A rhythmic, ordered life is nourishing to the young child. This includes the littlest children as well! Bringing rhythm into your baby's days and life will benefit both you and your baby, as well as the rest of your family.
Remember that a life of rhythm and routine is not about harshly scheduling your baby. Rhythm is more natural, organic, and can flow. It is always there to hold the family, and to carry the family - but it does not bind the family.
If you are still pregnant and preparing for your baby's birth I urge you to let go of all expectations for your baby's first few weeks of life. This is a time when you will be getting to know your baby and he or she will be adjusting to life outside of you. Spend lots of time talking to and bonding with your baby, and get as much rest as you, yourself, can possibly get.
Once your baby is two weeks old or so is a good time to begin working with rhythm. Begin before or after based on your own feelings about it - just don't try to tax yourself too soon after giving birth.
Start by deciding a guiding rhythm for your own day. If you have older children this may be easy since you probably already have set waking, eating, and bedtimes (if not, this is a good time to work on it!) If this baby is your first you will need to have more discipline with yourself. It was far easier for me to give my second and third child a rhythmic babyhood than it was with my first.
But begin by setting a time to wake (or to wake baby if you prefer to rise earlier) in the morning, a time to eat your meals (and you should really be getting snacks too!), and a time put baby to bed. You do not have to be rigid about these times. A general "around 8 o'clock, around noon, etc." is good. I do recommend you research bedtime and choose an early bedtime for your baby. My own children go to bed at 7 o'clock!
Now that you have those cornerstones begin to live life with your new baby - or older baby! Wake in the morning, dress or freshen up. Get baby ready for the day. Eat breakfast and nurse baby. Then you may want to do some housework with baby in the sling, take a walk outside with baby, or nurse baby some more ;)
When you sit down to have your snack, nurse baby. Your baby will come to associate this snacktime with nursing. Gradually you can work towards the morning nap being just after this snacktime. It's a matter of gradually adjusting your baby into this rhythm and routine. My second baby fell into this quite by accident because I simply always had the morning snack and nursed him. I encouraged it with my third baby!
The same is true for lunch. Nurse your baby right after lunch, or during lunch. I set out a meal for my first and then nursed my second on my Boppy at the table while we ate lunch. Then I put my second into the bouncy set next to me to sleep and had my lap free to rock my first for her nap. I did the same with my third.
As a young baby my second would nap in his bouncy seat for about an hour while I napped in the chair. He would then wake and I would pick him up and nurse him again, then put him back down in a bassinet where he slept for another two hours. Yes, a three hour nap! My first and I got some nice time together in while he snoozed away nearby. It was similar with my third child.
Again, this is a gradual, gentle process. Hold the truth that this is your family's rhythm and pattern for the day. Know that your baby will gradually join into this family pattern. If you hold that expectation within you'll watch with delight as your baby falls into this rhythmic day!
Have your baby in a sling as you work around the home in the afternoon and have her nearby during supper - or at supper if she's an older baby! Your young baby will probably want to nurse upon waking from the afternoon nap and during the evening time, but do try to encourage him to stay awake in the couple of hours before bedtime.
Begin a soothing bedtime routine early. A small baby can wake at Four in the afternoon and still be ready for bed by Seven. You'll find a routine that you like and works for your baby. The picking up of toys together, closing the curtains, washing hands and face, a fresh diaper and pajamas, and lullabies and rocking will help your baby to know bedtime is coming.
Rock and nurse your baby, then lie him down to sleep. If you have a family bed you may want to lie down with your baby and nurse until he is asleep, then get back up. I always preferred nursing my young babies down and then putting them into a bassinet near me, out front, while I read or worked for a bit.
If your baby wakes again, simply nurse her to sleep again and put her back to bed. This early bedtime will give you time for you. To bathe, shower, spend time with your partner, read, chat with friends on the phone or computer, or just have some silence.
This gentle start will develop as your baby grows. Keep the cornerstones of your day and other rhythms will develop with it. Of course there will be days when you are dancing the entire day through with a fussy baby, or nights where your baby will not sleep - these are part of having an infant! But a rhythmic day will be wonderful for you and your baby.
It will also encourage you to be home with your baby! Schedule your errands for one or two weekday mornings and honor baby's routine. Honor the afternoon nap and especially bedtime. This is sacrifice on your part but it's best for your baby, and it will be best for your child for many, many, many years. Happiness for your baby is being with you, riding in the sling as you do housework and taking walks in the neighborhood and nature.
This simplicity of life and peacefulness of rhythm is a gift that comes with having babies and young children. I also encourage you to cover your television with a pretty cloth. Your baby and your young child does not need it. Show your baby your home and neighborhood instead. Include baby in your life - not at the center, and not occupied by a television at the edges of it - and your baby will be happy.
Sing to your baby as you move throughout the day. Your baby loves it and doesn't care how good your voice is! You may also like to learn some simple nursery rhymes and children's verses to associate with your rhythm. For instance - Three Men in a Tub at bathtime, Polly Put the Kettle On at snacktime, and so on :)
Know your cornerstones and gently guide your baby into your daily routine. Honor baby's rhythm. Sing some songs and learn some verses. Let baby see your home life and nature from the sling. Remember there will be some days that are hard. And trust that this life will nourish and uphold your baby, and you, too!