When you first bring her home, your newborn will set the pace for eating and sleeping, but it won’t be long before life settles down. Now is the time to think about creating a consistent routine, which will help bring order to your days (and nights) and help teach your little one the rhythms of your family life.
Around the three-month mark, your baby should be ready to start a regular daily routine. Keep a journal for a few days, noting when your baby wakes, eats, and plays, then build a flexible routine around her day. Don’t schedule things down to the minute—the routine should give you a loose idea for order.
Just like grownups, babies need cues to learn when it’s time to sleep. A consistent sleep schedule will help set your daytime routine, and also lay the groundwork for your future toddler’s sleep patterns.
Many sleep experts recommend that sleep training shouldn’t start until your baby is at least four months old, when baby’s habits will be predictable enough that you can begin a routine. But before that, you can help baby figure out night and day by keeping the house bright in the daytime, and dim and quiet at night.
Around four months of age, you can introduce a simple bedtime routine that includes a bath, feed, diaper change and massage. Try to finish feeding your baby about 20 minutes before putting him to bed drowsy, but still awake. These simple actions will help your baby wind down and understand that it’s time to sleep. This also teaches him to figure out how to fall asleep on his own, which will help him to develop good sleep habits in the weeks to come.
Bathing is a great way to wind baby down from a busy day, and signal that it’s nearly time for sleep. Warm (not-too-hot) water and some splash time will help everyone ease into the bedtime routine, and baths can be a good way for partners to get involved if they can’t help with feeding. Wash baby’s face and hands, and wipe her gums (or brush her teeth) before moving on to a clean diaper and pajamas.
Playtime is an important part of any routine, and helps babies develop hand-eye coordination. Time your play sessions for just after feeding and changing when your little one is happy and full of energy. Very young babies should spend daily short periods of time on their tummies to help strengthen neck and upper body muscles, and older babies need lots of time to wiggle and roll on the floor or play mat. The Canadian Paediatric society has great suggestions for simple play activities you can do with babies of all ages.
Words and music will be your baby’s first playthings. Sing and talk to your baby as you go about your own daily routine. Tell him what you’re doing, and identify everyday items and people. Before your little one can speak, he’ll understand what’s going on around him. These activities will also help your little one develop language, and promotes literacy down the line. Even very young babies will love to look at (and chew on) coloured books with pictures of familiar objects and photos of babies. Follow your baby’s cues—he’s bored or tired when he starts to look away or fuss.
By 6 months, babies are consolidating their sleep sessions, and might be down to two or three daily naps. Most can stay awake for two- to three-hour stretches, making this a good time to start a nap routine. Put your baby down to sleep at the same time every day. Your pre-naptime routine might include a feed, a book and cuddle in a dim room. Just like the bedtime routine, aim to put your babe to bed drowsy, but still awake to encourage self-soothing practice.
Of course, every schedule needs flexibility. As your baby grows, your routine will need tweaks to adapt to her changing needs and disruptions caused by growth spurts, teething, illnesses and travel. Establishing a basic daily routine will help you weather those rough patches, and help teach your baby learn the rhythms of your family life.
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