Baby ‘routines’, not ‘schedules’.

When writing my bespoke Sleep Plans, I only suggest overall routines, not strict schedules. This is because babies are not robots. Yes, there are average sleep needs and wake windows, but every baby is different. In my experience, imposing a strict schedule onto a parent and baby induces undue stress and anxiety. Flexibility is key when it comes to little ones! In this blog, I’m going to go into the ‘routine vs schedule’ debate in a bit more detail, explaining why I’m a fan of the former and not the latter. 

First of all, what is a ‘routine’ and what is a ‘schedule’?

It might not be obvious what the difference between a routine and schedule is. 

Schedule: a plan for performing work or achieving an objective, specifying the order and the allotted time for each part. It involves precise timings and length of activities. 

Routine: a customary or regular course of procedure. A set or regular group of activities, which you consistently perform in a certain order. 

When can I start implementing some sort of ‘routine’ or ‘schedule’?

Somewhere between 5 and 7 months, babies’ sleeping and feeding patterns become more predictable. This is when a routine can start falling into place. It’s useful to make a note of how long your little one can comfortably stay awake for and be aware that this could change through the day. This can serve as a guide when you start trying to to have a more predictable daytime routine. 

What are the pros and cons of a ‘schedule’?

If a schedule works for you, then fantastic – keep at it! However, in my experience, a strict schedule doesn’t work for the vast majority of families. This is because schedules assume babies of the same age have exactly the same sleep needs and temperaments. They also ignore developmental milestones that affect infant sleep. 

The schedules that you have access to online and in books tend to tell you when your baby should sleep and for how long. This is great but should serve only as a guide. Babies do best when we follow their cues. So, while you can use average wake windows to give you an idea when your little one should be sleeping, make sure you also tune into their sleepy cues. 

Trying a prescribed schedule can also be very stressful and complex to implement, and add a lot of stressed to already tired parents. As a new parent, I did this myself – tried a schedule I found in a book and made myself very anxious when it didn’t work for me and my baby. This really undermined my confidence as a parent. 

How is a ‘routine’ different?

A routine takes into consideration the fact that every baby is different and will have unique sleep needs that will vary day to day. A routine offers structure with flexibility, allowing you to follow your own child’s needs (and also makes sure it’s workable for you). 

In my Sleep Plans, I provide guidance on when a little one should ideally be napping and going to bed for the night. Rarely are these timings set. It very much depends on how a little one has slept the night before, what activities they have on during the day, etc. 

How can I work out the best routine for my baby?

It’s a balancing act! Use average ‘wake windows’ along with your little one’s unique sleepy cues to plan out your day. Have an understanding of when their first, second, third nap should be, and when bedtime should fall, without them becoming overtired. Then use their sleepy cues to back-up if these averages are correct. 

Note, that while there may be a ‘norm’ to your little ones’ routine, every day may be different. Some days they may be more tired meaning they need to nap more frequently or for longer. Your little one’s routine is ever evolving. As they grow, their sleep needs change. You may to start to face struggles or nap resistance at different times. Work with what they’re telling you. 

So, remember….

You can have structure without a strict schedule. Working to your little ones’ natural routine is most effective. While average wake windows and sleep needs are useful, they should only serve as a guide. Your baby is unique and will have unique sleep needs.

If you need help working out the best routine for your little one, get in touch and book a free Discovery Call. I’d love to hear from you!