4.02.2014

establishing a routine for baby

It's no secret that a routine is important. 
Routines are set to use time more effectively, accomplish goals, and establish guidelines in any and every area of life. And when it comes to establishing a routine for your baby, it is important to understand why you need a routine, when you should implement one, and how to be sure it will be successful. 

After some inquiry from other moms about how I've established a routine with Olivia, I thought doing a detailed post on it would be a great way to kick off this new month! I'll be sharing an outline of Olivia's routine, and the basics of a baby schedule, as well as our own methods and experience when it came to establishing a routine with our daughter.

If the fact that I carried her for 9 months and gave birth to her last May weren't enough, Olivia is so clearly my daughter because she has been on a natural schedule almost since she was born. Though the first two months were a bit chaotic, once she hit 8 weeks, we began implementing a structured routine and Olivia adapted to it like a champ. Since then, we have adapted it according to Olivia's needs and preferences but for the most part, we have stuck with the same routine since last summer. 

Olivia's Daily Routine
Wake Up // Between 8:30 and 10am
Breakfast // Within half an hour of waking up
Playtime + Reading Books
Morning Bath + Warm Bottle
Playtime
Naptime // Between Noon and 1pm
Wake Up from Nap // Between 2:30 and 4pm
Lunch // Within half an hour of waking up
Playtime and/or Errands with V
Dinner // Between 6pm and 7:30pm
Possible Evening Nap // Usually after dinner, V will take a short half hour snooze to recharge
Playtime, Cuddling, Reading Books
Bedtime Bottle between 8:30 and 9pm
Bedtime between 9 and 10pm

On average, Olivia sleeps 10-12 hours each night and takes one long afternoon nap and one short snooze in the evening. Around 8 months old, she naturally transitioned down from two daytime naps to one. She eats three meals a day, (sometimes one snack) and has two bottles per day. Bathtime is usually in the mornings because I love knowing she feels fresh and clean for the day ahead and nights are usually busier with more going on. Especially now that spring and summer are arriving, nights will be spent outside grilling, playing at the park, and taking walks together. 

If you look at her schedule, the time frames are loose because flexibility is important. A schedule that is too rigid will be difficult to implement but a schedule that is too loose obviously isn't good either. I use these times as general guidelines based on Olivia's preferences. As soon as she wakes up in the morning, she isn't immediately ready for breakfast. She likes to stretch, play in her crib, crawl around a bit and explore. It is important to keep in mind your baby's habits and preferences when outlining a routine. Just because most people eat lunch between noon and 1pm doesn't mean Olivia needs to. She loves waking up after her nap and having lunch and then playing. Finding a healthy balance between flexibility and rigidity is extremely important when establishing a routine for your baby.

Why a Routine is Important
Many parents find that getting into a regular routine with their baby not only makes life easier but it takes unnecessary stress off. As a mom, I want a predictable pattern for my baby. And as a baby, Olivia will know what to expect -- for example, that she will get a bath after breakfast or that she will take a nap after her bottle. Babies like to know that certain things will happen at a certain time each day. Having a routine generally makes for a much happier, content baby. 

As an added bonus, when we leave Olivia with my Mom or Dad (or any sitter) for a date night (or any time), they follow her regular routine and things always go smoothly. The transition from being cared for exclusively by parents to being cared for by a nanny or babysitter can sometimes be difficult for babies, and having an established routine comforts a baby and reassures them that everything is okay. 

When to Establish a Routine
There are many opinions out there on the topic of when to establish a routine, but in general most pediatricians and other experts say between two and four months is a great time to start. As you probably know (and as I certainly know), the first two months of life with a newborn are often chaotic -- babies (and moms!) are learning to breastfeed, trying to coordinate their sleep-wake cycles, and in general, adjusting to this whole new world. 

Most infants' sleeping and eating habits become more consistent and predictable after three or four months of age, so that is a great time to establish a routine and encourage your baby to follow it by implementing it on a regular basis. One method we used, even starting at 3-4 months old, was just to watch Olivia's patterns and jot them down throughout the day. I came to learn when she was the most hungry, when she was the most tired, and when she had the most energy to play. 
By anticipating what she would need or how she would be feeling, I was able to set up a schedule that worked to both of our benefits. 

