Ever wondered what on earth you’re supposed to be doing with your baby all day?
New parents often talk about days flying by at an alarming rate when looking after a newborn baby.
It’s an endless cycle of nappy changes, feeding, desperate efforts to get them down for a nap, and tummy time.
Once you’re in a very vague routine, it’s like Groundhog Day on speed. Every three hours, the cycle repeats itself once again: feed, burp, play, sleep.
We all have days when we look at the clock and can’t believe it’s 4 pm, and we’re still in our PJs.
But what about the days that drag? Yes, when you’re juggling visitors, cleaning, appointments and cooking, it seems impossible to fit everything in.
Then the initial newborn buzz calms down, and you’re beginning to get a sense of what having a baby is all about; what happens next?
Am I Doing Enough With My Baby?
Of course, there are the obvious things that need doing, like feeding and sleeping. The first six weeks are filled with thinking about and working towards getting these things “right”.
But once you have had a chance to draw breath and realise there are gaps in the day, what on earth do you do with them?
It seems like other mothers must know the secret to what you’re supposed to be doing with your baby all day.
When you’re stuck at home with a baby and feeling bored, it can feel like it’s just you who isn’t getting what you should be doing with your baby.
The baby lies there, staring, then crying, then staring again. They’re too young to play with toys.
You can stick something in their hand for 10 seconds before dropping it, but they don’t immediately start doing entertaining tricks with their rattle.
By the time you’ve tried a bit of tummy time (which probably ended in crying after 30 seconds), waved a few toys in their face and walked them around the kitchen, showing them all the utensils, you’re probably out of ideas.
You can’t, and probably don’t want to, spend all day out at baby groups or meeting people for coffee. There are only so many hours you can waste in Costa.
Baby groups can be lovely, but they’re not everyone’s cup of tea. If you don’t enjoy them, that’s fine. You haven’t failed a crucial mummy test.
But if you do love baby groups, those only go so far towards filling the hours in your day.
Plus, if you’re exhausted from a night of sleep deprivation, then the last thing you want to do is plaster on make-up and face a group of people.
You might have friends that have had kids at a similar time. But can you spend ALL day every day with them?
The fact is, there are some afternoons or entire days when you’re at home and do not know what you’re supposed to be doing with your newborn.
You can’t sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star again. You’ve already sung it 40 times.
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It’s OK Not to Play With Your Baby Every Second of the Day
So all of this leads to the question, is it ever acceptable to just (whispers) let your baby get on with it and ignore them?
The answer is yes, yes it is.
And please stick with me here before you recoil in horror and think I’m suggesting you cut off all physical and eye contact with your baby.
Engage with your baby, play with them. Do that as much as you like.
But you don’t have to fill their awake time all day every day with play and educational activities. It is acceptable to put them on their play mat to have a kick around while you sit back and watch Netflix.
This pressure that we put upon ourselves to entertain our baby and be the perfect mother throughout all of their waking hours is just exhausting.
No one can be a cartoon character-come-to-life all of the time. And that is not the measure of a great mother.
The truth is that if you give your brain and body a little time to rest throughout the day, you will be a better and more enthusiastic parent for it.
When you say to ignore your baby, this does not mean you leave them in a room and walk away. This means you get them set up on a play mat, or in a bouncy chair, in the same room as you.
Then you make sure they are happy before picking up a book or turning on the TV so that you can switch off a little.
Attend to your baby when they need you to. But as long as they are happy, let them carry on playing while you relax and switch off for half an hour.
Leaving your baby to entertain themselves does not make you a negligent parent. You’re nurturing skill and a part of themselves that’s so important, the part that’s OK to be on their own, in their head, for a little while.
If your baby is crying, of course, comfort them. But if they’re happy to kick and squeal on the floor for a bit, let them get on with it.
So if you are bored of being at home with your baby all day, a bit fed up and wondering whether it’s OK to switch on the telly for a couple of hours, we, as a result of this, permit you to do so. No guilt required!
A Day in the Life of a Newborn
Newborns spend most of their time sleeping between feeds. Each sleep period is around 2 to 3 hours.
