You’ve probably been made well aware that your baby will never sleep through the night if you don’t enforce a routine. The crucial elements of a bedtime routine are fairly universal, including a feed, bath, book and a specific brand of baby massage oil. And, whatever you do, don’t miss that 7 o’clock bus! During the day there is more disagreement. One popular baby book insists that your baby needs to go back to bed at 8.15am, whilst another insists that you will ruin everything if your baby is asleep before 9am!
When you feel ‘all at sea’ it can be very tempting to try and claw back some semblance of control.
Like Alice down the rabbit hole, you may feel that you are going completely mad! Routines can be appealing, as you can recognise them from your old structured and organised life. Many books offer what seems like an infallible map through the disorientation. Instead, please stay a moment in your confusion. Alice in Wonderland realised:
“I can't go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
Motherhood is not academic work, to be studied and analysed. To be successful at bonding and breastfeeding you need to switch off your neocortex. It is thanks to your highly developed neocortex that you can talk, count and be logical and rational. However, oxytocin requires that thinking part of your brain to be switched off. When you are alert and attentive (for example, trying to wrangle your baby into a strict routine) your oxytocin is lowered. Low oxytocin impacts your ability to sleep, your milk ejection reflex, and the empathy, compassion and love that you feel for your baby. This is science.
Do you enjoy maths? Probably not!
If routines are making you hyper-vigilant or alert then the wrong hormones are being activated.
Strict routines and schedules put you into the logical, thinking-side of your brain. Later, in Alice’s adventures in Wonderland she comes to a startling realisation. The Mad Hatter asks her if he is mad. She replies:
“I'm afraid so. You're entirely bonkers. But, I'll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
Embrace being bonkers!!
Avoid books and professionals that ask you to document the contents of your baby’s nappies or weigh your baby daily. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you to time breastfeeds, measure millimetres of expressed milk or adhere to strict sleep schedules.
Jokes aside, I do believe a ritual is a lovely way to wind down after a long day. And, Ayurveda really values routine for creating healthy habits and grounding and balancing air and space elements. Given your life is changing rapidly right now, routine, in an Ayurvedic context, is about living in tune with the natural rhythms of the day and the seasons, and the balance of activity and rest.
And, the most important thing to keep in mind is that prior to the age of six weeks, routines don’t even work. Reviews and studies agree that there is no evidence to support the use of routines in the first six weeks of your baby’s life. The largest of the research studies found that structured parenting had no effect on night wakings before infants were 6 weeks of age.
Even if you feel like you’d enjoy a routine, now is not the time to start.
Many studies have found that more baby-led styles of parenting (including cuddling and carrying your baby, and breastfeeding on cue) reduce crying and establish breast-feeding. So, now is a really good time to go with the flow. Of course later on, when you’ve fallen in love and learned to breastfeed, you and/or your baby may find you prefer a more structured style of parenting. I’ll give you some more guidance on evidence based routines later on.
And, routines are not just for babies, but for mums too.
A newborn baby has a Newborn Mother and you have the same tender needs as your baby right now. Routines are grounding, and balance Vata, which is good for you now.
Your bedtime routine might include hot milk, a bath or shower, brushing your teeth, brushing your hair, reading a book, having a cuddle or trying to convince your partner to give you a foot rub. If you can’t sleep and find yourself tossing and turning in bed, try getting up and repeating your bedtime routine as a way to wind down, before returning to bed.
The kinds of routines that work are the kinds of good habits that allow you to switch off your thinking brain because life is monotonous and predictable.
Like eating breakfast in the morning or brushing your teeth at night. These habits help us to be healthy. Motherhood sometimes feels like Groundhog Day, but take the opportunity to go bonkers! Let the repetition turn your brain to a lovely, gooey, oxytocin mush!