What were we thinking! promote confidence and reduce distress in parents with a first baby

Baby routines. Yay or nay for a newborn?

By Michaela

Baby routines. Yay or nay for a newborn?

Shakespeare got it wrong. “To routine, or not to routine – that is the question!”

Before I had a baby, I expected to be bombarded with advice. In fact I almost welcomed it. As a first-time parent - with no clue what I was doing - I knew that while I may not agree with what everyone offered me, there were sure to be some pearls of wisdom I could draw upon in what was unfamiliar territory. But nada. Nothing. No advice. Questions on the other hand - a million of them!

Upon arrival home from the hospital, with a six day old premmie baby and bouquets of decaying flowers, a cavalcade of visitors descended on our home. Question after question were asked of me like I was applying to be the mother of my own baby. And almost all my interviews included this one.

"Will you be putting your baby onto a routine?”

A routine? Huh?! The only routines I'd ever adhered to were those of my Zumba class or Aerobics Oz Style. No one told me I had to put my baby on a' 'routine' in the hospital and now I was starting to freak out that our son wasn’t squatting with weights or grape-vining earlier! I soon learnt that a routine implies a set timetable you follow for feeding, playing and sleeping based on the specific age of your baby.

Your day may begin (for example) with a 30-minute feed at 5am, waking your baby to do so if they have not done so naturally, followed by play for exactly an hour and into the cot for sleep at 6:30am. There are many routines, created by various baby whisperers, and with fresh eyes to parenting and newborn literature, I settled on the routine of an international midwife I’d once seen on Oprah. Endorsement from the queen of television should be recommendation enough I thought …

You’ll see in the photograph accompanying this blog that there are strict times, of three hour intervals, listed on our kitchen’s blackboard wall. You can also probably tell, from the times emblazoned on the blackboard wall, that I became somewhat neurotic about sticking to the routine prescribed by ‘said’ baby whisperer.

Neurotic was an understatement. Feeling so overwhelmed by the unpredictability that was early parenthood, I desperately craved control and stuck to the routine like it was gospel and ensured others did so accordingly. My husband went away with work and when my mother-in-law kindly offered to take our three week old son for the evening (bless her), I presented her with a hand written user manual outlining the exact times he was to eat, sleep, play and pretty much breathe.

Looking back on this time now I can see that the magazine editor in me, driven by deadlines and schedules, wanted so badly for our new baby to toe the line and meet targets in an effort to restore a sense of normality to my life. Life with a newborn was new and scary and unpredictable, whereas life led by a routine was reliable and responsive.

For some, routines written by baby whisperers can truly work wonders. One of my girlfriends swears by them and since bringing her babies home from hospital has never spent a night pacing the nursery floor trying to get her children to sleep. For others, routines can not only fail to work, they can sometimes make you feel like a parenting failure. I suppose the outcome of a routine for your newborn is almost as unique as the baby you bring home. No one child is the same and no one outcome of a routine is the same either.

Instead of asking me which routine I was planning to implement with our son, I would have loved for someone to have instead asked me, "What is your gut telling you to do?" Trusting yourself and your capabilities are such important traits to have as a new parent and if I were interviewing you for your new role, belief in yourself is all I'd wish to hear.

Expert response from What Were We Thinking! expert, Susan Darling

Thank you Michaela for raising this very important issue.

In the early days of a baby's life it is very difficult to nail a routine and stick with it. Especially if you’re breastfeeding and are contending with growth spurts, supply and demand, day and night and so on.

If I could impart any gems to new parents it is this. Trust yourselves and get to know your baby. You are the best ones as you are with your baby 24/7 and have nurtured this wee one during pregnancy birth and beyond.

However a great guide has been well researched and offers a great basis to get you started. Feed Play Sleep, and the WWWT program’s strategies around sleep, settling and crying, and well worth reviewing as they illustrate how to go about developing a routine. You may also find the WWWT app helpful, in particular one of the key themes - Crying, Settling, Sleeping.

Remember all this takes time and practice and don't be too rigid if your baby or you are having a bad day. Enrol the support of your husband, family and friends so that everyone is singing from the same song sheet!

A well fed baby will be able to have some floor time or tummy time for a short period in the early days of life. Recognising your baby's tired signs are a key to quickly changing wrapping and settling for sleep. Babies and children respond to routine, boundaries and consistency. It helps them feel secure.

I hope that has been some assistance to your question. But do remember you and your baby are growing up together and learning a lot about each other each day. Enjoy the moments as they unfold and give each other some grace if things don't always go to plan. Tomorrow is another day.

Posted in:  Baby 0-4 weeks  A new reality  Crying settling sleeping  Every baby is different  Mums