Schedules and routines go hand in hand but you can have a routine without a schedule. However, if you’re looking for more guidance in the schedule department, check out my page for Finding the Ideal Schedule. Now, let’s talk routines! Routines are super important in helping your baby learn what to expect next. We all have little routines throughout our day, whether we notice them or not – they are there. These little routines help to queue your body and brain for what to expect next. This is also true for babies; except they need some outside help to establish their schedules and daily routines. That’s where you come in.
Everyone knows about having a bedtime routine, whether they have one or not – they know about it. However, this is not the only routine you can have with your baby. I encourage parents to find a positive routine for first thing in the morning as well as establishing a nap time routine.
Exceptions to this would be newborns. It can be almost impossible to establish a naptime routine for newborns as they spend so much time asleep; they just aren’t awake long enough to impose a routine of almost any kind.
For newborns, I recommend establishing a set window for when the day starts and when the day ends. For example, you can try to have your baby in bed every night between 8:00-8:30pm and start your day between 8:00-8:30am. Once you have a consistent morning and bedtime routine, you can start adjusting or setting more regular nap times. Maybe all the help you need is to create a bit of structure with the beginning and end of day routines and their timing.
If your baby is older than 12-16 weeks you can certainly work on creating some additional routines throughout your day. What kind of routines? Any kind! Every family has their own unique habits and rituals. Find something that works for you. Although it may take some time and practice, the idea is to keep any routine short and simple. You are only looking for the routine to be about 15-30 minutes and should only have 2-4 steps involved.
Example of a morning routine:
- Wake up
- Change diaper and clothes
- Leave the bedroom
- Few minutes of playtime – making bottle/breakfast/coffee or tea
- Feed breakfast
This routine works for a few reasons. First, it is simple. It only takes about 15 minutes and is easy to do without thinking or over complicating things. I also love this routine because it separates waking from immediately feeding (reducing any feed to sleep association that can cause early morning wake ups) and it removes the baby from the room when they are ready to start their day (helping the child identify the end of evening and the start of the day). This also gives the baby a chance to fully wake up from any drowsy or sleepiness and become wide awake and ready for their feed.
Setting up a nap time routine can be equally as easy and beneficial as a morning or bedtime routine. For those parents that are looking for consistency from their nap time schedule, it can be critical to establish these nap time routines. This way your baby will be able to settle down and easily fall asleep. If you’re not a scheduled person by nature, and more of a go-with-the-flow type of parent, then you may struggle to find consistency with your child’s nap times.
It’s important to know that some babies and children are more flexible than others and it has nothing to do with what type of parent you are. Your little one is their own unique person and they all have different needs. Some kids will sleep wherever and whenever they need to, but other kids will need a routine and schedule, otherwise they’ll end up skipping naps and being miserable. The sooner you learn what type of child you have, the easier it will be to help them find the right routine and schedule for them.
Now, if your child is a go with the flow type then you probably don’t need to worry about daytime routines, although I stick by my recommendation for a morning and nighttime routine for everyone!
If your little one is struggling with naps and you don’t know how best to help them, then start with trying to figure out their ideal schedule and work on incorporating some routines to help you implement the new schedule shift.
Example of a nap time routine:
- Go to the bedroom
- Dim the lights (not for newborns)
- Change diaper and/or clothes (if necessary)
- Read or sing
- Put in sleep space
Again this routine is simple and quick, allowing the baby to have time to wind down and prepare for nap time. It is also a short and simple routine, only taking about 10 minutes, and anyone can follow this without much confusion. Also, notice that there isn’t a feeding included in my routine, that is on purpose.
Disassociating feeding from sleeping is super helpful for teaching more independent sleep skills and for ensuring your baby is getting a full meal and not falling asleep mid-meal. Also, it will avoid laying down your baby when they are full (which cause uncomfortableness or spitting up), as well as leaving milk in their mouths (which leads to cavities in baby teeth). This can also be critical for reflux or colicky babies that may be struggling with weight or struggling to be laid down comfortably. I usually recommend feeding about 30 minutes before nap time to ensure your baby can eat a full meal and still have time to burp and digest before laying down.
Bedtime & More
I think so many people and websites have discussed the importance of a bedtime routine, I rather not be redundant. However, since it is important and maybe you may not have read or heard about a bedtime routine a million times yet, let’s go over the basics.
Let’s start by chatting about when is the best time for bedtime. We reviewed the basics of finding the best schedule for your child on the “Schedule” page. In case you didn’t read that one, let me help you understand how to find the best bedtime for your kiddo. Children, up until elementary age, should roughly have a 12-hour schedule. This means they should have 12 hours from bedtime to wake up. This is to cover the amount of sleep children need in the early years of life. All children from infancy to about 8-10 years old will need about 10-12 hours of sleep overnight, with the exception of those with any medical conditions. With our busy work days and constant activities, it can be terribly difficult to make that kind of time happen. I see so many activities these days for young children that are after 8:00 pm, and for kids that are naturally early risers, the late time can be quite stressful and exhausting.
If you find that no matter what time you put your child to bed, they wake at the same time roughly every morning, then you should go approximately 12 hour back from wake up and that is about the right bedtime. For example, if your child wakes up almost always around 6:30 am, then the bedtime routine should be between 6:00-7:00 pm.
Now, if your child will sleep 10-12 hours no matter when you put them to bed then just make sure they have time in the morning to get that sleep. Don’t put your little one down at 9:30 pm and ask them to wake up at 7:00 or 8:00 in the morning for daycare or school! If you have a set morning time that the child must be awake, then you should make sure bedtime is early enough to compensate for that, so they don’t lose out on sleep!
