Babies thrive on routines, and sticking to a strict schedule can make all the difference.
While it will take some time to find the patterns and rhythms that work best for you and your child (what works for some doesn't necessarily work for everyone), nailing down the process will be worth it. The earlier you start focusing on routines the better, as your baby can start picking up on good habits right away.
Here is our survival guide to the first few weeks, divided into categories…
Look for sleeping cues from your baby like yawning, stretching, watery eyes, or fussiness. When you notice these signals it’s your baby’s way of telling you that they are tired. Don’t wait until the baby is actually asleep to put it down, but rather create naptime when it’s still awake but feeling sleepy -- this will train your baby that it doesn’t need to use tears to convey what it needs.
When putting down for the night or naptime, remove the baby from as much stimulation as you can to find a quiet, calm, consistent, and peaceful place to rest. Like when they were in utero, babies like it completely dark, snug, and warm. To recreate an environment that is similar to the womb, installing black shades in the nursery will be helpful, as will swaddling the baby in a bassinet surrounded by the constant humming of white noise (it can get up to 96 decimals in the womb!). Keep a baby monitor close by so you’ll be able to keep a watchful eye when you’re in other rooms of the house.
Newborns tend to sleep in three hour increments a day (and night). When they wake up they’ll be hungry and want to feed, and then they’ll want to sleep again -- there’s no set time or training at this age. However, tracking their sleeping patterns in a log book will help you better understand your baby’s natural habits.
Once they get to around 3-4 months (or 14 pounds), it’s a good time to move them from the bassinet to the crib and start sleep training by setting a bedtime and healthy sleeping habits. At this time you can create more structured routines like a relaxing bath in dim light before bedtime and a morning routine of bright light, lively music, playtime, and, of course, breakfast.
When it’s time to feed excuse yourself to a quiet and comfortable place if possible. Like when they are sleeping, babies like it dark, so if the option is available feed in the same place they normally go down. Keep the baby warm, dressed in layers or wrapped in a blanket with the room around 73 degrees F.
After the first week the baby will be able to latch well, so it’s a great time to introduce a bottle. Babies should eat roughly 2.5 ounces x their weight per day, and by giving them a bottle you’ll be able to monitor their intake, taking note of how long it is taking them to fill up so you’ll have a better idea of how long they should be spending on each breast.
Try to feed every 2 hours, but if they are crying it means they are hungry so go ahead and feed again. Cluster feeding (feeding at shorter intervals throughout the day) is an option if the baby is tending to want more, more often.
While feeding, the baby will oftentimes have a preferred side automatically, so make sure to rotate the baby’s head with each feeding to prevent it from getting a flat head or from one side becoming stronger than the other. Also take note of this when the baby is lying down for tummy time and while in its bassinet or crib, careful to rotate the sides evenly.
Pumping is important for many reasons, whether you’ll be away from your baby for a period of time or are trying to increase your milk supply and alleviate pressure. A good time to pump is first thing in the morning as most moms tend to get the most milk then. Pump a half hour to an hour before or after nursing.
During and after each feeding the baby will need to be burped to prevent reflux. Every 15-30 minutes hold the baby up in front of you so it can burp. Tummy massages will also help the baby’s flow become more regular. As their body transitions and adjusts to the outside world, the texture of their poop will change which can be uncomfortable for them. Rub and apply pressure to their stomach while raising their legs and moving them in a bicycle rotation to help alleviate any pain.
Newborns should have their diapers checked every 2 hours or so as they’ll usually poop with every feed.
When changing diapers always wipe from front to back and put a clean diaper underneath the old before you change. Prevent moisture with ointment and use new wipes for each swipe, taking note every time to clean the creases. Once they get to the 3-4 months stage and are sleep training, double down on diapers each night to encourage longer sleeping sessions. (Babies should be good for around 8-12 hours in the same diaper while sleeping at this age.)
Sponge bathe the baby when it first comes home in a newborn bath tub, being gentle around the belly button stub (which can take up to 2 weeks to fall off). Once your baby is 3-6 months and they’re starting to hold on to things, have steady heads, and pull themselves up, they can move to actual baths in a sink or toddler tub. Bathtime will relax the baby’s muscles and facilitate a longer state of sleep.
Bathtime is also a good time for skin-to-skin contact which should begin as soon as the baby is born. This is a great way to bond, as they already know your smell and voice from their time in utero.
Create a nighttime routine of mellow, relaxing music as you give your child its nightly bath. Keep the lights dim and limit playing so they register that nighttime is for winding down and sleeping. In the morning the fun will begin... again.