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.
4. Get outside!
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:
Sample Naptime Routine
Swaddle / Sleep sack
Sound machine on & into the crib
Sample Bedtime Routine
*Bath (soap not needed every night)
Swaddle/ Sleep sack
Sound machine on & into the crib