Just like for adults, a routine brings a sense of security to a baby or a child as well. Routines are comforting and establish normalcy. They are the stabilizing force that helps maintain balance.
Babies like predictability. They spend nine months in the mother’s womb, protected from the outside world, where there wasn’t much in terms of change. However, once they arrive in an otherwise exciting and chaotic world, where they are learning something new every day, seeing new faces, experiencing new senses; routine provides relief and a calming effect.
A daily routine helps bring in a consistency. Maintaining a regular routine soothes the child, be it an infant or a toddler, in stressful situations.
A new-born, who hardly knows what’s going on around him, cannot tell night from day. Routines are particularly helpful in establishing what is known as the circadian rhythm in an infant. Circadian rhythm is a biological clock or a cycle that tells our body when to eat, sleep, etc. It helps distinguish night from day.
Newborns are too young and underdeveloped to follow such patterns. They need to be fed on demand, sleep when they want to, comforted if they need the feel to, etc. Establishing a routine should be introduced gently and gradually. Exposing them to light when they are awake, dimming the lights of the room when they sleep, these daily habits can slowly help them differentiate between morning and evening and they learn to accordingly adjust their body rhythm.
3rd month onwards
As new parents, it’s still a challenging time with the infant waking up multiple times for a night feed. However, small activities, like a stroll in the park, regular daily massage, bath around the same time, etc can be introduced as part of the daily routine. By the time the baby hits the half-year milestone, you will have an idea about the number of day naps he takes, his meal times, etc
6 – 8th month
By now, you are pretty much aware of your baby’s temperament. Night feeds have reduced. Settling into a routine doesn’t look like a distant dream now. Perfect time to start working on it.
A routine imposes order on the roller-coaster that babyhood brings along. Following a routine is the first step for a baby to realize that he has rules to follow. By the time the baby is around 8 months of age, he or she starts to understand that people and objects exist even when they are out of sight. If the child realizes that he or she will be able to get back to the person or the object, they tend to remain calmer. This concept is called Object permanence.
Developing a routine:
Now the million dollar question is how to get started? There is no “by-the-book-method” for it. When my baby was born, I had no idea about how I was going to manage a child. However, as time progressed, I understood my child’s rhythm and we worked together – baby and mommy.
Another thing that helps develop a routine is sticking to the daily tasks and timelines. Establish the important times such as waking-up time, meals, naps, and bedtime. By the time a baby is one year old, he anticipates the daily tasks. He knows that after he has been massaged, it will be time to take a bath. Consistency is important.
It takes time to settle into any routine, so be patient.
From the time my son was an infant, I had been very particular about his routine. Leaving social dos early, planning my day around his naps, carrying his portable bed for extended hours outside. I’ve done it all. I have been rewarded in the long run. My son is now 28 months and barring his transitions, he has enjoyed a predictable day timeline, making our lives a lot easier. His routine is well established, giving me the liberty to plan my day. He is especially particular about his bedtime. So much so, that he slept through the dhol reception of my Brother-in-law’s wedding reception party, while he was in my husband’s arms, who was dancing to the beats of the dhol with the baraat(wedding reception). See for yourself.
Having said that, be prepared for a bit of flexibility. Even the best routine can go kaput. They can not be timed to the minute. There will be days when they will refuse to sleep even 3 hours after their regular nap time. This especially happens by the time they turn 18 months. This is the time they like to test the waters. They like to test the rules. They might not want to take a bath or change into a fresh diaper. It starts resembling a wrestling match. You may have to balance it out. The toddler will be a lot more cooperative if you let them feel as if they are winning. For example, instead of telling him that he has to wear the tee shirt, place two tee-shirts in front of him and let him hand you the one he wants to wear.
There are different view points to it. I shared the one which worked well for me and has helped my toddler remain in a safe zone till now.
It’s important to respect routines and also realize that you will never have full control over them. Stay sensitive and adaptable to your baby’s needs.