5 Tips for establishing a routine for your baby
One of the biggest and most challenging tasks of new parenthood is establishing some sort of schedule for your baby. Eventually everyone ends up with either a baby-led routine or a parent-led routine, but oftentimes this doesn't happen for many months and getting there can be very frustrating.
I admittedly did very little research on parenting techniques -- I assumed I would just go with the flow and figure things out over time (more of a baby-led approach, although I did know the term at the time). But after about five weeks of on-demand feedings and short naps, I was already on the verge of burning out. That's not to say that those things won't work indefinitely for other moms, but being slightly more of a Type A person, it just wasn't working for me.
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I was exhausted and felt bitter and inadequate. So I did some research and discovered that it is in fact possible to get even very young babies on somewhat of a schedule. I gave it a try and though we've modified our routine a number of times over the past several months, we haven't looked back since. If you're ready to pull out your hair just thinking about how unpredictable your days (and nights) are try these five tips for establishing a routine for your baby:
1. Know your goals. When I first started, my goal was to get my son to nurse every three hours instead of at random times throughout the day. It was not easy, but because I had a very specific goal I had more perseverance to work through the hardest moments. So spend some time really paying attention to the minutiae of your day--figure out what your biggest issues are and research how your can fix them. Once you meet your goals, you'll have an excuse to celebrate!
2. Take it slow. It's not a good idea to stretch out your baby's feedings. Teach him to nap longer and implement a new bedtime all at once. Work on one issue at a time and after you meet one goal, move onto the next. Babies can be sensitive to change and may react negatively if too much is thrown at them at once. Heck, I could say the same thing for myself--gradual change will likely be more manageable for you as well.
3. Be flexible. Without some level of flexibility it's likely that the schedule you work to establish will eventually drive you a little nuts. Make sure you build in some flexibility so that you can sustain it. For some parents, sleeping, eating, and playing at the exact times every day is a must, but for many others, it's just not feasible all of the time. Accept that sometimes your baby will take a shorter nap in the car while you're running errands or that you may have to feed your baby at two and half hours instead of three so that you'll be on time to a doctor's appointment. Personally, I've found that basing our routine on how long my son can stay awake without becoming overtired, rather than on a strict clock, works best. And now I've learned that common disruptions like Daylight Savings don't really affect him, because he's used to the times at which we do certain things varying from day to day.
4. Babies change. One of the hardest things for me has been recognizing when we need to make a change to our schedule. I get very comfortable and then all of the sudden my son will stop responding to things the same way and it'll completely throw me for a loop. I'm starting to learn that I need to be paying close attention to small cues at all times, because even a seemingly minuscule change can alter the entire flow of our day. For instance, one day my son started fighting his naps for 30 to 40 minutes before he eventually fell asleep. This went on for almost two weeks, before I finally figured out that he needed more awake time. The very first day I made the change, he went back to napping normally.
5. Believe in your baby. I've heard a lot of people say that they don't think it's possible for a 5-month old (or 6- or even 9-month-old) to have a routine, but the fact is, they can. As I said, we've been at this since my son was about five weeks old and I know many other families who've also done it. It works. We as parents just have to have a little faith in our ability to gently guide our babies and in their ability to take our guidance and learn what we're asking of them. Sure, there will be setbacks, but if you're steadfast you and your baby will get back on track. In fact, if you work to establish a routine, getting back to normalcy after a growth spurt, or illness or bout of teething, will be even easier.
Image via Treehouse1977/Flickr