Most days (depending on her wake time), Olivia is down for the count by noon. If she has been up 3-4 hours throughout the morning, she is wearing out and getting tired. By anticipating this, I set her nap time between 12 and 1pm. This avoids any temper tantrums or hysterical crying on her part (and mine! ha!) because I put her down to nap before she gets overtired. I know that within a half an hour of her waking up in the morning or her afternoon nap, she will be hungry. I prepare her breakfast and lunch ahead of time (either earlier in the day or when she is stirring out of sleep) so that I don't have to listen to a hungry, screaming baby. Again -- this benefits us both. If you haven't already established a routine, no matter how young or old your baby is, try jotting down your baby's habits for a week for reference and use that as a tool.

How to Make your Routine Successful
The most important thing to remember when establishing a routine is that you should consider your baby's needs and preferences as well as your parenting style, personality and lifestyle. Remember that your ideal routine may not be best for your baby and vice versa. I have loosely adapted my day around Olivia's schedule, not because I was forced to, but because that makes life so much easier for both of us! Most days, I wake up before V so I can shower and eat breakfast, enjoying quiet time to myself or with God. I eat lunch and tackle my "To-Do List" during her nap time. Dustin and I usually cook and eat dinner while she is taking her evening snooze, and I consider her meal times and nap times when planning to run errands or get together for play dates. 

The "Routine" we have established is a combination routine between baby-led and parent-led because I don't believe that going completely with one or the other would work in our best interest. I find that a combination achieves the healthy balance between flexibility and rigidity that is important to our family.

Below is an Overview of the Scheduling Styles 

BABY LED SCHEDULING

What is it? 
Advocates of this schedule style believe it is important to get to know your baby's preferences and let them communicate those preferences to you. Your baby knows its needs. As a parent, you follow them. The emphasis is put more on baby and less on consistency. It doesn't mean that your days are totally unpredictable, but it does mean that not every day is the same. If on a Monday, your baby is ready for a nap at noon, but on Tuesday they aren't tired until 3pm, you shift your schedule according to their behavior. In general, these routines tend to be very loose and a parent follows a baby's cues as to what they need.

Often in conjunction with Feeding-on-Demand (when discussing breastfeeding) // 
Similar to Baby-Led Weaning (when discussing introducing Solid Foods)

PROS: Parents develop an intuitive sense of what their baby needs; parents develop a harmony with their baby; there is a nice amount of freedom that comes with this routine because it does not center on strict times and rules; some parents who implement this routine feel their babies are more adaptable (able to sleep easier on the go, travel better, etc.) than babies who are parent-led

CONS: When there is no set schedule and you are not keeping a record of habits, it can be difficult to determine what your baby needs or wants or even -- in the early months -- what their different cries mean. Additionally, this schedule leaves little time for a mom to take care of herself; often, babies who are on a baby-led schedule are still breast or bottle fed multiple times throughout the night even at 6-12 months of age. By 1 year, if a mom is still waking up multiple times each night to feed her baby, she is likely suffering physically and mentally because of the inability to get a consistent night of sleep. 

Parents it Works For: Parents who prefer going with the flow over predictability and parents who are willing to change their schedule for their baby both tend to benefit from this style

PARENT LED SCHEDULING

What is it?
As the name implies, this type of scheduling is set by the parent. A parent sets a daily agenda -- typically a very specific timetable for when your baby eats, plays and sleeps. Parents who operate on this kind of schedule rarely deviate from it and many advocates of this schedule say that timing things and being extremely consistent helps their baby regulate his or her internal clock and gives them the structure they need to thrive. Experts who recommend specific parent-led schedules say these routines are based on years of observation of babies' natural rhythms and are appropriate for their development at various ages. When babies' days are very structured and predictable, babies often fall into regular patterns more easily and may even sleep through the night sooner. One of the advocates of parent-led scheduling, Gary Ezzo (the author of Babywise), states "Naps are not based on your baby's wants. When nap time comes, the baby goes down, it's that simple." This method also advises parents against nursing your baby to sleep or rocking them to sleep, believing that babies must learn to fall asleep without help. 

Similar to the Babywise Method // Often in conjunction with the "Cry It Out" Method

PROS: This type of schedule removes any guesswork; it can establish order and a rhythm to the day that can be soothing and reassuring to a baby, as well as parents and caregivers. For new parents, strict routines offer the reassuring promise that you baby will get enough sleep, food, and stimulation - and that you'll get enough of the same. And because parent-led routines are so consistent and predictable, some parents say the schedule makes it easier to understand what their babies are really asking for when they cry.

