Establishing Routines: Finding what works for you and your baby

Babies -- and their parents -- often thrive on routine. The tough part is coming up with one that works for all of you.

Why Routines Matter/Eating and Sleeping

Many babies thrive on routine: They eat better, sleep better, and are more emotionally secure when they know that their needs are going to be met in a predictable way. But, as most new parents quickly discover, the routine a baby likes isn't necessarily the one you're trying to impose. There are simply no guarantees that her schedule will mesh with yours.

"The first few months of any new job -- including parenthood -- are hard to organize," says Andrea Phillips, a registered maternity nurse at Hoag Hospital, in Newport Beach, California. "Your ultimate goal is to arrive at a system that works for both you and your baby."

Here, some expert advice regarding three major areas of concern.

Eating and Sleeping

For newborns, these two activities are inextricably linked, as most babies sleep a total of 16 to 18 hours a day. And because an infant can hold only enough food in her stomach to sustain her for a few hours, she'll awaken when she's hungry.

"Newborns need to be fed on demand, so I recommend that you postpone attempts at establishing a schedule until your baby is at least 4 to 6 weeks old," says Linda Black, M.D., a neonatology fellow and general pediatrician at the University of Minnesota, in Minneapolis.

Although it may not be possible to impose much consistency in those first hectic days, there are some steps you can take to foster an early sense of routine. Try to sit in the same place each time you nurse. You'll also want to keep the area well-lit, day and night, to discourage your little one from dozing while feeding.

Jodi Mindell, Ph.D., associate director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Sleeping Through the Night (Harper Perennial, 1997), recommends starting some sort of sleep ritual for even the youngest infants. "A simple routine -- feeding, changing, then singing a lullaby -- helps your baby understand that it's time to go to sleep." Arrange your activities according to your baby's natural tendencies. If he's soothed by a nice, warm bath, for instance, consider giving him one in the evening; on the other hand, if the water and splashing rev him up, switch tubtime to earlier in the day. Above all, make sure that your baby is awake when you put him in his crib. "It's how he learns to sleep on his own," Dr. Mindell explains. "If he's dozing after a meal, gently wake him and then put him down."

By the time your baby is 4 months old, he'll be able to hold more in his stomach and remain satisfied longer. He'll also be alert for longer periods, so you can attempt to initiate a more regular eating and sleeping schedule.

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