Why it’s better to NOT have a routine with young babies

There’s nothing like a good routine. We hear all the time how children need routine to feel safe and secure. Especially during times of stress, routines bring us all comfort and familiarity. These are the times when we are literally just “going through the motions.”

Having a new baby and becoming a parent for the first time is a crazy time. There’s just no other way to explain how my life went from having daily cozy routines to chaos. This tiny little person you waited 9 months to meet and love with all your heart has a shocking amount of power to flip your whole world upside down.

I remember hoping for the day things would settle down… When friends and family visited they would ask how my daughter’s routine was coming along. “Routine?!” I would ask, “What routine?” Just when I thought we had something resembling a routine, Pumpkin would change everything!

We did have a few routines. A bedtime routine – her Daddy gave her a bath, did a little infant massage and read her some books. We did that at some point in the evening. She loved baths and it seemed to help with her fussiness in the evenings. But she didn’t really go to sleep at a certain time, nor was she predictable with her night awakenings. (My husband replaced “good night” with “good luck” around then!) For a week or two it might seem like we had a “good routine” going, but then something would change and we would find a new rhythm.

Sleeping Baby GirlSo why didn’t I just pick a feeding-sleeping-diapering routine? Wouldn’t that have been easier? Well, sure, it might have been easier for me. But babies don’t come with wrist-watches. Babies come with survival needs and all they ask is for their needs to be met.

I found Pumpkin would nurse very differently from one day to the next. Well of course! She was working hard to double and then triple her birth weight. Growth spurts come and go. Sometimes she nursed for 15 minutes and other times it was an hour. Some days she only nursed 6 times and other days I completely lost track but it sure felt like every hour.

Those frequent feeding days were tough, but I knew they wouldn’t last long and I knew it was necessary to increase my milk supply with Pumpkin’s growing demands. If I had forced a feeding routine on her I’m not sure that my supply could have kept up since breast milk production is dependent on a very simple supply-demand cycle. Feed what your baby demands and your body will make enough milk for him.

What about my sanity, you may ask? As I’ve said a few times, babies will settle into something that seems to resemble a routine, only to change it up a few days or a few weeks later. Why resist it? Having to constantly enforce a routine or figure out a new one would have caused me far more stress than just going with the flow. We figured out what worked for us, not what other people thought we “ought to do.”

I enjoyed being busy with Pumpkin and was often out at community groups or visiting with other new moms. Going with the flow made this so much easier for me to do. If we were bound by strict routines I’m sure I would have felt trapped in my own home. Instead, I just made sure I had everything I would need – change of clothes, diapers, wipes, and of course, <ahem> my breasts.

Research shows that parents who go with the flow and respond to their baby’s cues instead of pushing routines do better with the transition to parenthood, breastfeeding is more likely to last longer, and babies do better because responding to your baby’s cues helps develop a secure attachment. The routines will come later (and are a whole lot easier to create and maintain with securely attached kids). As a toddler, Pumpkin is so set on her routines and if we deviate she lets us know!

For more tips and hints about your following your baby’s cues, or to share your experience, there are many ways you can talk to one of us directly:

For parenting information or to speak with a public health nurse (every Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) simply dial 311 or 905-825-6000.

About Andrea Scott RN

I’m a public health nurse with the HaltonParents team – you’ll find me blogging, tweeting and answering emails. I’ve been working for the Halton Region Health Department since 2006 and my focus has been on supporting parents with babies and little kids. I have two little ones myself, “Pumpkin” and “Monkey” who give me plenty to blog about! :)
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4 Responses to Why it’s better to NOT have a routine with young babies

  1. babens says:

    Great post! Our public health office has just published our first post which is a poem about breastfeeding and its demands. You can check it out here if you’re interested:
    http://buildingabreastfeedingenvironment.wordpress.com/2014/07/15/ode-to-boobs-mamas-of-the-world/

  2. D. Brown says:

    I have found this to be true! Our son is now almost 7 and very routinized although we did not have one as he was so fussy as a baby. We followed his cues, formed a very secure attachment and routine happened around age 5. Wasn’t easy but he’s accepting of his routine now because he trusts us. Thanks for the article!

  3. Pingback: Help! My baby won’t nap | HaltonParents

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