CONS: For some parents, the rigid timetable of this schedule can be too much. Making sure your baby is in his crib for several naps a day and sticking to a set wake time and bedtime often means staying closer to home most of the time. Additionally, these routines can be rather rigorous and may be difficult for parents with older children since everything works around the baby's routine that the parent has set. Finally, if a schedule is off (such as when traveling or sending your child to daycare), a baby may struggle readjusting. 

Parents it Works For: Parents who do best with a precise order and organization to the day -- and who are okay with sticking to a firm routine even when it means limiting outside activities; parents who do not have older children to consider; parents who need a consistent routine because they work from home

While parent-led tends to be a much more rigid schedule, I believe establishing a set routine for Olivia in her early months (between 3 and 4 months of age) is a huge key as to why she is on such a great routine now at 10 months old. She consistently goes down for naps when I put her down, usually without a peep. She anticipates meals and bedtime, which minimizes fussing and fits. She has learned that she needs to fall asleep on her own in her own crib and that has meant that we have both been getting consistent sleep through the night since she was two months old. 

Looking back, even though we didn't title it at the time, I believe we began with a more parent-led routine and over a few months, (say from ages 4-8 months), transitioned to a more baby-led routine as we were able to see Olivia's preferences, especially when we started her on solid foods. 

A combination of the two above methods has been what has helped us the most. 
I believe setting some limits and timetables early on was important, especially when it came to Olivia's nap times and bedtime. Some nights, I'm pretty sure she could stay up until 2am playing and crawling, but that is not healthy nor realistic. But I also know that Olivia is changing and growing so that means her routine needs to change and grow with her. What worked for us when she was five months old doesn't automatically work now that she is 10 months old. 

Flexibility in the exact time that we do something is also important. I'm not going to put her down for a nap if she isn't even remotely tired and expect her to sit in the dark for an hour just because its noon. But I also don't think it is helpful to wait all afternoon (say, putting her down at 4pm instead of 1pm) because then she doesn't learn that nap time is important and that nap time is required. She would likely begin to think that she can play all day and not nap, which would lead to frustration and exhaustion for both of us, plus the result would be an overtired baby that struggles to sleep when she is finally put down because of being so overtired! I love the phrase "When your body is tired, your mind is too" meaning that when Olivia's body is starting to wear out, her mind is also, which leads to extra unnecessary fussing. By setting a nap time routine and sticking to it, we both end up feeling better and having a smoother and more relaxed day.

COMBINATION SCHEDULING

Just as the name implies, a combination schedule is a mix between baby-led and parent-led scheduling. With this approach, you set a timetable for when your baby will eat, sleep, play and so on, and you'll naturally stick to a similar routine every day (unlike some baby-led schedules), but you have more flexibility than with a strictly parent-led schedule. You'll also look more to your baby's cues when deciding what to do next. A nap can be pushed back slightly if your baby doesn't seem tired yet, and lunch can be postponed if an errand takes longer than expected. 

Experts who advocate this approach say that combination schedules provide the consistency that babies and parents need without the hassle of a more rigid, timed-to-the-minute routine. 

Pediatrician March Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, is one book that has helped many parents develop a combination routine. He provides general schedules to help foster healthy sleep patterns, but mostly focuses on the parents' role in helping their baby develop the self-soothing skills needed to sleep well. The idea is that when your baby is well rested, the remainder of the day -- eating, playing, and so on -- will all fall into place. Weissbluth's method is all about timing and learning how to cue in to your baby's signals and "catch the rising wave of sleepiness before the child crashes into an overtired state." Available here.

PROS: Fans of this approach (myself included!) say its the best of both worlds -- there is structure and predictability as well as flexibility. Your baby learns that certain things happen around the same time every day, but he or she is not completely thrown off when you deviate from the plan here and there.

CONS: When you're not looking strictly to your baby's cues (baby led) or the clock (parent led) to determine your daily routine, you might find yourself entering a gray zone of uncertainty. This can leave a parent second-guessing themselves. 

Parents it Works For: Parents who see the benefit in structure and flexibility; parents who like the option of changing things as needed but who also value a routine that helps both parent and baby know what is coming next; this schedule is often the default for parents of older children, who need something flexible enough to accommodate everyone's daily needs; also, combination schedules can be a natural settling place for parents who find their baby-led routine becoming more structured or their parent-led routine becoming more lax.

