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Setting up a Baby Sleep Routine – What age is best?

Heidi Skudder Baby Sleep, Parenting

I often have clients come to me with newborn babies asking what age is best to start setting up a sleep routine. These parents are sometimes ones who have had a hard time with their first baby and want the second baby to be a better sleeper from an earlier age. Or they could be parents who have heard about sleep routines and are keen to get things in place from early on…whatever your reasons for getting your baby into a routine, here are a few things you might need to think about first;

1) Milk is most IMPORTANT
You cannot try and get a baby into a routine if feeding is not established. In fact, feeding is the most important factor as a baby with a full tummy will sleep well and be able to nap properly. A baby who is snack feeding and not yet taking long feeds will find it harder to fall into a sleep pattern.
Spend as much time as you need getting breast or bottle feeding established. You don’t have to be bottle feeding to get into a routine, many of my mums are breastfeeding exclusively however if there any question marks over baby being hungry, an evening top up or night time bottle often helps baby settle more easily (if hunger is the cause!).

2) Start slow
Don’t expect baby to fall into a routine on the very first day. I often use the guideline of allowing one week to work on getting into a routine, which means staying around the house and really focusing on getting things going. Once you feel you have confidence in it and its going well, then you can start making it more flexible. Some day sleeps at home, some in the car/pram/sling and so on. If you can help baby learn to be flexible from as early on as possible then you’ll be in a great position!

3) Make sure YOU are ready
Most of us can recognise those lovely first few weeks when your baby feeds and falls asleep on you. Those cosy evenings in front of the TV where you take it in turns with your partner to have a cuddle with your newborn. This is an important part of the bonding process for all three of you, so there is no need to rush into a routine from day one. Everyone is ready at a different time and there is no right or wrong…
If clients ask me when I think setting up a routine works best, I would usually say sometime around the 4-6 week mark when baby is feeding well and you have enjoyed those precious first few weeks. That said, many clients don’t start early and come to me much later on at 4,5,6+ months and then want to implement a routine. Everyone is different and there is no right or wrong answer, don’t be put off by pressure from others and do it when it feels right for you.

4) Flexibility
Routines DO NOT have to mean that the next 3 years of your life will be spent at home for every lunch sleep and never visiting friends in the evening never again. They can and should be flexible. I would argue that a routine gives you more flexibility, as your baby knows how they fall asleep and recognises those cues for bedtime which means it then becomes easier to go to a friend’s house for dinner and take your travel cot and put them down there for a few hours. The same applies for holidays and days out and about.

So in summary, there is no one age that is the “correct” age for getting your baby into a routine and it really should be down to your views and thoughts as parents. There is of course an argument for starting things earlier as baby will be slowly guided into good sleep patterns rather than having to make big changes to the way they sleep later on. I like to call this “Sleep Shaping” and those babies I work with whose sleep has been shaped from those early months go on to become brilliant sleepers for most of their infant years.
At the end of the day it really comes down to when you feel you have the energy, commitment and WANT to do it – no-one ever said getting into a routine was easy that’s for sure. Be confident with your decision, make sure you are making it for the right reasons and then off you go! Routine or no routine, you will do exactly what you believe is best for your baby.

If you are keen to start good sleep habits from an early age then have a look at Heidi’s Baby Sleep Workshop and Webinar, which includes all of the advice you will need for getting baby into a gentle Sleep Routine from as early on as you feel ready! The Workshop is aimed at Parent’s To Be or Parents with babies from 0 weeks through to 12 months!