Okay, so you are probably wondering by 12 weeks into development why your baby only sleeps an hour and half in between feeds some nights, and three and a half hours in between feeds other nights. The first year with baby can be a journey of the unknown, but it’s important to know that you are not alone in this venture. Many families struggle to attain a regulated schedule, even more so as we grow older and maybe even larger in number.
In terms of an infant, they have no concept of time or as my fellow Doula professional Allison Coleman of Austin Baby Guru says, “Babies don’t have a concept of your culture, in fact children don’t really gain an understanding of your family’s culture until the age of 5-7.” So, establishing a night time routine can be a good way to implement indicators that an infant can grasp.
Before we get into the thick of it, I want to make it clear. Night time routines are a practice, I can not guarantee magic with starting a night time routine as an infant’s needs are forever unpredictable. Also, consider the age of your baby. Babies younger than 8-12 weeks are often still developing so much, that it is unlikely they will trend anywhere near a regular routine. I encourage you to be patient, and more importantly to observe your child. You are already taking note of their likes and dislikes on an unconscious level, give yourself some grace, in order to tap in to your natural parenting instincts.
Infants are incredibly sensitive to their surroundings. Starting a nighttime routine can be as simple as turning the lights low, closing curtains, turning off any TVs or music playing in the house, and speaking in a soft tone of voice. When I work overnight with my families, one of the first things I do is go around and turn off unnecessary lighting. Believe it or not, your baby can tell a difference, even if they are not in the room.
One of my favorite things to do once the lights are low is run a warm bath for baby. Not all babies find bathing relaxing, but if your baby does a nightly bath is a great way to change the pace. No need to soap baby up every night, a warm water soak is just fine when baby isn’t too stinky. A nice segue from bath time would be a massage with lavender lotion. Make sure to diaper your little one first to avoid being tinkled on (this is advised for both boys and girls). I like to recommend coating baby’s bottom with either a mineral oil or any other food grade oil, so any yucky diapers filled overnight won’t irritate baby’s skin. Massage helps stimulates baby’s touch and smell senses and offers a form of aromatherapy. This practice can also benefit baby’s digestion, so you can lie them down on their back with less discomfort after a feed.
Once your little one is all soft and smelling delicious, you’ll want to dress them in clothing opposite of their daytime attire. I often recommend that parents dress babies in onesies during the day, and then switch them over to footy pajamas, or long-sleeved nightgowns at night. By juxtaposing the styles, it creates another indication in the change of day to night.
After baby is cozy you can do a few different things. This would be a nice place to implement any cultured practices already taking place in the house. Some families do story time, other families have a nightly prayer, it can be whatever your interpretation is, as long as it falls in the relaxed state of affairs.
Once your quiet interaction is finished you can start some white noise, or lullabies (if you so choose). Maybe you are an essential oils enthusiast, start a defuser with a soothing sent for baby’s room. Than nurse one more time, burp, swaddle and off to their bed they go.
This nighttime routine can take anywhere from 30 min-2 hrs, and can be as flexible to your schedule as you need. It should help baby sleep a bit longer into the evening, giving you a little break before their next feed. If they aren’t up in time for their normal feed, you can always keep them swaddled, and feed them in a sleep state. This is what we call a dream feed. I recommend doing this right before you go to sleep. This way baby will continue to sleep further into the evening, allowing you to attain more sleep before the next feed. One word of advice to any nursing parents, the feed may not be as full on as other feeds, so be sure to pump and empty before going to sleep.
A night time routine may not make any difference in your baby’s behavior at first. As stated before, this is a practice. Try and use it as an opportunity to check in with your baby daily and just enjoy some quiet interaction at the end of the day. You could even utilize it to implement your own nighttime routine some nights and pass the torch to partner. How ever you decide to utilize this information, make it your own. Parenting is about making confident decisions for your family and allowing yourself to change it up occasionally.