The feed play sleep routine

By Professor Jane Fisher, Jean Hailes

Parents face the awkward situation of having to make decisions about how to manage family life with their own babies when there are strongly held views about what is the best thing to do. Professor Jane Fisher shares a gentle way to structure your baby’s time that is always successful.

On the one hand there are advocates for babyled care where parents provide what it is they think the baby needs at the time. On the other hand routines of daily care are suggested to be a more sustainable way of making sure that the baby feeds and sleeps well. But do they actually work?

Some of the questions I am asked most often in my work as a clinical psychologist at a residential early parenting service are about what a baby routine is and why are they important. There are many books, theories and parenting experts out there – each with a different opinion of what is right for your baby – which can not only make it difficult to know which information is reliable as a new parent, it can also lead to a sense of failure should a particular routine not go to plan with your child.

When babies are born, parents are encouraged to ‘feed on demand’. At the beginning of life it is a good idea to offer a feed when the baby wakes up or cries. As the baby grows, this can lead us to think that every cry means that the baby is hungry. This can lead to frequent short feeds interspersed with short naps.

If babies do not have enough sleep they can become irritable, and under-slept babies are less likely to feed well and grow.

We are not usually told when ‘feed on demand’ should be replaced with a pattern where feeds are separated by periods of play and enough sleep. At What Where We Thinking! (the award winning parenting program now available to new mums and dads as a blog and app), we believe that the best way to care for your baby and meet their needs of food, play time and sleep is to use a ‘feed play sleep’ routine of daily care.

The foundation of this pattern is that babies are fed when they wake and then have a play period, which might include enjoyable interactions with others, exploring or playing with a toy. When they show tired cues, like rubbing their eyes, yawning or becoming irritable, it is time to follow a pattern the baby is used to.

The pattern might include wrapping a little baby or putting an older baby in a sleeping bag, and then putting the baby to bed for a sleep. These patterns are adjusted with age, but follow the same general pattern throughout infancy.

Babies grow and flourish when their needs are well met, and they thrive when they know what to expect. We know that when parents follow a feed play sleep routine of daily care, their babies cry and fuss less and are easier to care for when they are awake.

When parents are under-slept (because they are awake to care for the baby very frequently overnight and have no daytime rest), they are less able to concentrate, plan or make decisions and are more likely to be irritable, agitated and downhearted.

Parents have to talk about many practical aspects of life together once they have a baby that did not need to be discussed before. It can be difficult to agree on routines, but this is when your baby’s well-being should be held in mind. Sometimes for example, the parent whose hours of employment mean that they are home after the baby is due to go to bed yet they still want to be able to see and play with them. This then leads to the baby being overstimulated, tired and difficult to settle and to an argument between parents. It is important to remember that a baby is not an object of entertainment and that babies benefit when their needs are put ahead of either parent’s preferences or wishes.

Note: The views and advice expressed on this blog post are those of the author and are not representative of the Pregnancy Babies & Children's Expo.

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