“Eat, Play, Sleep” – The BEST Baby Routine
You may be very familiar with this baby routine, or it may be completely foreign to you. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then keep reading…
Whether you have a baby that’s a few weeks old or a few months old, Eat, Play, Sleep is the routine that I recommend to ALL my families that work with me. This routine just works, and it’s one of the first steps in helping your baby to begin to regulate their eating patterns. In result, their eating patterns regulate their SLEEPING patterns.
I say this ALL of 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 to!
Let’s talk about why Eat, Play, Sleep works so well for babies!
Step 1: Eat
Once you begin to feed your baby on a flexible (meaning feeds are mostly evenly spaced throughout the day) and age-appropriate routine, you will start to see your baby’s hunger patterns line up with those feedings. 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. 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. New moms 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.
This frequent feeding has a number of downsides…One being that your baby’s digestive system NEVER has time to rest; it is constantly digesting food. 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!)
Second, 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.
Third, babies tend 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.
And fourth…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. (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! Feeding before sleep should mostly only happen before the bedtime feed and the middle of the night feeds. Notice I said mostly? This isn’t about being legalistic, but it is about being consistent.
Your baby NEEDS your help in establishing routine eating and sleeping times; he is not going to do it on his own. Starting with routine feedings will help EVERYTHING else fall into place. 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 due to being 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. Isn’t this what EVERY mom with a young baby wants?! 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.
Step 2: Play
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, fed and content, because all 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 (exposure to bright light outside is great for helping to regulate babies’ circadian rhythms) or laying on the floor with toys above them to look at.
Now, all you must do is watch for sleepy signs (and use the clock as a guide). Some young 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; the cortisol in their body keeps them in a high alert state.
Once your baby starts to show sleepy signs (fussing, red eyes, yawning, turning away from stimulation, glazed eyes, red eyebrows), then you KNOW that it’s time to put them down. You’re NOT wondering if they’re hungry as you know they just ate; you know the fussing is because they need to sleep.
Step 3: Sleep
Once you’ve done your pre-sleep routine, your baby is swaddled (if younger than 4 months) and put down and sleeping, the goal is that they sleep for roughly 1.15-2 hrs. The length of the nap would depend 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!
*Note: When babies are young, they have a tendency to have some of their naps be short (for example: 35-45 minutes). That’s OK and developmentally normal! If you can wear them or hold them to get them back down, do it. If not, then just go with the short nap, and know that this wake time will likely be shorter.
Why This Baby Routine Works
Doing these 3 activities in this order will stabilize your baby’s eating and sleeping patterns. 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 rhythm 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 and peaceful baby; even young babies thrive with routine and structure. While it may be loose structure in the very beginning, very quickly your baby will take to it. You will see him begin to thrive as each day begins to take shape and begin to look the same. His hunger and sleep patterns 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 lives 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…As an adult, if every day we woke 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 our teeth at different times, etc.
You get my point!
We would be so discombobulated; we would feel terrible! Our eating and sleeping would be so dysregulated. Our bodies and minds would constantly feel OFF, 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 home from a vacation. Most of us crave the routine and consistency that come with everyday life.
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…create an age-appropriate routine for your baby that serves your ENTIRE family and allows everyone to have a sense of peace and calm.
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. Those feeds are the exception, not the rule. Maintaining an Eat, Play, Sleep routine, most of the time, is the most helpful for creating a flow to your baby’s day.
If you’re wondering, “BUT 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 here. I’m happy to help you get your baby started on the path to independent sleep!