Some children may only sleep 10.5 hours or maybe 11 hours overnight and that is okay. Remember, every child is different and so are their sleep needs. It’s very rare to find a child that needs less than 10 hours overnight under the age of 10 years old. Can they get by with less, of course! We certainly get by as adults with less than our recommended 8 hours, but we usually don’t perform our best when we’re lacking sleep. This is the same with children. If they are lacking in their overnight sleep, you will see the ramification of that elsewhere, usually with their behavior. Children will struggle to focus, eat, or respond appropriately when sleep deprived; often showing fussy, cranky, short temperament or even hyperactive behavior. You get the picture – the more sleep your child gets, the happier they will be, so set their bedtime appropriately!
Since everyone’s bedtime routine varies wildly, I will give you my son’s current routine and what I often recommend to my clients, but feel free to tweak it as you need.
Example of a bedtime routine:
- Dinner/last feed of the night
- Bath and brush teeth
- Go to the bedroom
- Dim the lights
- Put on pajamas
- Into bed
The bedtime routine is longer than the other routines listed because it usually includes a meal and a bath which can both take 10-20 minutes each. However, from the end of bath to getting into bed, should only be taking 15-20 minutes with the total routine taking 45-60 minutes. For older toddlers and children, it’s okay if dinner is 1-2 hours before bath and bedtime. Food does not need to be included as part of the bedtime routine.
I encourage parents of toddlers and older children to give and set age appropriate tasks for your kids. This includes, letting them pick up pajamas or letting them get dressed on their own. The more independence you can give a child around this routine, the less push back you will get. It’s great to give small choices throughout the routine, i.e. let them pick out a book or pajamas from 2-3 options. The more children feel that they have some control, the less push back you will receive!
Did you know that implementing small routines through your child’s day can help with not only sleeping but eating as well! Creating positive associations with places, people and things can create a feeling of safety and enjoyment, which can lead to happy mealtimes. So, if you have a picky or fussy eater, sometimes creating the right routine can help your baby or child be more comfortable eating.
When we feel insecure or skeptical of something or someone, we will be less likely to feel comfortable, if we’re uncomfortable then we won’t eat. This is true for many mammals, if they don’t feel comfortable and safe, they won’t eat.
How can you help make your child feel safe and comfortable during mealtime? Consistency through routines! Knowing what comes next helps our brains to relax and feel safe. Routines done consistently around mealtime can help prepare the brain to know that mealtime is coming and it’s safe to eat.
If you are working on solid foods with your baby or if you are struggling with getting your child to eat, I recommend you check out my “Responsive Feeding” page here. This covers the basics for how to introduce new foods and handling mealtimes so there is less stress and pressure around eating (which always helps a child feel more comfortable).
Working on creating a mealtime routine should not be stressful or lengthy. Just like our other routines, you are looking for 2-4 things that take 5-15 minutes total to complete that will signal to the brain- food is coming! Like the bedtime routine, I recommend that you give age appropriate tasks, so the baby or child is involved in the process. This involvement will help them be more willing to eat and create confidence and excitement around mealtime.
Ideal for mealtime routine
- Clean up current activity
- Wash hands
- Acquire utensils and plates
- Involve the child in preparing or plating of the food/snack
- Sit in the same space for eating (snack times too)
When you have a baby, this can seem like a crazy thing to try and do but it’s easier than you think. If your baby can grab things, then they can help do all these things to a variable degree, although admittingly it will take longer this way. Personally, I know all our children are more capable than we give them credit for, so some additional responsibility can be a great thing for both parent and child. I recommend having a cart or bottom cabinet in the kitchen that will hold all the basics for your child’s mealtime, including plates, silverware, placemats, cups, straws, etc. You can also give them a healthy snack section in the kitchen as well. This way when they are hungry, they have access to obtain a healthy snack independently. I also recommend having a section in the fridge like this as well, so once they are old enough to have a step stool, they can acquire those independently as well. Children as young as 16 months can help get place settings and even help set a table.
Ultimately the more involved your child is in preparing or setting up for mealtime (or feeding) the better and less stressful the whole process will be! Yes, it will take longer if they help and they don’t need to help every time but the more practice they get, the less you will have to do for them, and the easier mealtime becomes. So, let the kids help prepare, cook and/or set up for mealtime and I promise you will be amazed at how much less stressful mealtime can be and how capable your kids are!
As a guideline, mealtime (bottles/breasts included) should take 10-30 minutes from sitting down to feed to the end of the feed. If feeding takes less than 10 minutes, they are eating too quickly. If it takes longer than 30 minutes, then they are probably just playing and not eating. Having some timelines and structure will help you and them find a good balance so mealtime and feedings are less stressful.
Last important thing to note is that meals/feedings should take place in the same area every time, snack included! You don’t want to be chasing your child around the house to feed. The goal is to create an association that the space is for food, so they know that when we sit at the table, we eat. Most families have a dining room table and I bet most of you sit in the same spot every time you eat there, am I right? It’s a safety thing, your brain has a link that identifies that spot as a safe space to eat, so you’ll default to the same seat. You’ll want to create that same association for your little one.
Now there is no limit to all the places you can begin to implement routines into your day-to-day life. Often as you’re working on implementing positive routines in one area of your life, other little routines will pop up throughout your day to support your goals!
If you can’t find your rhythm and need help finding and implementing the right routines into your day and night, I’d be happy to chat about finding your happy space. Parenthood is stressful enough, the more help we can get, the easier the journey becomes, so let’s talk!