Why is having a newborn routine important?

Humans and animals thrive on routines, knowing what to expect and when to expect it. Your baby, toddler, and older children will benefit from having a  structured routine. When your baby knows what to expect next, they will thrive on the predictability that their needs will be met. Sticking to a  predictable schedule such as E.A.S.Y (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You time), the acronym outlined in Tracy Hogg’s book, The Baby Whisperer, is a perfect example. With each repetition of this routine, your baby is learning what to expect next and how to respond. Without this routine, you may find your baby and yourself in a rut where no one is getting their needs met! This technique teaches your child that upon waking, they will have their need for nutrition met, then it’s time to play! After play comes sleep, and finally…..time for you! This routine leaves little room for misunderstanding and gives your baby a sense of predictability and security.  

The benefits of newborn routines

By developing a routine, you will quickly learn what your infant needs and when Humans thrive on routines, knowing what and when to expect it. Your baby, toddler, and children will benefit from having a structured routine. They need it.

This newborn routine will help you both by narrowing down what different cries mean. For example, if you’ve just fed your baby and they start to cry, you can be certain that they aren’t crying because they are hungry. They may be crying due to gas, reflux, a dirty diaper, or being tired. Here’s where keeping to the routine comes in handy. You can work through the possible reasons your baby is crying, address each reason and move to the next step. SLEEP.  

Baby playing on blanket as part of a newborn routine

All of these steps affect the other

If your baby doesn’t sleep well, he likely won’t eat well; if he doesn’t eat well, he likely won’t be interested in the activity stage or sleep well. This is where being intuitive, and patience comes in. It’s tempting to rush through each step, but you will do everyone a favor by slowing down your thoughts and actions. In the first 6 weeks, if you can focus solely on the development of a consistent routine for your baby, you will find that everyone is happier and knows what to  expect next. This is not to say that if you fail to follow the routine you are doomed. There will be instances where your baby may need to feed more often or is sleeping longer stretches. If you get out of the routine, simply restart the routine the next day. Illness, vacations, visiting family and friends can make keeping a schedule hard but don’t make yourself crazy trying to keep to a strict routine.  

Routines help promote brain development. 

By creating a routine, you are creating good sleep habits, and sleep is where the magic of brain development occurs. A newborn needs anywhere from 15-18 hours of sleep a day. During this time millions of neural connections are being formed PER SECOND for the first 3 years. The majority of your baby’s brain development occurs during this 15–18-hour time frame, so keeping a good sleep routine is essential. During this time memories are also formed and stored. All the information that your baby has learned during their awake time is recorded and stored during their sleep period.  

Beneficial sleep also plays a large role in your baby’s mood, their eating, and their behavior. If your focus isn’t on creating a solid sleep routine, you may run into problems such as a cranky baby who isn’t interested in eating.  We run into the snowball effect again. Good sleep promotes good eating and beneficial activity periods. 

Routines and eating 

We all know that, as adults, we function better when we are well-fed. Most of us keep to a basic schedule of breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The good news is that so do babies! They will need to feed approximately every 2-3  hours in the beginning and creating a good routine will keep your baby well-fed, stimulated, and rested.

How to create a feeding routine 

This can start from day 1 but I have to preface this with the fact that you  CAN NOT expect an infant under 6 weeks to follow a routine. You can however set the stage for how a future routine will look. Reading your baby’s cue, using common sense and your intuition, will guide you through those first 6 weeks. Knowing that the first 6 weeks will be a time of adjustment and flexibility will take the pressure off of you and baby.  

In general, your newborn will need to be fed every 2-3 hours but there will be days where they need to feed more often. You may feel like all you’re doing in feeding but take heart, this won’t last forever! This baby was recently cocooned ina soft, warm, and protected environment where they ate all the time through the nourishment of your placenta. It will take time for them to adjust to getting nourishment from your nipple or a bottle.  

Baby being bottle fed as part of a newborn feeding routine

This doesn’t mean that you have to be attached at all times. Experiment with the routine of eating, brief activity, and sleep. Your baby will quickly learn the routine and know what comes next. Your baby’s instincts in the first weeks are focused on being safe and fed. His way of communicating what he needs is through crying, and you will learn what each different cry means. 

