Updated: Dec 29, 2020
A lot of people like the idea of routine, most of us have one, particularly in the morning and night times but for some reason we struggle to implement one consistently with our kids. Letting kids take the lead all the time can result in chaos, not only that but lack of routine can be stressful and make you feel like you have less control. Routine can make life so much easier so why does it get a bad rap?
Firstly there's some myth busting to do here, assumptions are made about routines meaning that you only feed when it's 'feeding time' and keep babies awake even when they are tired! I hear things like, 'I don't want to be chained to the house', 'my baby doesn't like routine' and 'my baby can't stay awake that long'.
There is a time and place to go with the flow and let your baby decide when to sleep and that is often at newborn stage. According to Dr. Harvey Karp babies are born 3 months too early and really just mimic time in the womb for the first 12 weeks of their life which means eat, sleep, poo, repeat. Google the '4th Trimester' for more on this. Their circadian rhythm is not fully developed and as such they haven't got night and day sussed out yet. There comes a point though, where this changes, and it's at this point that a loose structure to your day will help to gently encourage sleep at the right times.
Because babies only need a certain amount of sleep over a 24 hour period we want to encourage the bulk of this to be at night time. The best way to do this is to keep an eye on awake windows during the day that are appropriate for their age, enabling you to take the guesswork out of knowing when baby is genuinely tired. For a breakdown of how much sleep your babies need by age and the appropriate awake windows, sign up for my email list here.
In terms of feeding, babies absolutely should be fed on demand but it is possible to have structure around feeds as well. By knowing when their sleepy window is, it allows you to offer a quick top up before they go down so they are nice and full which can help them increase the duration of their naps. Not only that but it means they won't be feeding when they're exhausted and perhaps not take a full feed.
If your baby won't stay awake long enough to get onto a routine, it's usually just the awake window is not long enough, often babies under 4 months will fall asleep at any opportunity and in certain conditions like rocking, in the car, being held etc. With the knowledge of the awake window you can avoid putting them down undertired which can lead to a cycle of catnaps.
Nobody wants to be tied to the house, the only nap you really need to be at home for is the lunch nap, the other naps can all be taken on the go out and about. It's actually good for babies to get used to both of these as they grow.
The benefits of routine are huge, who doesn't want some predictability to their day? Being able to structure baby classes for when your little one can be alert enough to enjoy them and not screaming the place down making you wish you weren't even there? Babies are happier, calmer and thrive on routine, as boring as it might feel for us they really enjoy the repetitive nature of it all. They know what to expect and it helps us to know what they want as well, if you know what time they usually sleep you can rule tiredness out as an issue if they are very upset.
Routine is key for bedtime in particular, a consistent wind down 30-40 minutes before bed is a huge help in getting little ones to sleep easily and quickly in the evenings, helping them to have a better night's sleep by setting their biological clock to be sleepy at the same time everyday. The benefits of a bedtime routine for parents is you get your evenings back, a few precious hours to catch up on trashy TV or read that book that's been calling you for the past 6 months, heck maybe you even want to get an early night yourself. Also, contrary to popular belief earlier bedtimes actually mean later wake ups so it really is a win win.
Don't be afraid of routine, it really isn't that hard, once you know what the rough timings are it's easy. It may seem boring to us to do the same thing again and again but for little ones, it's such a comfort in knowing what to expect next especially when they can't communicate yet.
It also means you get to look forward to 7pm when you can sit down, fully relax and enjoy the sound of silence once again!