for this afternoon nap, I do need to wake her from her morning nap. This is hard for me to do, and Honor seems to naturally prefer a very long morning nap. Since I need her long nap in the afternoon, I gently wake her after an hour in the mornings.
This is a good example of how I gently moved Honor in line with what the family needed. I did the same with Corwin, and as I update this article, I'm working to get Sadie into a routine that respects her needs and the family.
You can plan your days so you are available when your baby needs to nurse – and not trying to make dinner or running errands. Of course sometimes it will be inevitable, but by setting up gentle routine, you can arrange your work and errands around baby's needs. You may also find, as I shared above, that you need to gently guide nap times around, or help your baby wait 10 minutes for a feed (while you help an older child complete an activity time, for instance). These are gentle lessons in family 🙂
Expect things to change and mold over time as your baby grows, but by keeping most days following a routine you will gain both peace and freedom.