Table of Contents
- Healthy patterns start with a schedule. Here’s how and to get your baby on a regular schedule.
- What exactly is a routine?
- Is routine right for everyone?
- A routine doesn’t necessarily mean following a rigid schedule ALL. THE. TIME.
- The benefits of a baby schedule
- The cons of a baby schedule
- How to build a routine
- When should you start?
- What baby's routine may look like for the first 6 months
- A Few Tips to Remember When Creating a Routine
Healthy patterns start with a schedule. Here’s how and to get your baby on a regular schedule.
When I (Kalie) found out I was pregnant with our oldest daughter, Isla, I was filled with feelings of joy, excitement and fear all at the same time. Like most moms, I wanted what was best for my baby from the moment I received the incredible news. Building healthy habits in my little one was at the top of my priorities list. The problem was, I had no idea what to expect or how to navigate motherhood.
To better educate myself on the absolute BEST ways to instill healthy habits in babies, I read books, researched online, reached out to experienced moms and talked to pediatricians.
I began to notice a common theme: creating a routine for your baby to follow, especially in regards to sleep, is of the utmost importance.
When I heard the words routine and baby in the same sentence, it sounded like a ridiculous oxymoron, like a “working vacation.” But I couldn’t dispute the profound evidence that showed just how important a schedule was, so I decided to give one of the most famous techniques, Babywise, a shot.
Establishing a routine took patience and persistence. There were days I felt utterly defeated and exhausted. There were more than a few times when I sat teary-eyed on the floor of our bedroom closet with the lights off, momentarily escaping the chaos of motherhood after putting Isla down for a nap. But, fast forward to today as a mother of two, I can personally attest to how vital creating a healthy routine for my children has been.
I truly believe that our family life as a whole, bedtime in particular, runs smoothly (most of the time) thanks to the structure we instilled starting on day one. Not only that, but creating consistent routines and daily rituals has provided our girls with a sense of safety and resulted in positive developmental outcomes.
Motherhood is hard, there’s no way around it. Whether you’re a first-time mama, expecting another child or just want to try something different, now is the perfect time to start thinking about how you’d like to build a routine for you and your baby.
Below are some of the most commonly asked questions and helpful tips for getting your baby into a successful daily groove.
What exactly is a routine?
Routine centers around creating consistency through a structured schedule so both you and your baby know what comes next. This predictable schedule teaches children how to constructively manage themselves in their environments (such as being put to bed while awake and putting themselves to sleep without pushback).
Is routine right for everyone?
Like so many child-rearing issues, there’s more than one right answer. Some people feel that baby schedules should be shunned, while others praise their successes and feel they should be embraced.
For us, a predictable routine has helped set expectations. As our girls have gotten older, it’s proven to build confidence and independence, create habits that have taught them to better manage their time and help them get excited about what’s next.
A routine doesn’t necessarily mean following a rigid schedule ALL. THE. TIME.
Like most healthy habits, routine also involves some flexibility. Every baby is different and, therefore, there’s no ONE thing that will work for them all.
When you create a routine that works for you and your family, do your best to stick to it, but know that it’s not something that is set in stone. An occasional deviation, like an afternoon appointment or playdate, shouldn’t cause too much disruption to your baby’s routine, just pick up as usual when you can.
This was something I initially struggled with after having Isla (I’m a type A planner), but became much more comfortable with the second time around with Alana. While I still made every effort to be home for Alana to nap in the comfort of her crib, I embraced the idea that it’s not the end of the world if she slept in her car seat every once in a while. This flexibility helped ease the “mom guilt” associated with straying from her norm.
The benefits of a baby schedule
- A somewhat predictable schedule (set by the parents, not the baby) encourages the baby to know what will happen next, whether it’s time to eat, play or sleep.
- It gives them security, emotional stability and helps them learn to trust that they will be provided with what they need.
- It has been shown to have long-term benefits. As the baby transitions into toddlerhood and early childhood, it helps family life run more smoothly because there is an understanding of basic self-care habits without power struggles between parent and child.
- It allows the parents to feel more organized and in control, which lowers stress.
The cons of a baby schedule
- Routine is difficult in those early days of infanthood, especially when your little one can’t even tell day from night yet.
- As a brand-new mom who’s utterly exhausted, a routine can add stress before it alleviates it.
How to build a routine
One of the BEST ways to successfully establish a new habit is by linking it to an existing habit that's already part of our day. Essentially, the existing habit acts as a trigger and, over time, our brain goes on autopilot and our new skill becomes routine.
For example, if you smell lavender essential oil before turning in for the night, over time the scent of lavender becomes an obvious cue leading to the next step... bedtime. This is called habit stacking and works wonders when building a routine, especially in children.
When should you start?
