7 Steps to Establish a Daily Routine with a Newborn

As a former night nanny, I can’t begin to count the number of times a new parent has desperately asked me, “How soon can I get my baby on a schedule?!” It is no surprise that this is a common concern among parents. During the newborn phase, every day can seem like a blur of feeding, pooping, and crying (for everyone involved!). Many parents feel like they are simply surviving and begin to crave more predictability.

What You Can Expect from a Newborn

Chances are, if you’re reading this article, you are also a parent of a newborn and desperate for more structure in your day. Well, I have both good news and bad news for you.

The “bad” news is that a clock-based schedule is typically unrealistic until your baby is about 5 or 6 months of age.

The good news is that by establishing a daily routine in the first few months, you can help your baby work towards a more predictable day-to-day, eventually making a clock-based schedule very doable. Ultimately, babies are creatures of habit and very quickly find comfort in a daily routine.

When to Begin a Daily Routine

I recommend starting a routine around 2-4 weeks after birth, once your baby has surpassed their birth weight and is steadily gaining weight. (And for those of you with older babies struggling to keep a routine, this advice also applies to you!)

My 7 Steps to Establish a Daily Routine

Knowing how to establish a routine can be daunting, so I broke down my process into seven easy-to-follow steps:

1. Feed at approximately the same time each day.

I typically recommend feeding newborns every 2.5-3 hours during the day. By feeding consistently throughout the day, your baby will quickly adapt and be hungry enough to eat a full “meal” rather than “snacking.”

If you are breastfeeding or your baby is not yet back to birth weight, a 2-3 hour feeding schedule combined with feeding on demand may be best. Speak to your pediatrician for guidance.

2. Establish a feed-activity-sleep schedule:

A feed-activity-sleep routine is a great way to help your baby get energy out before their next nap while also avoiding a feeding-to-sleep association from developing. An activity for a newborn can be as simple as a diaper change or a brief walk around the neighborhood.

(Why avoid a feeding-to-sleep association? Findings from the 2004 National Sleep Foundation “Sleep in America Poll” found that babies who fall asleep independently for naps and bedtime experience better sleep quality and longer sleep duration.)

3. Follow "wake windows" to avoid an over or under-tired baby:

Wake windows are developmentally-appropriate windows of time your baby will be able to stay awake for in between naps and before bedtime. As babies get older, these periods of wakefulness in between sleeping will elongate, as they will be better able to stay awake for longer periods.

That being said, during the first 12 weeks of your baby’s life, the longest stretch of wakefulness they will likely be able to tolerate is about 1.5 hours! See the chart below for age-appropriate wake windows from birth through 16 weeks.

Wake window chart based on a newborns age

4. Get outside!

Babies are not born knowing the difference between day and night. They actually don’t even begin producing melatonin until about 9 weeks of age, and circadian genes until 11 weeks of age (both of which are foundational to the development of a baby’s sleep-wake cycles).

Knowing this, it’s our job to help them begin to understand the difference between day and night, and the best way to do this is to expose your baby to *indirect* natural sunlight and fresh air each day.

(This fascinating study found that infants under 13 weeks of age who slept well at night spent TWICE as much time outside each day as the infants who didn’t sleep well. Now tell me that doesn’t make you want to get outside!)

5. Establish a consistent bedtime and naptime routine:

A consistent routine is one of the best ways to communicate to your baby that it’s time to transition to a nap or bedtime, and studies find that babies who have a bedtime routine fall asleep earlier and wake up fewer times at night. The naptime routine can be an abbreviated version of the bedtime routine, lasting about 5-10 minutes.

 Sample Naptime Routine

Book

Swaddle / Sleep sack

Sound machine on & into the crib

 Sample Bedtime Routine

*Bath (soap not needed every night)

Bedtime feeding

Book

Swaddle/ Sleep sack

Sound machine on & into the crib

6. Consistent wake time:

Wake your baby at the same time each morning and feed within 15 minutes of waking; doing so will help your baby adjust to a consistent wake time, and a consistent morning wake time will help you establish a more regular daytime routine.

7. Earlier bedtime around 6 weeks:

While a later bedtime is normal for the first month and a half, starting around 6 weeks I have found that most babies sleep better throughout the night if they are put to bed between 7:00-8:00 pm. Babies get the deepest, best quality sleep earlier in the night. By capitalizing on this, your baby will likely sleep better throughout the entire night.

8.Take It Day by Day

I hope these seven steps will help you as you begin to establish a daily routine! Take some time to figure out what you would like each day to look like, based on your child’s developmental needs and your lifestyle. As you begin to establish a daily routine that works for your family, your baby will slowly adjust to it. They will find security in knowing what to expect each day. Just remember, when it comes to babies, it’s always a learning process. Give it time and you and your baby will surely reap the benefits.

About the Author:

Lydia Harden
Lydia Harden is a Pediatric Sleep Consultant and Newborn Care Specialist with a master's degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology from Boston College. As a former night nanny, she went on to start her business Slumberly, a highly specialized sleep coaching service that provides both in-home and virtual overnight support to provide exhausted parents with step-by-step guidance during the sleep training process. Lydia is passionate about helping the entire family get the sleep they need to flourish! When she’s not working with clients, Lydia refurbishes and flips antique furniture, works out at her local gym, and spends time with her partner Chris and her five siblings (all of whom also happen to be her best friends!).
Tired of feeling tired? Head over to Instagram and follow @slumberlysleepcoaching for your baby sleep support, or schedule a free discovery call with Lydia here. Learn more at www.slumberlysleep.com
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