Is feed/play/sleep the best routine for your baby?

If you have a baby then you have probably heard about the ‘feed/play/sleep’ routine. You also may have been told that you should have your baby on this routine. ‘Feed/play/sleep’ means that you feed your baby their milk when they wake from their naps, then you play with them until they are put to bed. This routine is designed to discourage mothers from feeding their babies to sleep.

When a baby is young this can work well for them. They aren’t usually awake very long, so their play time is short and they are back in bed not long after they feed. However, as a baby grows, they are awake and playing longer before going back to bed. If they feed as soon as they wake, they will have digested most of that milk before they have their next nap. This might cause them to wake a bit earlier in their nap than they should.

Another problem with feeding as soon as your baby wakes, is that, with older babies, they don’t wake up as hungry as they did when they were tiny, so often they won’t be that interested in feeding as soon as they wake. If you do offer them a feed, they will feed but will be quite distracted and only snack. This can also contribute to sleeping problems as your baby just won’t be full enough to have long, lovely sleeps.

I find it works much better to have:

  • Play and feed when hungry
  • Wind down
  • Sleep routine

When you do it in this order, your baby is feeding when they are actually hungry. So wait until they show signs they are hungry and then feed them. You will find they won’t be distracted and will have a full feed and a nice full belly in preparation for sleep. After their feed, it is always good to do some quiet wind down to get your baby ready for sleep. It could be quiet play or some cuddles before you wrap your baby and get them ready for bed.

Babies that are fed closer to bedtime tend to sleep better and for longer. It doesn’t really matter if you feed your baby before they sleep, you just don’t really want to be feeding them to sleep, particularly as they get older. Some babies really need the wind-down that comes after feeding. If your baby is particularly alert, then feeding close to bedtime is often a way to calm them and prepare them for sleep.

If you have a baby that is catnapping, then moving the routine to the one I described above can often help. Babies sleep better with lovely full tummies. This routine can also help with night waking. If your baby feeds well during the day rather than snacking, they will tend to not wake as much during the night to feed and they may even start to stretch out their night sleeping. A win for everyone!

Article by Wattle Health resident expert, Paediatric Nurse, Jo Ryan.