It’s common for Babywise parents to start somewhere in the birth to 2-month window. We decided to embark on a routine as soon as we got home from the hospital, but there was certainly some flexibility since the girls were so young. There is no right or wrong way, it’s just what works best for your family.
It's okay to get to know your baby and start when you instinctively think it is best.
The caveat is if you wait too long, habits like rocking and pacifying can be ingrained in your baby as sleep associations, or crutches, they need to fall asleep and stay asleep. That being said, it’s never too late to develop good habits!
What baby's routine may look like for the first 6 months
For the first few months of our girls' lives, our routine was pretty basic and mainly focused around sleep. Keep in mind, it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies—especially when initially setting a standard—but it worked for us.
Our daytime routine looked something like this
To organize naps and feedings throughout the day, we tried to stick to the sleep, eat, play, repeat cycle. It’s pretty simple: the girls would eat (breast or bottle), play for a bit (tummy time, listen to mommy read, lay under their play mat, etc.) and then go down for a nap.
The length and type of play and the duration of the nap depended on each girl's age and temperament. Isla did better with this than Alana, who required a little more flexibility, but the basic layout was always the same: eating, followed by some playing and then finally a nap. Another key component—we made every effort to put the girls in bed when they were drowsy, but still awake, so that they would learn to fall asleep on their own.
To reinforce their natural circadian rhythm and help the girls differentiate between their daytime nap and bedtime in the evening, we instituted unique routines for both.
Bedtime looked something like this (an example you can try)
- Night feeding (no playtime to follow)
- Wash face with a warm washcloth
- Change baby’s clothes
- Short bedtime book—for us this is a daily devotional
- Low lights
- Sing a soft lullaby—for us this is: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray...”
- Gently wave lavender essential oil around nose for a calming effect and to indicate its bedtime
- Down for bed while still at least slightly awake, saying “Goodnight, I love you!”
- AM: Open blinds, change baby’s clothes, wash face with a warm washcloth, feed (a new day is beginning)
This routine has worked like hypnosis for us and helped both myself and the girls get more sleep! Now that Isla is older and accustomed to the flow of things, she’ll ask for lavender when she’s sleepy at bedtime. It's also helped her learn to use her imagination and quietly play with her stuffed animals in her crib after she wakes (usually for 30-60 minutes).
Here's the exact daily schedule we followed. (Please remember, each baby is unique and sleep schedules can vary widely.)
If synchronizing a sleep, eat, play schedule is something you’re interested in, then I’d strongly encourage you to read the book On Becoming Babywise. While the Babywise Method isn’t for everyone, the book offers some amazing insight and is a must-read for expecting or new moms and/or parents.
Keep it as simple as possible!
Tip 1. Start by trying to teach your baby the difference between day and night.
Simple habits can make a world of difference. Keep your house bright and noisy during the day. At night, dim the lights and keep the room quieter.
Tip 2. Consistency is key when it comes to a successful routine your child can depend on day after day.
This helps them understand that certain things happen at particular times. Try to fit activities around your baby’s sleeping and feeding routine, especially when starting out.
Tip 3. Expect changes during growth spurts and developmental milestones.
During these times, your baby may sleep longer, wake up more frequently, be crankier and much hungrier than normal. Your baby will probably settle back into their usual routine within a week or so. You may feel discouraged, and that’s okay, but remind yourself that these regressions are temporary.
Ages when babies are likely to have a growth spurt or sleep regression
- 2-3 weeks
- 6 weeks
- 3-4 months
- 6 months
- 8-10 months
- 12 months
- 18 months
Tip 3. Don’t expect your baby’s routine to ALWAYS run like clockwork; stay flexible.
Plans help set you up for success, but aren’t the end all, be all. There will be days when your baby may want to get up earlier than normal or demands an extra feeding (we’ve all been there). This could be “just one of those days” or the result of something like a minor cold. Learn to read your baby’s cues so you’re able to recognize their needs. Don’t worry, an occasional deviation from the routine shouldn’t unhinge all your hard work.
Tip 4. Adjust your routine to suit your baby’s age.
It never fails that as soon as you get into a good rhythm, it’s time to change it again. As your baby gets older, they’ll need fewer daytime naps, more playtime and will start eating solid foods. Reading up on these milestones and checking out our sample schedules for babies of all ages can help you understand what to expect.
Tip 5. Every baby is different and, therefore, there’s no ONE set routine that will work for them all.
Test your plan out and evaluate what worked well and what could be improved upon. The first time you put together a schedule, look at it as a starting point or rough draft. Then, adjust as necessary until you find what actually works best for you and your baby.
Good habits, especially when it comes to sleep, are lifelong skills you can start teaching your baby from day one.
Not only are they beneficial for your child, they’re a sigh of relief for sleepless, weary parents and can help your baby grow into a child who absolutely loves, and looks forward to, healthy habits.