While many aspects of your baby’s life are unpredictable, there are other areas that fall into natural patterns. Research shows that babies should not be fed on a schedule, but instead, be fed on demand to ensure they are receiving what their bodies need to develop. There are also studies relating sleep training and scheduling an infant’s nighttime sleep to long-term low self-esteem, trust issues, and dependency problems. That research continues to link such sleep training to possible malnourishment and other horrible side effects. None of which a parent would ever choose for their child. But, there is ample research showing that babies (and toddlers) can thrive on natural routine. It’s the keyword ‘natural’ that comes into play here.
Natural rituals and routines do not include scheduling a baby around a parent’s wants or desires. These routines should be developed in a natural rhythm to both baby and parent, and they should occur without force, tears, or delayed gratification. Babies aren’t fruiting; they don’t spoil. Their needs and desires should be met instantly to build their sense of security, trust, and eventually developing a strong independence.
How can a parent figure out these rituals and routines without crossing the line? It is indeed simple, and the easiest place to start is mornings.
Every parent has the best intentions, but it is important to let the baby be the guide here. A newborn will do little more than eat, sleep, and need to be changed. If anything, a newborn typically needs to be woken to be fed often enough to maintain and gain weight throughout the first few weeks. This is not the time to even consider specific rituals yet because constant breastfeeding (or feeding in general) must be learned and mastered before all else falls into place.
Once the baby begins to wake up for long stretches of time, a parent has the opportunity to start learning her child. Every infant is different, but there are common cues that show a baby is hungry, such as fists being made, an open mouth, reaching hands toward the mouth, or even specific wiggling movements. These all take place before the baby will cry out, and learning them means that a parent can meet this need before the baby begins demanding (crying). There are also cues that can be noted for when an infant begins feeling drowsy. If watched close enough, a parent can even predict when the baby will pee or poop.
As these cues are being learned, the parent may also be finding comfort in a simple morning routine. Being visible to the baby soon after waking will help keep the baby from starting the day in a state of fear, and allowing the baby to hear her parent’s voice will keep her happy. As the baby grows, these rituals can be delayed if a parent is in the middle of something else, but as an infant, meeting the first needs of the day is significant.
For a parent at home, the following guide would be easy to adapt to, remembering that it can be altered to fit the needs of each baby or each family’s daily needs:
- Say Hello to Baby and Stretch Her Body
- Hold and Talk or Sing
- Change Diaper/Clothes
- Offer Milk While Talking/Reading
- Outside Time/Walk
- Feed Baby
- Rock/Sing to Sleep (Nap)
If the parent works outside of the home, then a morning routine would be much shorter, but should still include unrushed time together for bonding before being placed in the car or said goodbye to for an extended period of time.
One constant in parenthood though, is that it is never constant for long. As a baby grows, the routines will grow and need adapting. Sleep patterns will develop and then change again; teeth will cut through, coughs or colds will occur, and life will always be messy, but certain rituals can be held on to. Never has a parent said that she regretted singing to her baby, and better yet, never has an adult looked back and say that she wished her parent had not sung to her as a baby and child.
Playing music in the background, reading books, even working out next to the baby as she gets tummy time in are all valid ways to pass time as a parent. Babies are sponges, and they are ever adapting, learning, and growing. Simply talking to them and exposing them to new things can increase their intelligence and overall development. There is no reason to stick solely to ‘baby-themed’ activities and adventures.
By instilling a morning routine or rituals, a parent will feel less anxious, more confident and find comfort in her role as a mother, especially with her first baby.