This is the second part of a series dedicated to laying a good foundation for sleep with babies under six months of age.
Infant Sleep Tip #2: Create a flexible feeding and sleeping routine
A flexible routine does not mean a minute-by-minute schedule, but rather a sensible framework so that full feedings and sleeping are prioritized. Almost every sleep book on the market agrees that in general, an “eat – active time – sleep” cycle (in that order) is beneficial. In other words, feed your baby “up.” When she wakes, give her a full feeding (and burping). Then encourage her to stay awake for a short period. This is the time to engage with your baby, give her some tummy time, take her outside, etc. How long this active time should last is dictated by her age (wakeful windows get increasingly longer) and your baby’s cues. When she starts to show her sleepy cues – yawning, rubbing her eyes, zoning out, mild fussiness, etc. – you’ll know it’s time for her to rest. This cycle can be continued throughout the day, at least until the afternoon when her central nervous system is more taxed.
The beauty of this routine is that it makes parenting easier. Infants don’t differentiate their cries right away, so it can be hard figuring out why she’s not happy. However, if you know she has had a full feeding, she’s been appropriately stimulated, and now she’s fussy, she’s probably ready to sleep. On the other hand, if she’s had a partial feeding because she fell asleep during the feeding, it’s hard to read her cues. Is she hungry again? Did she not rest enough? Is something else wrong?
The “eat – active time – sleep” cycle brings other advantages too. It helps to disassociate falling asleep and eating (though it’s fine for infants to fall asleep at the breast/bottle sometimes). And for babies dealing with reflux, having upright time after feedings is crucial.