It’s easy in the early days of parenthood to start to feel a bit like a prisoner in your own home. The baby seems to always be either sleeping or feeding, you’ve not managed to have a shower for days and you’re surviving on hastily grabbed food you can eat with one hand.
In response to these challenges, many parents look to guide their baby into a routine, but then find themselves grappling with how to stick to the routine and remain consistent when they’re out and about.
In this article, I’ll share some tips on how to adapt your routine to be flexible, so that you can predict and meet your baby’s needs while still having a life!
Let’s start with the definition of routine. . .
Having a routine for your baby means having a predictable feeding and sleeping pattern you can easily follow. A ‘parent-directed’ routine means you adopt a detailed course of action and follow it regularly and consistently. Through this routine implemented by you, your baby becomes familiar with feed, play and sleep times.
Routine doesn’t have to mean a prescriptive, clock-based regime where at 9.47 a.m. you do X, followed by Y at 10.32 a.m., and Z at noon the dot.
The benefits of a routine. . .
A routine can:
- Have a positive effect on the whole family
- Help you grow in confidence and assist you in making those sometimes tricky parental decisions
- Help you in knowing you have adequately met all of your baby’s needs
A routine is established over time. It’s virtually impossible to have a routine in place in the first few weeks after baby is born. Routine can be established through consistency and this can sometimes take several months.
When I work with parents who are establishing a routine to manage a problem such as night waking, cat napping or fussy feeding, I ask them to:
- Slow down their schedule
- Stay close to home and to offer their baby every sleep time in their cot rather then in a pram
In order to fix a problem, it’s also important to pinpoint the cause of the problem in the first place, and eliminate all of the possible causes for unsettled behaviour or poor sleeping. If you are constantly placing baby in the pram for sleeps then you are adding to their stimulation as well as teaching them to only be able to sleep when movement is present. This doesn’t help when establishing a routine.
Tips for adapting routine when out with baby. . .
When I am working with parents to help them establish a routine for their baby, I get asked the same questions again and again:
- “What will I do about the routine when we go out?”
- “How will we even go out when there’s a routine?”
- “How can we be consistent when we go out?”
Relax! You can still go out when your baby is in a routine and in many ways, a routine can help you plan the best times to go out! Hooray, no more sending 77 “sorry I’m running late” text messages when meeting a friend for a simple coffee.
It’s important for you, as a parent, to get out of the house. Both for social interaction and of course, just managing all the various aspects of life. It’s important for your baby, too, as it helps them to learn about the world.
Remember these guiding principles for adapting your routine when out with baby:
- Routine is more for you than it is for your baby. It’s up to you to show your baby what time it is and what comes next
- Your baby cannot tell the time. They learn routine through the way you manage them and the cues they are getting. If you give them similar cues when you are out they will know what they are meant to do
- Recreate (as best as you can) the techniques you use at home to cue baby as to what time it is
Tips for managing sleep when out and about. . .
- When under 4 months, take baby out in bigger pram and use the bassinet attachment so they can lay flat
- When over 4 months, take your baby out in pram which can be laid back
- Wrap baby when out for all sleeps and lay pram back when older than 4 months
- Place a sheet or breathable blanket over pram during sleep times to block out some of the light as you would at home by closing the curtains or blinds
- Always attempt to encourage your baby to settle in the pram or in a port-a-cot at approximately their usual sleep time
- Use rocking, patting or dummy if your baby is unsettled when out. You are out because you want to be and this will not start unwanted habits if they sleep well at home in their cot
- If your baby does not sleep well when you are out, don’t stress. When in a routine they will catch up on sleep when back at home
- If baby doesn’t achieve much sleep when out, make sure you put baby down a little earlier at their evening bed time
- Be mindful of going out on several consecutive days. If you do have a period of being out a lot, spend the next few at home so baby can catch up on sleep and maintain the rhythm of the routine
- Understand that it’s okay to go out and your baby will become used to going out but don’t be surprised if your baby is unsettled the evening of, or the next day, following going out. Even when young babies appear to be sleeping when out they are taking on board extra stimuli which may affect their little nervous systems
- Unsettledness is normal after going out. They will settle back down with consistency
Tips to help manage feeding when out and about. . .
- Don’t stress if your baby is fussy when out. They have an innate ability to catch up on calories when at home
- For the older baby on solids, take finger food with you and easily accessible food. Squeeze-style food pouches with a spoon are a great option for when you are out and about
- Foods such as avocado and banana are easy on the go foods. You can spoon straight from the fruit itself and you don’t need a bowl!
- Stick to feed times as best you can within an hour or so each side of regular times
Plan your adventure. . .
As well as keeping your routine in mind, you also want to feel in control, relaxed and hopefully be able to enjoy your time out. You want to find ‘child friendly’ places. To help you relax it’s best to find places that have everything you need to assist you with feeding, changing and settling. And yes, those places exist.
To help you plan and discover these places I recommend you head straight to this wonderful new website: Out and About Baby. A fantastic mobile directory where mums and dads recommend and review your closest, child-friendly cafes, restaurants, parks, play centers, hotels and more.