- Navigating sleep organization – and how to prioritize you
From the moment your baby is born well meaning friends and family start to give advice. You might have heard that you should put your child on a schedule practically from birth. Then when you do that you hear people tell you that you are too strict, too rigid with the routine, especially when you start to miss parties, play dates and dinners. Which is right? Should you really be a slave to your baby’s sleep schedule?
Your baby’s sleep routine is the one that gets discussed the most, and provides a lot of worry for parents. You know you are on the right track with feeding when your baby gains weight, but it can be harder to know if you are doing sleep right. As a newborn your baby’s sleep is very irregular and their longest period of sleep can happen at anytime of the day or night. From 4 months onwards babies start to develop defined nap times. There will be windows of time when your baby will fall asleep easier and sleep better. When babies sleep outside these windows of time poor quality sleep happens. With these defined nap times you can start putting your baby down to sleep with one eye on the clock and the other eye on their behavior. At 4 months your baby will also lengthen those naps and their bedtime becomes earlier.
As a parent you want your baby to be involved in fun activities, educational classes and socialize with babies their own age. Once a week scheduling an activity that gets in the way of naps isn’t likely to be a big deal, especially for a well-rested baby. If your baby has a short morning nap or misses it entirely you will need to bring their next nap up a bit to prevent a second wind making it difficult for them to fall asleep. Also, moving bedtime earlier will help. It is important to watch your baby though as skipping naps can lead to crankiness, tantrums and overtiredness. Babies are different and some babies may handle it better than others.
Sometimes we need to get some tasks done outside the house or know that we will be travelling back from an activity around naptime. Because of this we decide that the nap will take place in the stroller. This might be okay every once in a while but stroller naps have their own issues. Sleep is generally not as healthy when it takes place in a moving stroller because babies don’t sleep as deeply or for as long. This means babies wake up feeling less rested than when they sleep in their crib. If there is no getting around a stroller nap, which is inevitable sometimes, then compensating with an earlier bedtime is important. Alternatively if you can stop that stroller and have a rest yourself on a park bench or enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch at a café, this will also help make the nap more restorative.
Finding an appropriate bedtime can be difficult, especially for working parents who want to spend time with their babies when they get home. We also want to be able to say yes to dinner invitations or a party every now and then. A reasonable bedtime is important for a well-rested baby. It helps prevent early wake ups, night wakings and ensures good naps throughout the day. If your baby’s bedtime is regularly too late the effects will build up and cause overtiredness and sleep problems will emerge. An occasional slightly late night might be okay for a well-rested baby, but you will need to be willing to make up for it the next day.
Now that we have discussed the complexities of your baby’s sleep, should we be a slave to their schedule? I would never tell you not to have the occasional deviation. Sometimes things happen that will get in the way. The most important thing is to make adjustments to your baby’s sleep schedule when it does, to keep your baby as well rested as possible. Have some early bedtimes, bring up the next nap to a bit earlier to prevent a second wind if they missed or had a short morning nap. Bedtime in general is always based on your baby’s age, activity level during the day, quality of naps and time since they woke from their last nap. Well-rested babies will bounce back more easily from changes to their schedule if parents are aware of their needs. Babies who regularly miss their appropriate nap times or bed times become overtired and start to have sleep problems. When you are reasonably organized with your baby’s sleep – with routines and schedules – your baby will also learn to embrace sleep.