Getting a Handle on Days… and Nights
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”Dr. Benjamin Spock, Pediatrician and Author Of “The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care”
What is a Baby-Led Schedule?
While the feeling of wanting a “schedule” for you and your baby is completely understandable (what, living in a 24-hour loop isn’t fun for you?) it will still be awhile before your baby will be on a predictable schedule. At this age, many pediatricians recommend what is called a “baby-led schedule.” Despite the name, however, this is really more of a loose routine, built around responding to your baby’s needs. With a baby-led schedule, you look for cues and respond to what your baby is asking for, rather than imposing a specific schedule for eating and sleeping upon them.
That said, you can still start to build some sense of predictability and regularity to your day. By five weeks, many babies will begin to display a predictable pattern of eating, playing, and sleeping. Most parents can start to anticipate when their baby’s “happy time” will be, when they are likely to be fussy, and when they will wake at night.
Keep in mind that every baby is different and responding to one baby looks very different from responding to another. This is where it becomes critical to trust yourself and your instincts around what your baby needs and getting to learn and know their cues. This will help you build a sense of routine and create some benchmarks around the day.
Starting Morning Routines
Many new parents find that an activity to “start the morning” helps them feel grounded in their day. The idea of “shower in the morning, bath at night” can help punctuate days and break up the feeling that the days and nights are endless and bleeding into one another.
If your baby is sleeping or awake and happy, you can leave them for a few minutes in a bassinet or other safe sleep space to take a shower. Getting a shower in every day is a huge accomplishment—if you are able to just this one thing for yourself, consider it a win. (And of course, if it’s just not happening one day, that’s ok too.)
To start getting a handle on daytime, try to keep the baby in a light-filled area of your home, with you, where they will experience the everyday noises of life, such as the radio or television, the dog barking, or doorbell ringing. Babies start to set their circadian rhythms and can struggle to differentiate day is night if they are in quiet, dark rooms during the day. Having your baby “with you” (even if asleep in a bassinet for stretches) will also allow you to observe their cues and give you a sense of how to respond.
If your baby is awake and happy, this is a good time to play with them. Lay them down on a blanket on the floor with a few toys nearby. Some easy ways to play and bond with your baby include:
- Show your baby black and white contrast cards
- Hold a toy just out of reach of their hand and see if they reach for it
- Sing songs to them
- Play developmental-focused games such as in this video
Starting Nighttime Routines
A regular evening routine can not only help babies learn night time cues but it will also (again) help parents to differentiate day from night. About an hour before your start to put your baby down for the night, you can try any or all of the following:
- A warm bath. Start reducing other noises and begin to lower lights around the house. Bath time at this age can be a soft, soothing time that helps everyone prepare for winding down. Sometimes the baby cries during the whole bath (not so soothing!) in which case, don’t push it. You can try again tomorrow.
- Pajamas. Applying a soothing lotion followed by diaper cream and an overnight diaper, along with a onesie and an easy pajama outfit (such as something with zips) is a really nice way to get your baby cozy after the bath. Having two layers for nighttime sleeping is recommended as babies can’t regulate their temperature yet. It also helps keep any leaky diapers in place!
- Song or Story. You can sing to your baby a little at night. Even if they are crying, holding a baby and singing to them can be soothing for both of you.
- Feeding Baby. Sometimes you don’t make this far down the list before baby needs to eat. Many a mom has nursed their baby still wrapped in a towel (but do put on that diaper!) after a bath. Just do your best to quiet them down with a feeding so you can finish the pajamas and then nurse or bottle feed before sleep.
Putting a baby down at night is never the same. Some nights your baby will fall asleep easily during their nighttime feeding, other times it will seem like nothing will soothe them. If baby is dry, fed, warm, and still crying, it’s ok to hold them, rock them, offer a pacifier, take turns with a partner, or walk away from baby for a few minutes. Eventually, through going through the motions of the bedtime routine, you will find out what works best for your baby at night.
As you adjust to your new routine, consider contacting a WellNested provider, who can help with newborn education, feeding support, light housework and meal prep, and even sibling support.
Looking For Cues
Oftentimes parents can be overwhelmed about what to do because they are looking “outside” themselves and their baby for answers. We know this is not as easy as it sounds, and it won’t always come right away, but spending time with your baby will help you gain insight into their specific cues, so that you can respond to them before they are overly fussy. If your baby is already too hungry or overtired, it becomes much harder to soothe them. But, if you start to learn your baby’s signs for being hungry or tired you can feed them or comfort them to sleep before they get agitated.
- Hand in Mouth
- Opening and Closing Mouth
- Sticking out Tongue
- Drooping Eyes
- Decreased Movement
- Staring Off
- Rubbing Eyes
- Awake for 3 hours
INFOGRAPHIC: Schedule vs. Routine
Instead of: focusing on how the long baby sleeps each day
Try: focusing on your baby’s cues that he is getting tired
Instead of: trying to sleep whenever your baby sleeps
Try: building in more rest throughout your day
Instead of: getting your baby on a sleeping schedule
Try: differentiating day and night with your baby through routine
Instead of: Committing yourself to very specific times for activities
Try: Giving a window of time when you’ll try to do one thing
Instead of: Trying to do too many things in a day
Try: Prioritizing one morning activity like showering and one evening activity like bath time
Instead of: Pressuring yourself to go back to how you used to be
Try: Giving yourself permission to go slow