If only newborns could talk! Then they could tell us when they are cold, hot, bored, hungry, thirsty, grumpy, tired, or just in need of a big cuddle.
Meet the expert: Angela Spencer is a childcare expert and mum of two who’s run nurseries for over 20 years. She’s the author of Babyopathy: Baby Care the Natural Way (£19.99, Panoma Press)
‘But the only way that a baby can tell us that she wants something is to cry,’ says childcare expert Angela Spencer. ‘And sometimes the reason is obvious, but sometimes it isn’t.’
That’s where your new routine for 2017 comes in.
It will give you a simple pattern to follow, and help you to give your baby everything she needs – and then some! Because our routine isn’t just about when you do things, it’s about what you do.
With all her needs being met, she’ll be calmer, happier and more content. And don’t worry: this isn’t a strict regime that has everyone watching the clock. It’s all about creating a flexible framework that works for the whole family as well as for your baby.
Firstly, do our simple quiz to find out which senses you rely on:
What does your baby need?
‘There are three key things any baby needs,’ says Angela. ‘And they’re very simple. Firstly, your baby needs to be fed. Whether you breastfeed or bottle-feed, the most important thing is that you choose a way of feeding that you’re comfortable and happy with, because if you’re relaxed, your baby will be relaxed. My mantra is, fed is best: it’s that simple!
‘Secondly, your baby needs to sleep. She grows and develops when she’s asleep, so it’s vital for her well-being. Last – but certainly not least – your baby needs to bond. She needs to be cared for emotionally as well as physically, with regular, warm interaction with her caregivers.’
The New Routine for 2017 is based around meeting these three needs. As well as making sure her needs are taken care of, this daily structure has other benefits: ‘A routine also makes your baby feel secure, and that security allows her to feed, sleep and bond with the people around her,’ says Angela.
The pattern it puts in her life will give her an understanding of how her world works, and that predictability gives her a sense of safety. It’s a base from which she can start exploring.
‘It also gives her boundaries,’ continues Angela. ‘She will know when she needs to sleep or when she needs to eat. These very early routines are the building blocks for developing self-regulation as she grows bigger.’
Before we start to create the best routine for your baby, you need to know that this isn’t about implementing a strict regime of what happens, when. Every baby is different and so is every family. And so you’ll need to tailor-make a routine that matches you and your baby.
We’ll be showing you the elements you need to include. But we’ll also be exploring ways that you can help your baby use all her senses within these daily moments.
‘It’s all about taking a wider approach to your baby’s well-being,’ says Angela, ‘and letting her use her senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and feel to bond with you and to explore the world. I call it “babyopathy”, and babies who do this are calmer and happier, and so are their families!’
In the daytime, your baby should follow a cycle of nap, feed, play. To start with, there will be a lot of napping and feeding, but as she grows and is able to stay awake for longer, this
will change. At night-time, she should follow a cycle of sleeping and feeding, gradually feeding less as she gets older.
The key thing that your baby needs when she first wakes up is to reconnect with you.
‘This is the moment that can set the tone for the day ahead,’ says Angela. ‘You might be tired in the morning if you’ve been up in the night with her, but no matter how bleary-eyed you are, start the day by smiling at her, saying “Good morning” and giving her a big cuddle. She’s hearing, seeing and feeling that you’re happy to see her. And all these things reinforce the special bond between you.’
As an added bonus, a waking-up time cuddle will give you both a surge of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which will boost both of your immune systems.
‘Open the curtains at wake-up time as well, to get lots of natural light into the room,’ Angela continues.
‘And if possible open the window to let in some fresh air. This is important on all sorts of levels. The light helps your baby to distinguish between day and night. The fresh air is something she can feel around her. And having access to the natural world is a deep-rooted need in all humans. There is so much research that shows how we benefit from having exposure to nature – so much so that even looking at pictures of plants can make us feel happier and calmer. So get that important natural connection in first thing in the morning!’
Feeding your baby
There are no hard and fast rules for mealtimes, whether your baby has milk or solids.
How often she feeds depends on how old she is, whether she’s going through a growth spurt and her appetite. Most babies don’t take more than they need: they ask to be fed when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full. So give her feeds when she asks for them.
