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Newborn Routine: Do You Need One Or Should You Go with the Flow?

Should you set your new arrival up with a feeding and sleeping newborn routine? Or is that not necessary, and you should simply live in the moment and be spontaneous? We look at this, plus possible routines which may work in your household.

Is a newborn routine for sleeping and eating really necessary? Wouldn’t it be better to play it by ear, responding to your newborn’s needs as they arise? Or, should you have a set time for sleeping and feeding, and not deviate from the planned schedule at all?

Ask any parent or about to be parent for their thoughts on the necessity of a newborn routine, and you'll receive completely different answers. Talk with a midwife, Plunket nurse or GP, and you’ll most likely get different opinions too.

That’s because there is no hard and fast must follow newborn routine. What there is though, is plenty of different schools of thought on what is best for baby. Today we’re going to explore some of them with the aim of helping you choose the right one for your expanding family.


A routine for a newborn is like a schedule of when your baby should eat and should sleep. They’re too young to be concerned with play at the moment, but rather focused on developing a bond with Mum.

You’ve likely heard horror stories about newborns who wouldn’t sleep and exhausted parents. You’ve also heard about newborns who wouldn’t feed properly and had to be closely monitored because of this.

Routines were introduced to help parents and their babies settle down into a manageable daily schedule. The idea is that this will create predictability, make things easier to handle, and benefit everyone.

But a rigid structure doesn’t suit every new mum and baby, and that’s okay too. In the routine suggestions we’ll share next, it’s fine to take parts from one and not others. It’s also ok to use the ideas and make your own routines too.

As to whether you need a routine or if you should let spontaneity rule, that’s up to you. As long as you, baby and your family are happy and healthy, do what feels best. It is a good idea though, to keep your options open in case things do go pear shaped, so keep reading…


Let’s cut right to the chase here: when you have a newborn, your sleep goes out the window. You’re feeding baby approximately eight to twelve times a day, including every two to four hours overnight.

That means if you manage an hour’s sleep between feeds, you’re having a great night. A newborn will not pay any attention to the time of day it is. Nor will they want to go back to sleep just because it is dark outside.

This results in a new mum who is sleep deprived and cannot do things around the house when she would normally do them. Hence the reasons why parents start putting into place sleep routines. The feed, play, sleep routine has been around for a while. The idea is that you:

  • Feed – baby has just woken up from their nap. They are hungry and the first thing you need to do is feed them. If it is daytime, be sure that there is plenty of natural light. At night-time, keep things dark and quiet.
  • Play – obviously not suitable for young newborns, but instead this is the time you change their nappy and spend cuddling them. The minute you notice tired signs (yawning, eye rolls or rubbing) put them back in bed!
  • Sleep – you start settling baby back into bed. Swaddling helps settle a newborn, as does white noise.
The feed, play, sleep newborn routine tends to be on a four hourly timetable, which starts when your baby wakes up to feed. Feeding takes around half and hour, the ‘play aspect’ also around 30 minutes, and then hopefully baby then sleeps for around three to four hours. We say hopefully. As for how long a newborn should sleep, forget about sleeping throughout the night. A newborn won’t, and it’s only as babies get older than some (we repeat, some) will sleep all night long.


Currently, many newborn health professionals are recommending on demand feeding for infants. This means that when your baby is hungry, you feed them, even if they were just fed one hour ago.

On demand feeding works well for breastfeeding mums, as they have the supply on tap and feeding regularly only helps to increase milk supply. As formula is more filling, this frequent cluster feeding is less likely to occur for bottle fed babies. The Plunket website says that newborn babies feed at least 6-8 times per day and can feed up to 12 times. Some infants will want to feed often, while others could go 3-4 hours between feeds.

This is most likely why feed on demand is so popular – because a newborn doesn’t get hungry on a set schedule and nor should you only feed to a set schedule! As they get older though, you may be able to adjust feeding times slightly. This could include waking your baby before their natural rising in the morning.

This can help your baby to adjust their body clock and start waking when you’re ready for them to be awake. It is important to note that if you have a new-newborn, they should not be sleeping longer than four hours. If they are, you will need to wake them to feed, even if they are not showing signs of waking or of being hungry.


You can have routines for just about anything, including:
  • When putting baby to bed, you swaddle them, rock them and place them into their cot, resting your hand on their tummy till they settle.
  • At night-time after the dinner time feed, it’s bath time which is followed by a baby massage.
  • You use a diffuser and nightlight with essential oils during the night in baby’s nursery. It’s the same oil, and the same pulsing light you select each night.
  • During the day, you keep the house noisy, bright and active. This means feeding baby in a noisy place outside of their nursery.
  • At nappy changing time, you always sing the same song when removing their nappy. Then you rub lotion and cream on while making funny faces.
  • Between 10 and 11 at night, you do a dreamfeed for baby, in the hope this will top them up, so they sleep a little longer for you. Once again, we say hope.

The thing with routines to note, is that they will change without notice too. What happened last week, or even yesterday, may be gone forever.

Adapting to these changes and not forcing a schedule on yourself or baby is important. You are both learning how to live with each other, and unfortunately, there is no baby manual. Just the advice of well-meaning family, friends and health professionals.

If there was one key message we’d like to get across, it’s that a newborn routine must work for you and your baby. Regardless of what anyone else thinks, if both of you are doing fine, go with what your heart and gut says. A mum’s intuition is strong! Good luck.

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