Eat, Play, Sleep. You may be very familiar with this routine or it may be completely foreign to you. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then keep reading…
Eat, Play, Sleep is the routine I recommend to ALL the families I work with. Whether you have a baby that’s a few weeks old or a few months old. Eat, play, sleep just works and it’s one of the first steps in helping your baby to begin to regulate their eating patterns which in turn regulates their SLEEPING patterns.
I say this ALL the time….Regular sleeping patterns follow regular eating patterns. If feeding is all over the board then sleep will ALSO be ALL over the board. It’s true and I’ve never seen a baby that this doesn’t apply!
So let’s talk about why Eat, Play, Sleep works so well for babies.
Once you begin to feed your baby on a flexible routine (meaning feeds are mostly evenly spaced throughout the day) you will start to see your baby’s hunger patterns line up with those routine feedings, as long as you’re feeding on an age-appropriate routine. So, no… we’re not going to put a young baby on a 4-hour eating routine and we’re not going to put an older baby on a routine meant for a newborn.
Feeding your baby at regular, age-appropriate intervals, completely takes the guesswork out of when your baby should eat, as you will be able to accurately tell when your baby is TRULY hungry. Eat, Play, Sleep helps you to step out of reaction mode and into being proactive and able to meet your baby’s needs in a timely manner.
Here’s the thing: Most new moms feed EVERY TIME their baby cries or fusses as they assume that ALL crying is related to hunger, or they struggle to differentiate hunger from tiredness or discomfort. They have no frame of reference for how often their baby SHOULD eat so they feed CONSTANTLY.
Downsides to Frequent Feeding
- Your baby’s digestive system NEVER has time to rest. It is constantly digesting food. And while a newborn certainly needs to eat frequently, especially during the first month, there is such a thing as TOO frequent! Never giving your baby’s digestive system time to rest can also contribute to reflux and gastric issues. (Think about how you feel after a day of constant eating!)
- It teaches your baby that the ONLY way to find comfort is through a bottle or breast. This becomes problematic as your baby gets older and will not be comforted any other way.
- Babies have a tendency to do smaller feeds when they’re eating so frequently. This becomes a HUGE drain on mom over the long term as many moms cannot sustain the feeding every 1 ½-2 hours routine for months on end. This can cause mom to abandon breastfeeding prematurely.
- Eat, Play, Sleep separates feeding from sleep. Ideally, you don’t want your baby to continually have the expectation that they’re going to feed to sleep. (Because Yes, this IS what happens when a baby is always fed BEFORE a nap!) Feeding before sleep is a slippery slope and if you’re not careful you can easily end up with a baby who WON’T go to sleep without a feed!
Routine feeds are the EASIEST thing to start with because the return on investment is significant! When a baby eats AFTER they wake from a nap and THEN they have playtime, they are generally happy and content during that wake time because they’re rested and fed.
Having some structure to your daytime feeds (where you wake your baby to eat if necessary) also ensures that your baby is getting enough daytime calories to allow them to naturally stretch their nighttime sleep. Daytime calories and night sleep are connected. Especially with younger babies. It’s important that you wake your baby to eat if they don’t wake on their own, at age-appropriate intervals during the day.
Having active playtime AFTER the feed is going to make for a baby that will happily play on the floor or in a bouncer. They are rested and fed and are content because all of their needs have been met. This is also a time for them to burn off energy so when it’s time to nap again, they are worn out and ready for sleep! Even a young baby can burn off energy by doing tummy time, getting outside, or laying on the floor with toys above them to look at. Tip: Exposure to the bright light outside is great for helping to regulate babies’ circadian rhythms.
Now all you have to do is watch for sleepy signs (and use the clock as a guide) as some babies aren’t totally reliable with sleepy signs. Especially if they’re sleep-deprived. Sleep deprivation makes babies wired so they don’t show sleepy signs reliably because the cortisol in their body keeps them in a high alert state.
So once your baby starts to show sleepy signs ( fussing, red eyes, yawning, turning away from stimulation, glazed eyes) then you KNOW that it’s time to put them down. You’re NOT wondering if they’re hungry because you know they just ate and you know the fussing is because they need to sleep.
Once your baby is put down and is sleeping, the goal is that they sleep for roughly 1 ½ -2 hrs. Depending on the age of your baby and time of day. Then when they wake up it should be their next feeding time OR close to it. If it’s time for their next feed and they’re still asleep, then YES…You wake them! This ensures they don’t sleep unnecessarily long during the day and that they get to the end of the day with adequate calorie intake. You’ve now completed the Eat, Play, Sleep cycle and you’re ready to start again.
Why It Works
Doing these 3 activities in this order will stabilize your baby’s eating and sleeping patterns so that by the time they are 2-3 months old they are well on their way to a great routine. They now know day from night and this simple daytime routine is one of the components that helps to NATURALLY stretch nighttime sleep longer and longer. It also helps to regulate your baby’s circadian rhythms which is absolutely necessary for healthy sleep.
The other benefit is that it helps your baby learn “what comes next”. Giving your baby this structure in his day creates a more content, peaceful baby. Even young babies thrive with routine and structure. And while it may be loose structure in the very beginning, very quickly your baby will take to it and you will see him begin to thrive as each day begins to take shape and begin to look the same.
His hunger and sleep will start to look the same each day, as long as you’re starting your day at the same time each morning. It also helps mom to feel a sense of peace and calm as she knows how the day is going to go and can plan accordingly. We all need structure in our life to feel a sense of normalcy and safety. Babies are no different. Eat, Play, Sleep gives both mom and baby the flow to their day that they both need.
Think of it this way…
How would you feel if, every day, you awoke at different times, ate at different times, slept at different times, went to work at different times, came home at different times, got dressed at different times, brushed your teeth at different times, etc.?
You get my point!!
You would be so discombobulated and would feel terrible! If this was how we functioned as adults, our bodies and minds would be dysregulated and overall I don’t think we would be very happy people! It would be like constant JET LAG! We all know that that just doesn’t feel good to our minds or bodies. Think about how you feel coming off of a vacation. Most of us crave the routine and consistency that come with everyday life.
So while the first month after bringing home a new baby can certainly make you feel discombobulated, you don’t have to live that way for MONTHS on end. You now have a starting point.
Now does this mean you NEVER feed your baby before he goes down to sleep??
Of course NOT! If you know me you know I don’t believe in being legalistic! Sometimes we DO feed our babies before a nap and we certainly always feed before bed but those feeds are the exception, not the rule. Maintaining an Eat, Play, Sleep Routine the majority of the time is the most helpful for creating a flow in your baby’s day.
And If you’re wondering, how long should my baby’s wake windows be??
Don’t worry! I’ve got you covered…
I hope this has given you an action plan that you can start with your baby TODAY! If you want more info on how to introduce an Eat, Play, Sleep Routine into your baby’s day with ease, reach out to me and I’m happy to help you get your baby started on the path to independent sleep!