Inside: Learn the 4 key baby routine essentials that makes up a perfect foundation for an easy, effective, flexible routine that will grow with your baby from infant to toddlerhood.
Whether you wake up and zombie walk your way to the kitchen for a steamy cup of coffee or your race to the bathroom to begin your morning self-care, every day begins with some sort of routine.
The same is for babies!
Don’t let the word “routine” scare you away…
A baby routine is simply a set of predictable patterns that your baby does each day including sleeping, waking, eating, and playing.
A routine is NOT a minute-by-minute schedule that makes you feel chained to the clock.
I can teach you a super simple, effective, and efficient baby routine that can grow with your baby all the way into toddlerhood!
Here’s the gist…
There are 4 important, unchanging essentials that your baby’s routine will consist of:
- wake windows,
- activity time
You will navigate your baby’s day using these 3 routine essentials by following your baby’s cues.
We’ll use the 3 C’s for the foundation of all baby routines: Connection, Communication, and Confidence.
You’ll deepen your connection with your little one, which helps you further understand their communication with you, which ultimately gives you the confidence to care for them!
Let’s jump in!
How to start a baby routine
First things first, how do you even start a routine with your baby?
The answer is simple- cues!
Your baby is constantly communicating with you, even though they cannot talk yet. Their screams, cries, and coos all mean something that they are trying to tell you. As your baby grows week by week and your bond deepens, you will begin to understand your baby’s cues and communication.
Cues are the only way a baby can communicate with you. When you follow your baby’s cues, you are offering them what they need, when they need it in order to thrive.
Follow your baby’s cues…it’s their way of communicating with you and telling you what they need.
We’ll talk more about tired cues, hunger cues, and playtime cues in this post too!
4 Baby Routine Essentials
These 3 baby routine essentials will help you create your own flexible baby routine completely tailored to YOUR little one.
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1. Wake windows- What is a “wake window”?
A wake window is simply how long your baby is up between each nap. It is counted from the length of that that they wake up from one nap until thy go back to sleep for the next nap.
That stretch of awake time is called a “wake window”.
These wake windows will stretch as your baby continues to grow and get older.
Wake windows will lengthen as your baby gets older. That’s why a 2 week old can only stay up for 30 minutes but a 1 year old will stay awake for 3-4 hours at a time.
Your baby’s wake window is the foundation for their general daily routine. Even though the wake windows change and lengthen, they will always have one until they are no longer napping (well into toddlerhood).
Baby Wake Window Chart:
1-4 Months Old: 30-60 minutes wake window
5-8 Months Old: 90-120 minutes wake window
9-12 Months Old: 2.5-3.5 Hours wake window
If your little one is starting to show tired cues and it’s 15-20 minutes before their wake window should end, don’t be afraid to begin the nap routine.
You should pay super close attention to keeping your baby up for the full wake window when they are showing signs of going through a transition- such as dropping a nap, early wakings, night wakings, etc.
Let’s talk about tired cues—because these are the cues you are going to follow that will show you the optimum time your baby is ready for sleep. That way you’re not wrestling your baby to sleep when they aren’t tired or dealing with red-faced screaming because they are overtired.
As the end of the wake window approaches, ask yourself, “Are they showing your sleepy cues?”
Tired cues include:
- Rubbing eyes,
- staring off into space,
- red eyebrows,
- slow blinking
- staring off into space
- & general fussiness with these other cues.
The main goal is to offer your child the nap to prevent overtiredness- which can lead to extreme fussiness, over hyper activity, and refusing to sleep.
Sometimes my baby can make it a full 2-hour wake window in the morning but sometimes she starts showing those tired cues early and I follow what she needs.
Utilizing an easy nap routine can help signal to your baby that a nap will soon follow those tired cues.
Did your baby wake early and is showing tired cue signs but it’s not nap time yet? Has your baby been up way too long and they are starting to get fussy?
Use your discretion and information from other parts of the day to figure out what those cues are telling you.
That’s the advantage of a flexible routine- it’s about YOUR BABY. Not a schedule designed for another child.
You can read more about sleep cues on Taking Cara Babies (I’ve used these courses when I first started my motherhood journey- and I am NOT an affiliate, just really enjoyed the information)
What do I do during a wake window?
When you’re baby is awake, you’re not simply just staring into space- your baby is very active!
Wake windows are filled with feedings, usually followed by playtime or activities. We’ll talk more about the easy activities you can do to fill these wake windows.
Related Reading: Complete Sample Routine for 0-12 Months
Naturally, the next baby routine essential is sleep. Of course, sleep is an essential part of life but especially for your baby!
After you know your baby’s wake window, next is to observe their sleep patterns and length.
Another key to better, longer sleep is a nap routine and a bedtime routine. These routines will help signal your baby that it’s time for sleep.
Just as wake windows will lengthen, daytime sleep will shorten. As your baby grows and develops, they will begin to stay up longer during the day, therefore sleeping less and having fewer naps.
It’s important to know those wake windows, number of naps and nap lengths because that will give your baby the optimum opportunity to receive all of their needed sleep time.