Be sure to follow the basic routine of feeding your baby as soon as they wake up. This can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on your baby’s efficiency and technique. Be patient and be present. Interpreting your baby’s cues will help you determine if the baby is done, tired, needs to burp or take a break. If you are breastfeeding, offer one breast for 10-15  minutes, take a burping break, then offer the other breast. Initially, you may find that your baby is only able to take milk from the 1st breast, fall asleep, and have no interest in the other breast. It’s important to gently wake the baby by tickling her feet, undressing her, or moving her to a different position or environment. Try and offer the 2nd breast even if it’s only for a few minutes as this stimulation will encourage your breasts to keep making milk for when she is able to take both breasts at a sitting.  

Be sure to take breaks to burp your baby and hold her upright for 15  minutes after a feeding to help prevent reflux and spitting up. Gravity is your friend and will help your baby keep all that precious milk in her digestive system. 

After the eating comes the brief activity stage

Keep in mind that in the first few weeks, much of this activity comes from interaction with you while feeding. The awake window for infants is short and sweet. 

AgeTotal Sleep per DayAverage Wake Window
0-4 Weeks15-18 hours45-75 minutes
5-8 Weeks15-18 hours45-90 minutes
9-12 Weeks14-17 hours1-2 hours
3-4 Months14-15 hours1-2 hours
5-6 Months14-15 hours2 to 2 1/2 hours
7 Months13-14 hours2-3 hours
8-10 Months13-14 hours2-3 hours before naps and up to 4  hours before bedtime once they  transition to two naps
11-13 Months12-14  hours3-4 hours
15-18 Months12-14 hours5 hours
(once transitioned to one  nap)
18 Months to 2 Years12-14 hours5-6 hours
Source Baby Sleep Site

This chart is a guideline taken from “The Baby Sleep Site” and can be used as a reference. Keep in mind that all babies are different and this is only a  general guide. Some babies may be able to have longer wake windows, and some will prefer to go back to sleep shortly after a feed. This wake window starts when you pick up and take that little bundle out of their crib. 

Baby playing in high chair with toys as part of a newborn routine

Creating a good sleep routine 

Be consistent. As tempting as it may be to let your baby fall asleep at the breast and then lay them down, try to start laying them down in a semi-awake state as early as possible. If your baby falls asleep while you are holding them upright after a feed don’t fret. No need to force them to stay  awake but be sure to lay them down as soon after the 15-minute upright period as possible. If they start to awaken, quietly swaddle them, lay them in their sleeping environment, turn on that sound machine nice and loud and gently pat their bottom. You may need to turn them on their side so  you can pat their bottom but be sure to turn them back to their back before you leave them. If you follow this routine, your baby will quickly learn that being swaddled and lay in bassinette or crib means sleep.  

Babies are NOISY sleepers so resist the urge to pick them up as soon as  you hear their first grumblings. Babies cycle in and out of sleep rapidly and many times aren’t’ really awake and given time will soothe themselves back into sleep. As parents, we often make the mistake of picking up our baby as soon as we hear those first grumblings. I suggest waiting a few minutes and see if baby soothes themselves back to sleep. Most will naturally slip back into sleep as they cycle in and out of an active sleep state.  

Important points to remember: 

Your newborn has no circadian rhythm or internal biological clock for the  first few weeks and does not begin to make melatonin until about 6 weeks of age. Your baby’s body temperature rhythm also affects sleep and as they physically mature your baby will sleep longer periods of time at night.  

At about 3 to 6 months the development of the hormone cortisol also begins to positively affect the sleep cycle.  

The big take-away? Consistency! Don’t stress too much if what works one day doesn’t work the next. The key is to attempt a routine that has some wiggle room to allow for your baby’s changing needs. Especially in those first 6 weeks where you and your baby are bonding and learning about each other. Your baby will feel safe is they know what to expect in regards to eating, sleeping, and activity. By starting early, you set you and your baby up for success down the road.