‘Most babies feed better after a sleep,’ says Angela, ‘as tiredness can override hunger. So you may find that when your baby is weaned, it’s easier to have four meals a day instead of three: breakfast, a light brunch followed by a sleep, then a later lunch and supper before bed. It can be more trouble than it’s worth trying to get your baby to stay awake until after lunch – she’ll just end up tired and not feeding properly, so she’s hungry too.’
Be led by your baby now and as her needs change as she grows.
Make feeding a time for the two of you to be close.
‘When she’s having her milk, if possible sit somewhere calm and quiet,’ says Angela.
‘If you’re weaning, be present with her, too: give her a spoon to hold, let her copy you and talk to her. Say “please” and “thank you” when appropriate and describe the food she’s having. As she gets older, you can introduce new elements. Eat outside for a change or put flowers on the table so she has something to see and smell.’
Your baby’s naptime
All babies need to have naps throughout the day, but the amount of sleep they need varies depending on their age and their personality. But as a rough guide, this is how much time your baby will spend napping during the course of the day:
- At one week, she will need around eight hours of sleep taken as naps, and eight hours of sleep at night-time.
- At three months, she’ll need around five hours of naps, and 10 hours at night-time.
- At six months, she’ll need around four hours of naps, and 10 hours at night-time.
- At nine months, she’ll need around three hours napping, and 11 hours at night-time.
‘Babies seem to get the most from their naps if they come before a main meal and after a period of playing,’ explains Angela. ‘So for a baby of six months plus, an ideal nap pattern could
be two main naps at 9.15am and 12pm, and a top-up nap at 3.30pm. But this won’t suit all families, so go with what works for you and your baby.’
When your baby is napping at home, it helps to have a consistent routine that mirrors key steps in her bedtime routine.
‘That could be a nappy change followed by a cuddle in a darkened bedroom, then turning on some soothing nature sounds and putting her gently into her cot,’ says Angela. ‘Keep your voice quiet throughout too. Everything she hears, feels and sees at nap-time needs to be calming and relaxing, so she can give in to her need for sleep.’
Your baby’s playtime
‘The length of playtime a baby can cope with depends on her age,’ explains Angela.
‘But even babies who are over a year old can’t take much more than 15 minutes of great interaction because it’s too stimulating. Watch and you’ll see your baby start to get tired. With a younger baby, you’ll see yawns after just five minutes. So, when you’re thinking about building this element into your day, aim for short playtime sessions and cushion these intense moments between less stimulating activities.’
This is the time to really give your baby a chance to be with you, and one way to maximise the benefit in such a short time period is to think about using all of her senses to explore the world. It's likely that you have a preference for using one particular sense more than the others, and this might mean you naturally interact more with your baby using just this one sense.
Your baby’s bath time
‘Playing with water is great for babies,’ says Angela. ‘It’s a sensory tool in its own right and there’s lots of fun to be had using water during a baby’s playtime – touching it, swirling it, splashing it and floating things in it. But bath time should be a calming experience, so make it distinct from playtime, and make it a time for togetherness and relaxation. Your baby will find warm water soothing because it’s her natural environment: it’s what she had when she was in your womb. And when she’s in the water, you’ll be supporting her head with your arm,
so you’ll be close.’
Too many baths can dry out a very young baby’s skin, so see what suits yours. There’s no need for her to have a bath every night – three (very chilled out) baths a week is plenty.
Time for bed
Bedtime is all about helping your baby learn to settle herself to sleep. So think about creating a soothing, restful environment. ‘Use a blackout blind,’ suggests Angela, ‘and have a dim nightlight that allows you to get things done, without prompting your baby to become more alert. White and blue lights are the most stimulating, so choose one with a yellow, orange or red tone.’
Use her other senses to help too. After a short routine of nappy change, feed and cuddle, turn on calming nature sounds, such as rain or forest sounds. ‘Research has found that nature sounds help the body deal with stress,’ adds Angela.
And add the scent of lavender to her bedtime routine: ‘Lavender is soothing and relaxing and if you only use it at bedtime and nap time, then the smell sends a really strong reminder to your baby that it’s time for sleep.’
Be aware that you’re not inadvertently stimulating her senses too. ‘Keep your voice soft and your movements small and gentle,’ suggests Angela. ‘And once your baby’s in her cot, you don’t need to sing to her or talk to her – if you do, you’re asking her to focus on you again and this will wake her up. Just say a soft goodnight and let her settle to sleep on her own.’