Here is an overview of the number of naps and nap lengths by age:
1-4 Months Old: 4 naps
5-8 Month Old: 3 Naps
9-12 Months Old: 2 Naps
14-18 Months Old: 1 Nap
Not ALL days your baby will sleep the same exact way. Don’t be alarmed when your baby’s sleep shifts from day to day or week to week. That’s why we put routines in place, to send your baby those signals without feeling like you aren’t meeting their needs.
Sleep can change due to transitions, teething, sickness, etc.
Your job is to simply offer your baby a nap. It is up to them to take it!
It’s no secret that babies love to eat! They actually eat allll dayyy loonnggg. My toddler still loves to snack 50 times a day 🙂
Babies usually eat 4-5 times throughout the day and just like with sleep, their full feeding routine will change as they continue to grow.
An infant may cluster feed every hour for the first few weeks of life. But as they develop, those feeding begin to consolidate and they are eating more quantity of food less quantity of time. As your baby grows, these feedings will be a mixture of liquids and solids, with your baby’s milk (breastmilk/formula) decreasing as solids increase.
A 3 year old won’t have 4 milk bottles a day like a 9 month old would…but you also don’t jump to those transitions abruptly. They change and stretch over time. That’s why feeding is one of the baby routine essentials. It’s one of the fundamental things your baby will do from birth and beyond.
Sample Feeding Amounts
The main key is to feed your baby every 2.5-3 hours. (Whether that’s fully breastmilk/formula or a mixture of solids and milk or just solids.)
0-6 months old– feed breastmilk/formula every 2.5-3 hours (no including cluster feeding sessions)
6-9 months old– feed a mixture of breastmilk/formula every 2.5/3 hours with adding a “meal” with solids (puree or baby led weaning)
9-12 months old– feed a mixture of breastmilk/formula every 2.5/3 hours with adding 2 “meals” with solids
12-18 months old– (can begin drinking cow milk and reduce milk feedings based on pediatrician guidelines) baby will eat about 3 solid meals a day with milk feedings being decreased as you see fit
18-24 months old– As baby grows and develops, they will drop “milk” feedings and begin to follow a toddler feeding schedule
These feeding amounts are purely for an overview of what a feeding routine will look like. But feeding is based on your baby’s hunger cues.
Always check with your child’s pediatrician/dietician/lactation consultant before making changes to feedings.
Your baby will send you “signals” when they are hungry, just like they do when they are tired. These hunger cues will tell you when your baby is ready to eat and help you create a personalized feeding routine just for YOUR baby.
That’s why “sample” feeding schedules are hard to follow. Every baby is different. It’s important to follow your own little one’s hunger cues.
Hunger cues include:
- Mouth opening (as if to suck)
- Irritability after 2.5-3 hours from the last feeding
- Puts hands to mouth
- Licking lip or puckering/smacking lips
4. Activity Time
Last but not least, the final baby routine essential foundation is activity time. This time is also called playtime!
Playtime gives your baby the ability to reach new milestones and strengthen and practice existing skills. It overall allows your baby to “get the wiggles out” and fill that wake window before their next nap.
This is a great time to practice those skills such as tummy time, strengthening the neck, learning to sit up, cruising/crawling, etc.
Fill this activity time with a combination of:
- Independent playtime– activities your baby can do by themselves in a safe, supervised location
- Connection playtime– activities you and your baby do together to strengthen your connection and deeper your bond
- Reading time– reading to your baby and allowing them to follow along/flip pages
- Exploration– allowing your baby to explore new textures, areas, and sensory items
- Imaginative play– giving your baby objects to help them grow and enhance their imagination
Activities can be used to reach new milestones, practice existing skills and strengthen/support developmental growth.
Tiny One’s Boredom Buster Activity Toolkit
Say goodbye to taking 45 minutes to prep a super complicated activity that your baby is going to play with for only 5 minutes…
Here’s a whole goldmine of fun, easy, affordable activities that will take you less than 10 minutes to prep AND that your little one will have a blast doing!
Make baby and toddler activities easy with the Tiny One’s Boredom Buster Activity Toolkit!
With over 35 activities for babies and toddlers from 2 months old to 3 years old, and over 10 templates to help you create an easy playtime activity routine that works for YOUR family, this activity toolkit is your life raft back to sanity!
Find out more about the Tiny One’s Boredom Buster Activity Toolkit here!
Practical Baby Routine Essentials
If you truly want to support every aspect of your baby’s daily routine, here are some home essentials that I use every single day that makes my routine run smoothly:
Successful Baby Routine Recap
Remember, there are 4 foundational, essential components of your baby’s day that will be unchanging as they grow:
1. Wake windows
3. Activity time
These baby routine essentials will help you create a daily routine that is tailored right to your baby that also meets them where they are developmentally!
Keep the routines simple, efficient, effective, and working for YOUR family.
Don’t be afraid of the word “routine”….just think of it as the sweet creamer being added to your must-have cup of coffee every morning 🙂
You got this, mama