Before Caleb was born, I read gobs of books about preparing for labor and childbirth, but I didn’t devote much time to reading about what to do once the baby actually arrived. In my mind, I’ve kept two other tiny humans alive since they were two and three; how different could a baby be?
As time went on and I got closer and closer to having Caleb, I thought more and more about what I wanted our lives to look like with three kids. Three is a big number — it means we’re officially outnumbered — and according to the experts, having three kids is harder than four!
Here’s what I knew I wanted to happen:
- I wanted the baby to sleep good and not wake up his brothers.
- I wanted to continue to have structure in our home. (If you can’t tell, I’m pretty big on routine.)
- I wanted the baby to be a good eater.
- I wanted to be able to have some time to relax and do things to take care of myself. (I know that may come across as selfish to some, but if I’m not taking good care of myself, how can I take good care of my kids?)
- I wanted the baby to be able to adjust well no matter where he was and be able to cope in different situations.
- I also wanted him to sleep well and through the night. (That was a BIG one!)
Basically, the answer to what I wanted our lives to look like all boiled down to a good routine. It’s proven that routines help babies adapt and in my own life, I know how “off” I feel when I’m out of my normal routine.
Kevin and I are both pretty structured when it comes to things with our older boys and we can definitely tell if they’re off their routine. While they’re older now and we aren’t as strict with bedtime every night as we were when they were younger, we are still fairly structured with their nighttime routine. Even going to bed thirty minutes later than normal for them makes a huge difference in the mornings at home. If routine affects my older kids, I knew it would for sure affect our baby.
Here are a few things I did to help Caleb adapt to a routine. But first, please note that a routine shouldn’t start on day one. In fact, I’d encourage you to wait six to eight weeks before beginning to develop a routine especially related to eating and sleeping. When babies are first born, they need to eat and sleep so often. You shouldn’t ever deprive your baby of milk and sleep for the sake of a routine. That said, Caleb was a pretty easy baby and became very predictable as he grew and we started setting a routine. I could tell time off of when he ate and napped.
1. Take note of your baby’s cues.
From day one, I kept track of when and how much Caleb ate, slept, and had dirty diapers. I did this to make sure he was eating, sleeping, and having enough dirty diapers, but also because I wanted to see what seemed normal to him. When he was a few weeks old, I was able to use this to tweak his normal sleep and eating pattern into a good routine for all of us.
As a mom, you really will know what your baby’s cries mean. You’ll know if it’s a cry because your baby is hungry or because he just wants to be held. I found that knowing what was normal for Caleb was especially helpful when he wanted to eat more for a few days or seemed to not sleep as well during a growth spurt.
2. Implement changes slowly.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t expect to get your baby on a schedule overnight. It definitely takes time and it definitely changes as your baby grows. Caleb’s schedule at two months was drastically different than his schedule at four months. Just a few weeks make a huge difference in the life of a baby.
3. Focus on consistency.
I chose to be very consistent with Caleb from the beginning. For instance, when I started bathing him, I did the same thing every day at almost the same time. I also kept his nighttime routine consistent.
At first, I gave Caleb baths in the morning after his first nap. He’d wake up, eat, play, and sleep, then eat again and take a bath. I also started off bathing him in his bathtub. During bath time, literally from almost day one, I would sing songs to him and point out his eyes, nose, ears, mouth, arms, legs, tummy, and feet. After his bath, I’d get him dressed for the day and we’d play in his room before reading some books and putting him down for his next nap.
A month or so before I started back to work, I transitioned his baths to nighttime because I knew that would be easier for all of us when I went back to work. Even though the time was different, I kept the same routine.
4. Be adaptable.
The best advice I can give you on getting into a routine is to be adaptable. You can read hundreds of articles, books, and blog posts (like this one) about getting your child into a routine, but you have to remember that every baby is different. While there are general time frames to follow, your child may require more or less sleep/food than a typical baby his age.
I’d also encourage you to look at your regular life and how that schedule impacts it. Personally, I wanted to have good amount of time to play with Caleb at night after work, so I didn’t ever put him down for the night at 7 pm as many programs encourage. I feel very blessed that the school he attends is really intent on following the parents’ schedule for infants before transitioning them to a more standard schedule all the kids are on around one which helped me tremendously. Caleb was able to take a late afternoon nap so when we got home, even at four or five months old, he was able to stay up until about 8 which gave me a few good hours of playtime with him.
5. Have a plan.
Finally, I think it’s so important to know in advance what you want to do when it comes to sleep and feeding. I’ll talk specifically about sleep here, but next week, I will share what we did when it came to feeding Caleb.
Do you want to let your baby cry it out?
Are you co-sleeping?
Will your baby nap in the crib?
Those are all things you need to think about. And remember, there’s no right or wrong way when it comes to these things. As long as the baby is sleeping safely (no blankets, bumpers, etc.), it really comes down to your personal preference.
We kept Caleb in the Bassinest in our room until he was five months old for nighttime, but he started napping in his crib at about eight weeks. I knew he’d nap in a crib at school, so I didn’t want that to be foreign to him. Fortunately, we didn’t have an issue with this transition.
When it came time to transition him to his crib overnight, we were met with a few bumps though. After some trial and error, we determined that he needed socks on to sleep. If his feet get cold, he wakes up. He also needs his paci, and thanks to a friend’s advice, I put several pacifiers in his crib so if he wakes up without one in his mouth, he’s able to grab another and go back to sleep.
I found it extremely helpful to follow an actual plan when it came to transitioning down on the number of naps Caleb took. I downloaded the Moms on Call app and used it for this. Having a guideline of how to transition and when was very useful and took the stress out of this. As we transitioned his naps slowly, he began to sleep longer stretches at night and by 8 weeks old, he was sleeping through the night. (He was formula fed and it’s proven that formula fed babies are able to go longer stretches without milk, so he had everything he needed. He also went through times when he was teething and in a growth spurt where he woke up multiple times for a bottle, but as a whole, he started sleeping through the night at eight weeks.)
All in all, having a routine works best for our family. I thrive on routine and structure and it seems that my kids do, too. That said, it’s important to not stress yourself out about staying on an exact schedule. If you have a good routine, I’ve found that deviating from it slightly will not cause a problem. I always plan ahead when I know we’ll be far off of our routine and that has worked for us. Remember, there is trial and error involved in setting and sticking to a routine, but it’s definitely worth the effort it takes.
Do you have a routine for your kids?
What’s the biggest challenge you had to overcome?
Have you stuck with a routine as your kids have grown or slowly let go?