However, your baby may start to stir after 40 minutes and may need your help to settle back into sleep again. In 24 hours, they may be asleep for 16 hours
Your baby cannot tell the difference between sleeping during the day and night and will probably wake for feeds 2 to 3 times during the night.
Once your baby is a month old, they may start sleeping for more extended periods at night, and from 3 to 6 months, they may sleep for 4 to 5 hours at a time.
Because a newborn’s sleep patterns change regularly, it is good to take it slowly and remain flexible in the first few months.
Whether you choose to breastfeed or bottle-feed, your baby will need about 6 to 8 feeds in 24 hours, for a total of around 2 to 5 hours a day.
Breast milk is easily digested, so if you are breastfeeding, your baby may even feed up to 12 times a day.
At certain times, your baby may feed very frequently, which is called cluster feeding. After the cluster feed, they might have a longer sleep.
If you want to calculate the time between feeds, you should work out the time from the beginning of the last meal, not the end.
As well as providing your baby with the vital nutrition that they need to grow, feeding your newborn is a great way to have some cuddle time.
Cuddling and Playing
Making time for cuddling and playtime with your baby as part of your daily activities is essential for their growth and development.
The key is to interact with your newborn rather than giving them games and toys. Ideas for playing include:
- making eye contact, smiling and talking
- singing nursery rhymes
- taking your baby for a walk
- reading or telling them a story
- making faces
- blowing raspberries
Other play ideas include:
- giving your baby different things to look at and feel while talking to them
- giving your baby supervised tummy time each day
- making sounds
- giving your baby a massage
Playtime might involve cuddling or having a quiet stretch and kick on a blanket for some babies.
Some may want only 10 minutes to play at one time, while others may prefer longer. It is best to pay attention to your baby’s behaviour; if they seem upset or unsettled, they may be frightened, tired or overwhelmed.
If so, try a quieter activity later on. Alternatively, you may notice from their behaviour that they are getting tired and need to sleep.
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Sometimes it seems as if your baby is constantly crying! This is normal and is a way for your newborn to communicate with you.
About 1 in 10 babies cry more than 3 hours a day. You may find that your newborn cries more in the afternoon or early evening than at other times.
When your baby is crying, check if they are hungry, tired or uncomfortable.
They may need feeding, settling to sleep, a clean nappy, or your baby could be too hot or cold. They could be frightened, needing a cuddle, excited or overtired.
As you get to know your baby better, you will recognise different types of cries and what they mean. Responding to your baby’s crying is an essential part of trust and bonding.
Part of your daily routine will also involve regularly changing nappies and washing your baby.
What Routines Can I Start With My Newborn?
It helps to remain flexible with newborns. However, you might choose to start doing simple things with your baby in similar order when it comes to sleeping, feeding and playing:
- when your baby wakes from sleep, offer them a feed
- in the middle of, or at the end of the meal, change your baby’s nappy
- have a cuddle, talk and playtime
- settle your baby down to sleep
At night you may prefer to skip playtime and try to settle them back to sleep.
A Newborn Routine That Works Every Time
So let’s talk about how to get your newborn on a routine where they feed, “play”, and sleep in set patterns that are beneficial to everyone involved.
Baby, siblings, and adults. Routine is not a dirty word. It routinely brings sanity to an otherwise chaotic home environment.
Some mothers thrive on a lucky day, and that’s great for them and their kids, but some mothers need structure to make it through.
So I’m not saying it’d work for every baby and not for every mom, but it’s all worth a try.
Sample Newborn Routine
Note these approximate, but most days, we are very close to each of the times listed.
Your sample newborn schedule might look different, then be tweaked to work for you. The biggest key is the intervals of feeding and sleeping.
7:30-8:00 am – wake up and feed
8:30 am – down for a nap
10:30 am – feed, change the diaper, play
11:10 am – down for a nap
1:00 pm – feed, change the diaper, play
1:40 pm – down for a nap
3:30 pm – dinner, change the diaper, play
4:10 pm – down for a nap
6:00 pm – dinner, change diaper, space, bath
6:30 pm – down for a catnap
7:30-8:00 pm – change a diaper, put to bed for the night
8:30 pm – feed (cluster feeding even)
10:30-11:00 pm – dream feed swaddled, put back to bed
Tips and Things to Note:
- At night feed swaddled to communicate they should stay asleep, and during the day, unswaddle to feed, which helps wake them up.