My Tips Based on Our Experience:

1. Jot down your baby's patterns and habits over a week's time to learn more about their preferences. Look for patterns and use these as the launch platform off which you will establish a routine. 

2. Establish a bedtime routine early on, say between 2 and 4 months old. Consistency is extremely important when it comes to bedtime. You can't force a bedtime routine for the first two months, but between 3 and 4 months old, choose one and stick to it. Maybe it involves a warm bubble bath and cozy pjs, or maybe it is a warm bottle and a story. Keep it simple: two to three activities you will do every night before lights out.

For us, we get V in her PJS + sleep sack, I put lotion on her face & brush her hair, she gets a warm bottle and we read a book. Then it's lights out. She has come to know what to expect and understands that after getting in her pajamas and having a bottle, it isn't playtime, but bedtime. At 3 months, we would put Olivia down in her bassinet awake so she learned to soothe herself to sleep on her own.

3. Review the three methods above and based on your personality,  your lifestyle, your baby and family, determine which you think will be the best.

4. Start with one and go from there; you may know that baby-led or parent-led is the best fit for your family. Maybe, you'll be more like me and start with parent-led when your child is very young (2-4 months old) and as they get older and their needs change, you will adapt it and develop more of a combination schedule. 

5. Find a healthy balance between flexibility and rigidity.

6. Consider your baby and their needs, taking care to always keep their well-being in mind -- being sure they are getting enough sleep, getting enough to eat, getting enough activity and stimulation throughout the day, getting enough time interacting with others and getting some time to entertain themselves, etc. 

7. Anticipate your baby's needs ahead of time. Does your baby start to get tired after lunchtime? Plan on putting them in their crib before a meltdown ensues. Is your baby hungry as soon as he or she wakes up in the morning? Prepare breakfast ahead of time to avoid starting your day off on a chaotic note. Planning ahead saves so much stress!

8. Expect changes during growth spurts and milestones. During the first year, a baby accomplishes so much. A baby nearly triples their weight and achieves major milestones, like sitting up, crawling and even walking. During periods of growth or when your baby is working to achieve a new milestone, don't be surprised if your baby diverges from his or her usual routine. A baby may be hungrier than normal, need more sleep, or return to waking up several times a night. This is also true for teething and sickness. Hang in there because it will pass and more than likely, your baby will reestablish his or her routine naturally. 

9. Adjust your baby's schedule to suit his or her age. Often, just as you've gotten into a predictable groove with your little one, it's time to change it again. Examples of this would include: introducing solids (around 6 months), going from two daytime naps to one (anytime between 6 and 9 months), etc. As a baby grows, be willing to modify your schedule based on your baby's needs. The first major time we modified her schedule was at 6 months when we introduced solid foods and she went from having 3-5 bottles a day to having 2 bottles and 3-4 meals and snacks. We modified it again when Olivia really started becoming active, climbing and crawling and wanting to explore. We gave her longer periods of wake time during the day but also knew she would take a longer afternoon nap to recharge. Adjusting your schedule is important and necessary as your baby grows.

10. Most importantly, give yourself -- and your baby -- grace. Don't set expectations too high that your baby won't be able to meet them. Although babies do like consistency, changes will occur as a baby grows. Sometimes, for whatever reason, Olivia will skip a nap, want an extra bottle, or wake up before dawn (my least favorite deviation). I stay positive and keep at it. Every day is another opportunity to learn about your baby and yourself. Motherhood is impossible without grace. 

If you have any tips on how you established a routine with your little one, I'd love to hear them! 
Feel free to share your comments below.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting your routine with Olivia! My almost ten-month-old is on a very similar schedule. It's nice to see that we're not the only ones doing things this way. :) Bath time in the morning is a GREAT idea! I have had it in my head that bath time must be done in the evening... ;) Thank you for the encouragement to break out of that mold!

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  2. I really enjoyed this post. I am 31 weeks pregnant and am a very routined person, a lot of other parents have told me I will have to change this for the baby. I am glad to see that there are other moms that believe in a schedule and it works.

    XoXo,
    Nicole

    http://www.nicole-kelly.com

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  3. Great post! We have an 8 month old and follow a routine everyday. He follows it almost to the t every single day, except for when it comes to sleeping through the night. He is still up 2 times a night, no matter what we do. I'm one tired mama!

    www.modmommymk.wordpress.com

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