June 06, 2017
When I first became a parent, there was a lot of unpredictability in my young family’s daily life. My husband and I thrive on routine, but having a newborn meant that things were upended – at least to start. An infant is sleeping, eating and going through dirty diapers on a constant loop, but there is a lot of variability in terms of timing.
When you are a new parent, the flexibility and adaptability that allow you to simply follow your baby’s lead are paramount. My son set the terms during his first several weeks, but then it was up to my husband and me to establish and implement routines for him.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “Children do best when routines are regular, predictable, and consistent.” Babies are learning and growing and doing so much new every day. There is a lot that is novel and unexpected for them. They derive peace and happiness from the predictability provided by schedules and routines. Having meals and naps around the same time each day, singing the same songs at certain times like after bath, and reading a book before a consistent bedtime will become predictable and enjoyable events for your baby. Developing routines assists with babies’ development by helping them learn and grow while feeling safe and comfortable.
When he was a newborn, we simply tried to put Killian down for naps and bed at the same times every day. He was feeding on demand about every two hours. We did not attempt to establish an eating schedule until he was 4 months old. At that point, we began rice cereal for dinner at 6:30 p.m. followed by a bath and bedtime routine. Now that Killian is 8 months old, we have a tried-and-true routine that guides our days. But I know that just as he continues to grow, our schedule will have to change to meet his needs. That is the complexity of a baby’s routine: It must be fixed and ever-evolving!
Here is our average daily schedule, which may work as a good routine for your little one.
When Killian wakes up around 6 a.m., I immediately nurse him. After he eats, he is raring to go. I improvise a good morning song as we open the curtains and get dressed for the day. Then we head to the family room to play. My baby boy has a lot of energy, so we spend time crawling, reading and singing songs. His playtime is organic; I follow his lead, but I encourage activities to bolster his mental, physical and behavioral development. If we are down the shore, my husband and I take him down to the beach for his early morning playtime. He absolutely loves crawling in the sand and playing in the water. Killian has rice cereal and fruit for breakfast at 8 a.m., and then I nurse him again. A little more playtime and then he goes down for his morning nap at 9 a.m. With his bedroom curtains closed and his sound machine playing lullabies, my son usually sleeps for 90 minutes to two hours.
When Killian wakes from his morning nap, it is time for more play! Now that the weather is nice, we spend as much time as possible outside: walking around the neighborhood, playing in the backyard or swimming in our pool. If I have to run out for a quick errand, I will fit it in between his morning nap and lunch, but I try and run errands later in the day once he is up from his afternoon nap (or sometimes during naptime if necessary because he sleeps well in the car). Lunch consisting of baby food fruit and vegetables is served by noon. Then more play! I nurse Killian before I put him down for his second nap at 1 p.m.
Killian’s afternoon nap is usually two hours or less. When he wakes up, the playtime continues. Reading books, interacting with various kinds of toys, swimming in the pool, crawling, exploring and singing songs are involved. We enjoy going to a local playgroup with other parents and kids in the late afternoon. Soon, we will start attending a music class and going to the local library for storytime.
My son’s bedtime routine starts with dinner. At 6 p.m., he has baby food fruit, vegetables and pureed chicken. Afterward, I nurse him for the last time of the day. Then it is bath time. He gets so excited to see his bath toys and gives me sweet cuddles when I sing “Somewhere over the Rainbow” to him when he is wrapped up in his towel. We apply our favorite baby lotion before getting on his pajamas and sleep sack. My husband and I take turns reading him a bedtime story. Then we turn on his sound machine and night light, close the curtains, say good night to some of his favorite stuffed animals and to each other. Usually, his eyes are starting to close before he is placed on his back in his crib. This bedtime routine takes an hour and we do it every single night with few exceptions. Another important point is that we keep the temperature consistent in his room for his sleep. Whether we are running the heat or air conditioning, the thermostat is set to 67 degrees. Killian sleeps from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. (Insert celebratory emoji here!) We have learned that a baby gets a better night’s sleep if you develop and stick to a bedtime routine that involves the same sequencing every time.
An important note: While I swear by our schedule, I also pay close attention to Killian’s signs. A baby is not a robot. Sometimes he is hungry earlier and tired later. If we adhered to our schedule with rigidity that did not allow for fluctuations in his mood or circumstances, it would be counterintuitive to my son’s well-being.
I am a stay-at-home mama, so I manage my son's daily life. If you are a working parent, you too can manage your child’s time when you are at work by directing your child care provider to utilize predictable and consistent routines. Many of the things that we do in our home are recommended for all babies, but only you can determine what is right for your child. Everyone’s situation is different. If you need personalized advice on establishing routines, ask your pediatrician!
Life provides expected and unexpected events that can attempt to derail your baby’s schedule. When your little one is sick or if you are traveling on vacation, it can be tough to adhere to the routine. Remember that these are the times when your young child needs consistency more than ever to provide a sense of normalcy and calm. These are also important teaching moments for your child to learn about flexibility and adaptability. While routines can be vital to a baby’s well-being, children are not raised in a vacuum and must also learn how to go with the flow.
Soon my family and I will take our first big trip, including long plane rides to a different time zone. My priority for our vacation is to ensure as best I can that Killian stays on his schedule while we enjoy visiting family and friends. Of course there will be hiccups. In life there always are! But I know that as long as we make the well-being (and routines!) of our baby boy a priority, he will continue to thrive.
Do you think routines are important to babies and young children? Or do you prefer a more laissez-faire approach? Share with me and other parents in the comments section below or tweet me @ThePhillyVoice and @KathleenEGagnon.