Is it possible to create a good sleeper without the need for a rigid routine?
Can my baby sleep well and have a relaxed and flexible routine or do I have to introduce a structured schedule in order to achieve this?
We will be talking all things routine, sleep, more relaxed approaches with your baby,what it means to have a routine and how this affects your babies sleep pattern and ability to sleep well. I will explain as best as I can for you and from my experience, what I feel works best in the general sense, when it comes to encouraging your baby to sleep longer, particularly at night time when you are so exhausted!
Do you have a routine in place for your little one, are you much more of a, go with the flow parent or do you feel more confident when you have structure to your day? There is no right or wrong answer!
Lets chat about structure. A structured routine can be put into place as early as 3 months old if you choose. It simply means that you have a regular feeding and sleeping pattern which enables you to have a more predictable and structured day. Having this type of routine, for some, means you can plan things around your baby which can allow you to also have time for yourself and to also feel like you are are in control of your day. This type of routine can benefit families who function better as a family when they know what is to be expected and what is happening next. Families with multiple children may find this kind of schedule beneficial as they juggle the needs of more than one child.
Babies who have structure and routine also benefit from this too as they also come to learn what is happening next and when their feed times and sleep times are about to happen. Babies do feel more at ease and content with structure and once the routine is well established, along with feeding, your baby can feel much calmer as their days become more predictable. As a parent, having similar timings each day, allows you to plan outings, appointments or play dates around your babies feed or sleep times. This type of structure does not work for all but it certainly can have its benefits. Equally though, on the flip side, some may feel that planning activities around your babies sleep or feed times can often feel restricting. It really is personal preference and coincides with your personality and the way in which you would typically get through your days before having a baby!
What happens if I have a routine and my baby isn't sleeping well?
In this instance, it is possible to have routine and still have a baby that does not sleep so well. As a Maternity Practitioner, I would then observe your baby sleeping and also take a look at your babies routine and sleep environment. It could be that your little ones sleep space is too bright, too cramped or too noisy. There can sometimes be minor tweaks to the schedule or the way in which you deal with a sleep situation. There may be some feeding problems, tummy issues (reflux or colic etc) or maybe your babies awake periods are being overstretched which will leave your baby feeling overtired and this is often a common denominator in unsettled nap times and disruptive sleep in general. Take a look at awake periods and what is right for your babies age below: Taking note of these, can certainly ensure your baby is not going to bed exhausted and therefore making it almost impossible for you to get your baby to settle down to sleep.
Ensuring your babies awake times are correct for your their age, allows you to manage your babies sleep times and ensuring a more restful sleep. When babies become overtired they release the stress hormone, cortisol, which then makes it increasingly difficult for your baby to get to sleep, you may notice them thrashing around, screaming loudly, waking often through their naps and even waking very early from their night time sleep. Trying to get your baby down to sleep before they become overtired is important and you do not have to wait until they are completely exhausted as this usually has the opposite desired affect and you will find yourself trying for long periods to get your baby to settle.
Taking a more relaxed approach to your days does not mean you will have a baby who can not sleep! You can still have flexibility and a little one who is capable of sleeping through the night!
What if I do not want to stick to a schedule with my baby?
If you choose to opt for a more relaxed and go with the flow approach with your baby, you can still have a baby who sleeps well and is calm and content. It is a myth, that if you respond to your babies every need and feed them on demand, you are spoiling them or they will not be able to sleep well. You can indeed have a good sleeper and still take a more relaxed approach to your babies day.
If you have the fundamental parts of your babies routine in place then it is absolutely possible to take this approach. Ensure your baby is well fed, if you are breastfeeding, then focus on establishing the feeding firstly. If you are choosing to bottle feed your baby then you may well reach a feeding pattern earlier on in your feeding journey and potentially with less effort as you can manage the amounts per feed which makes it a little easier to predict when their next one is due.
Encouraging your babies to sleep by placing them down for some of their nap times during your day, preferably in their own rooms too and not just at bedtime, can all help with self settling, creating positive and calming sleep routine. Using props such as swaddle blankets and white noise, can also all help to encourage positive sleep habits from early on. These do not have to be rigid and heavily enforced in order for your little to one to sleep well and without needing you for all of their sleeps, you are simply helping them to have a restful sleep by encouraging some naps and their night time sleeps in their own space, safely and calmly. In using the above sleep aids, ensuring your baby is well fed and they have not exceeded their awake periods, there is no reason why you can not create a good sleeper. Remember that in order for you to function day to day, deal with any sleep situation and feed effectively, then you also need to get some sleep!
You can be responsive parents AND get your little one to sleep well. You can start from as early as 8 weeks old by encouraging those good sleep habits early on. You can have a relaxed routine, with all of the above in place and some gentle encouragement from you, it is possible to get some quality sleep.
Those first few months are a blur of feeding, burping and changing nappies, but you do start to notice a familiar pattern once feeding is well established and you get to know your baby.
Once you gain your confidence and find your way, you can decide which approach best suits you and your family. There is no definitive and right way, their is only your way.