- Yawning, tugging ears, staring off into space, and eye rubbing are signs of tiredness; crying is usually a sign of overtiredness. Waiting until they call to put them to sleep will likely result in a baby who can’t get to sleep on its own
- It’s OK to wake a sleeping baby during the day to feed them, really it is. Letting babies sleep long stretches during the day will not help in the day/night confusion issue.
- Earlier to bed and nap is always best! Wearing them out will backfire.
- If we’re out of the house, don’t attempt to keep the same schedule, but try to feed them at the same time as usual or put in an extra feed before you leave so they don’t get hungry while you’re in the checkout line at Wal-Mart.
The Key to a Good Newborn Routine
This may be so simple it goes without saying, but the key to a good routine is keeping the way. It can be tricky to remember everything in order when you’re beginning, but once you get the hang of it, the routine will be second nature.
What Do New Mothers Do All Day?
We hear from women amid a transition to motherhood that they are struggling to get their little ones to sleep and respond to the demands of infant life.
Some may ask, “So, do you just not get anything done then??”
Mums, we want to tell you the truth. Here it is:
You Will Not Get Anything Done When You Are Home With a Baby.
And anyone who told you otherwise is not being very forthcoming (or perhaps they have a lousy memory).
You might get yourself fed.
You might get yourself dressed (then again, you might not).
You might take a walk (it makes the baby happy).
You might have a short phone conversation or start a load of laundry, neither of which you will finish.
This is your new mom normal.
So what are you doing all day?
Not much that can be measured.
You’re simply responding appropriately and with patience (through fatigue) to smiles, to tears, to hunger cues and drowsiness, teaching your baby how to navigate this complex and (to a baby) highly emotional and raw world.
You are keeping your baby clean, which on some days involves more costume changes (for both of you) than any non-mother can begin to fathom.
You are teaching a tiny, helpless person all about the world—at least the essential parts, like how we treat each other and what it means to be connected to a family.
You are creating a foundation of love and trust between you and your baby, one that will help you set your parenting compass, inform your future interactions, and provide a basis for the way your child relates to the larger world.
You may be breastfeeding your baby—another time-consuming task (though once established, it takes less time than bottle feeding) that reaches forward through time to heal and protect your child and simultaneously reduces your risk of disease.
Oh, and you’re becoming a mother.
It started the day your baby was conceived, and it continues beyond birth.
Your baby is stretching and growing into this new body, and you are too.
But that’s about it. That’s your day.
Our culture doesn’t have an excellent way to measure what you are accomplishing.
Your baby will grow and meet milestones: check.
To the untrained eye, most of this work will look like nothing at the end of the day.
But we know better.
There is no more significant task than the “nothing” you did yesterday, the “nothing” you are doing today and the “nothing” you will do tomorrow.
Caring for a baby is all about the direct experience, yet the first two years are about investment.
It’s given, gives, give and give some more.
These are hard-fought, rough-and-tumble years that can cut us down to our core and take us soaring high above the clouds, all in the space of five minutes.
And yes, as you do the most challenging work of your life, it will seem like you’re not getting anything done at all. Crazy, huh?
But here’s where it gets interesting:
As much as you need and want a break now (and you should take one whenever you can), no mother has ever looked back on this time and thought, “I wish I had held my baby less.”
You will not remember the dishes that didn’t get done, the vacuuming that you couldn’t make happen or the dirty clothes you wore more often than you’d like to admit.
You will remember the first smile, the first belly laugh, the first words, the first steps.
You will remember the way you looked at your baby and the way your baby looked at you.
So the next time you find yourself wondering how another day is gone and nothing is done, stop.
Hold your baby—feel the way that tiny body strains to contain this giant soul—full of potential all at the same time.
Take a deep, slow breath.
Close your eyes and measure your day not as tasks, but as feelings, as sounds, as colours.
Exhaustion is part of it.
And it’s true; you will get “nothing” done.
But the complex parts will fade.
The intense, burning love is what remains, and it is yours to keep forever.
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