When you were pregnant, I’m sure you were told this more times than you could count. Once the baby was here, I bet you were continually reminded about how important this was.
What am I talking about?
Before I had Alfie, all I was told was how important it was to get him in a routine as early as possible. I remember being told that babies respond better to routine, and that I should get him feeding and sleeping at regular times as soon as possible, ideally from 6 weeks. Before I had Alfie I 100% agreed. He would be in a routine of feeding every 4 hours, then having a sleep. I was going to do bath, feed, story, bed time at the same time every night. I wasn’t going to deviate from this routine.
Then I went and actually had a baby. From the first moment my labour started to go wrong, I knew this baby wasn’t going to follow my plan. You can do all the planning in the world, but things can still go wrong. You can be as organised as you like, but it doesn’t mean baby is going to follow your lead. That’s when I decided that routine wasn’t for me.
Admittedly, I did try. Whether you formula feed or breastfeed, the advice is to feed on demand, which is what I did. But I became a bit obsessed with timing each feed to see what kind of pattern developed. The answer? No pattern. Sometimes Alfie would feed every hour for 30 minutes, sometimes he’d feed every 45 minutes for 10 minutes, sometimes he’d feed every 2 hours for an hour. It was random, it was unpredictable and it followed NO routine.
This then had a knock on effect on his sleeping. As I didn’t know when he’d feed or how long for, I couldn’t predict when he was going to nap. Generally, Alfie would fall asleep on the breast and I would then either sit with him sleeping on me, or would put him in his cot (depending if he let me or not!) Sometimes he would sleep for an hour, sometimes two, sometimes 10 minutes. He was (and is!) unpredictable.
It was incredibly stressful in those early days when everyone was asking about his routine – the midwife, the health visitor, the GP, friends and family. I felt guilty when I replied that he didn’t have a routine yet. I felt bad that he wasn’t sleeping through the night at 6 weeks, that he didn’t seem to know the difference between night and day and that he was often going to bed at 11pm.
We tried a bedtime routine at about 8 weeks. Craig would come home from work and have cuddle and play, then put him in the bath at 6pm. I’d then try to read a story but he would be crying for a feed, so I fed him instead. Then he’d fall asleep on the boob. What followed would be me trying to get him down for the next two hours before I finally gave up and let him come back in the lounge to sleep on me or Craig. Alfie just didn’t respond to routine.
Once I figured this out and decided to go with the flow, I relaxed so much more! I adopted a completely baby-led routine. When people would ask me when he fed or when he slept I would answer “when he wants”. I actually still do now. I didn’t see any positives in trying to make Alfie feed and sleep to fit with what I wanted, as it just stressed me out more.
On the whole, this approach has really worked for us. OK, sometimes it’s been a tad irritating when we’d get to baby group and he’d sleep through most of it. Or I planned to go out somewhere and Alfie would refuse to nap so he’d be a grumpy bum the whole day. And yes the nightly wake ups every 2 hours occasionally got a bit much. But generally, Alfie fitted in to what we needed to as a family but still dictated his own needs and wants.
I didn’t have to worry about being out at nap time as he would just nap when we were out. I didn’t have to worry about when he was going to need feeding as my boobs were always ready and raring to go. It was an approach that definitely worked for us, especially in the early days.
Eventually, Alfie worked out his own rough schedule. At around 6 months he would wake about 6, have a feed then nap for 2 hours giving me time to have a shower and breakfast. Then he’d had another nap around 11am and 2pm. He fed roughly every 3 hours, or 2 if he was teething or poorly. He woke every 2-3 hours overnight for a feed, but would feed for about 10 minutes then go back to sleep. Once I stopped worrying about his sleep, I relaxed so much more.
Then, at 10 months he started dropping feeds and sleeping for longer overnight until his first birthday when he slept from 7 till 7 for the first time since those newborn days! I went back to work 2 weeks later and now he generally sleeps from about 6.30 – 6.30 every night. Of course we have nights that are tough but doesn’t everyone, regardless of routine.
Alfie now has a better routine that works for us – at nursery they obviously work best on a routine, so in terms of mealtimes, we have tried to mirror those so Alfie is used to it. He rarely has a breastfeed anymore, but I still do feed him if he wants it.
I don’t think that routine should completely be thrown out the window as it definitely does have its place. I’m just saying it didn’t work for us and it might not work for you. Just find what does work for you and your baby. Don’t feel pressured and don’t get stressed.
What approach do you find best – routine or not? Baby-led or parent-led?
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