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Creating Your Baby's Routine

Dianna Graveman | 4, February 2012


The first few weeks after a new baby comes home are filled with wonder, excitement, and joy (along with more than a few sleepless nights!). But eventually, most new parents begin to think about establishing a routine for the baby--a schedule to make life a little less complicated. Some parents are more flexible with this schedule than others, and a lot depends on both the parents' personalities and their child's.

Most pediatricians agree that a baby is ready for some type of regular routine by two to four months. This might also be about the time a new mother returns to the workplace, and a regular feeding and sleeping schedule will ease that transition for all: parents, baby, and caregiver. Also, the baby's sleeping and eating habits typically start becoming more predictable around three or four months.

Perhaps the best known advocate of a relaxed, baby-led routine is Dr. Benjamin Spock. In the early weeks, you may notice your baby start to develop a pattern of his own--sleeping for about the same period of time each day or becoming hungry around the same times. She may be more playful at certain times of the day. If you plan to let your baby dictate the routine, take note of these natural rhythms so you can keep them in mind as your regular routine begins to develop over the next few months. As your baby begins to develop her own routine, your days will get more predictable, but don't expect every day to be the same. Your baby's growth, physically and intellectually, might cause her to send you signals that she's more or less hungry, or more or less sleepy, from day to day.

Parents who must adhere to a stricter schedule due to work hours and the use of outside caregivers may set the routine rather than letting their baby take the lead. A strict schedule can dictate how often the baby will eat, how long and how often he will sleep (and at what times), and when he will play. If you set this type of schedule, stick to it from day to day. An abrupt change from a consistently strict schedule will be more upsetting to your baby than if you have used a more flexible schedule all along.

However, it is important, whether you dictate the routine or whether you let your baby lead the way, to make sure she is feeding often enough to gain the necessary weight and to stay hydrated. Just like we can't always predict when we will get hungry as adults, we can't always predict a baby's hunger. She may be going through a growth spurt and suddenly require more energy. Don't withhold breast milk or formula because it isn't mealtime, yet, if your baby sends obvious signals she is hungry.

Probably the easiest solution for many of today's busy parents is to develop a routine that mostly adheres to the parents' schedule, allowing for predictable days during the workweek, while remaining flexible enough to allow for a spontaneous outing on the weekends. If you choose to go this route, set a regular time schedule for feeding, sleeping, and playing, but be aware of your baby's signals and willing to adjust on your days off work, on holidays, or whenever else you feel it is necessary or desirable to do so.

Your baby's personality will play a factor, too. While some babies will adjust better to a strict schedule and others will like a flexible schedule, if your baby was premature or had a low birth weight or other health concerns, she may sleep less and eat more. Consult your health care provider to help with tips for setting a routine.

Daylight Saving Time can cause a brief interruption in schedule, but your baby (and you) should adjust within a week. Make sure you spend time outdoors or near windows during daylight, and dim the lights and close the shades as evening arrives.

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