Can a Baby’s Routine Really Be Flexible?
Often when I meet clients who are having difficulty with their baby’s sleep, they ask whether I’m going to give them a really strict routine to stick to. They don’t understand how a routine for their baby can fit into their busy life, especially if they have a toddler or older child. But babies, toddlers and children need routine so that their basic needs are met, they feel safe and secure and as a result will be happier and more well behaved. So I always reassure them that the routines that we put together take into account “real life” and all the other commitments that come with it.
By the time I became The Sleep Fairy, I was already a mum, and even though I only had one child at the time, I had made her routine work around a number of other commitments, including working as a nanny and taking her with me. At its most tricky, my work had involved a one hour commute to look after a newborn (from 3 weeks old), a one year old and a four year old, while my daughter has only one year too! So I know that it is essential, and not impossible, for a routine to be flexible, and for babies to be a bit flexible too.
There are some things that you can’t change in a baby. Like the fact that they are going to need to feed/eat every 3-4 hours, they will need to sleep for 2-4 hours or more a day, and that they will need changing frequently. But the exact times that you do all of these things does not need to be set in stone. What you do need, is to engage your brain at the beginning of the day, work out how you need to alter the timings of feeds, sleeps and journeys over the day so that things fall into place.
Since having my second child, Luca, who is now one, I have had to work through these flexibility issues once again as with a big sister of 11, who wants to be an actress, he gets dragged off to clubs and classes almost every day. And then there are the play-date pick-ups too!
On a bad week, things look like this:
- Monday – Drama runs from 5.15-6.15
- Tuesday – Musical theatre is 4.30-5.30 and dance is 6.15-7.30
- Wednesday – Gym is 7.00-8.00
- Thursday – Trampolining is 5.00-6.00
- Friday – Nothing after school
Some people may say that she’s doing too much, but that is not the point of this blog (she is but she wants to do it all and I indulge her)! The point is that if I don’t have anyone else around, my baby/toddler has to come on most of those journeys with me, and most of them are either at his tea time, bath time or bed time!
His routine is flexible:
- 6.30/7.30 Wake up and feed
- 7.30/8.00 Breakfast
- 10.00/11.00 Sleep
- 12.30/1.00 Lunch
- 2.00/3.00 Sleep
- 5.00/6.00 Dinner
- 7.30/8.30 Bed
But if I know that we need to get in the car at 5.30, I start his dinner at 5.00. If I know that we need to pick up from gym at 8.00, I bath him and have him ready for bed before we leave and he falls asleep in the car. If we are going to be out in the day, I ensure that we are somewhere I can give him lunch between 12.00 and 1.00, and I know that he will have shorter naps in the car and pram on and off through the day. I always have a sling or carrier with me so that if it all gets a bit too much, I can snuggle him in and he will chill out or fall asleep.
Once you have your baby in a good routine, and they fall asleep easily and independently, they will usually cope with changes to their routine as long as you are not expecting them to get through the day without their basic needs for food, sleep and love being met.