Routine vs. schedule. It is VERY important to know the difference between the two. A train follows a schedule, arriving and leaving at exact times. A routine for your child allows them to know what to expect–one thing follows another. For example, Keenan always knew that after dinner, it was time for his bath, followed by brushing his teeth (gums, originally), changing into his PJs, reading a couple of stories, a final nursing, and then bed. After nursing him, his last “bedtime routine/ritual” was turning off the lights, turning on his sleep sheep, putting his sleep sack on, singing a lullaby while rocking him and then placing him in his crib. We did this every night around the same time (between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m.)., and things have stayed the same after he stopped breastfeeding at 21 months. If Keenan was on a schedule, he would be in bed by the exact same time every night. By having a routine that was the same each day, he knew what to expect, regardless of what time it was or where he was. When we travel or are staying the night at a friend’s or my parents’ house, we follow the exact same routine, making sure to bring the sleep sheep and sleep sack, so Keenan can anticipate the same events, despite being in a new environment. The routine offers reassurance and comfort when we are somewhere other than home.
During the day, we followed a similar routine with his naps. Before he stopped taking his morning nap around 15 months, after breakfast he had some play time for 20-30 minutes (depending on what time he woke-up–he usually went down for his morning nap 2 hours after waking-up for the day) and then I took him to his room to change his diaper and then follow our “bedtime routine/ritual,” as we did at night. In the afternoon, the routine was similar: He had lunch (between 12 and 1 p.m., usually), nursed, and then it was nap time (where we would follow the “bedtime routine/ritual”, again). Of course, there were days when Keenan didn’t want to go down for a nap, and it took him 20-30 minutes to fall asleep (he would talk to himself in his crib, or cry so that we would go in there a couple of times to reassure him that everything was ok, and it was time to go to sleep), but for the most part–I’d say 90% of the time–he went down fairly easily, and still looks forward to taking his nap and going to bed at night. He is like me: He loves his sleep and functions best on more than what the average requirement is for his age. I’ve always required more than the standard 8 hours of sleep to really feel my best, and he seems to be following suit!
In addition to having nap and bedtime routines, I found it helpful to have a routine throughout the day, starting when Keenan was about 8 weeks old. My sister-in-law recommended the book, “The Baby Whisperer” and our Bank Teller recommended “Baby Wise,” both of which are about establishing routines and repeating them throughout the day, in order for your baby to sleep through the night (at least 6 hours at a stretch). Both books don’t recommend starting anything until your baby is at least 8 weeks old. The routine that the books talk about is: 1. Eat, 2. Play and 3. Sleep. You continue this routine throughout the day, making sure to stop the routine at least 2 hours before bedtime. For example, when Keenan was a lot younger, say 4 months old, a typical day would be:
Wake-up: 6:00 a.m., nurse him and he would go back to sleep for 2 hours
Wake-up for the day: 8:00 a.m.
Nurse: 8:00-8:30 a.m.
Playtime: 8:30-9:00 a.m.
Change diaper/get ready for nap: 9-9:15 a.m.
Nap #1: 9:15-9:30 a.m.
Nurse: 9:30-10:00 a.m.
Playtime: 10-10:30 a.m.
Change diaper/get ready for nap: 10:30-10:45 a.m.
Nap #2: 10:45 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Nurse: 12:15 -12:45 p.m.
Playtime: 12:45-1:15 p.m.
Change diaper/ready for nap: 1:15-1:30 p.m.
Nap #3: 1:30-3:00 p.m.
Nurse: 3:00-3:30 p.m.
*We would try to put him down for a 4th nap, but he usually wouldn’t go down, and would start to cluster feed every 1 ½ – 2 hours, until bedtime. He would nurse again at 4:30 or 5:00 and then 6:00 or 6:30, and then right before we put him to bed around 8:00 or 8:30 p.m.
Also, I want to mention that every day was a little different, as far as the exact times of his naps and feedings went, because we weren’t on a schedule. Since Keenan woke up at different times each day, (though it was always right around the same time), his naps and feedings were never at the same times each day. However, having the routine provided predictability of when his naps and feedings would be for me and him.
On another note, Keenan started “sleeping through the night,” (giving us at least 6 hours) at 8 weeks and then about 8 hours at 4 months. At 5 months, he was sleeping 9-10 hours, on average. I don’t know if he did this on his own, or if the constant routine helped Keenan sleep through the night, but either way, I truly believe the routine had a part in it.
As human beings, we all crave some sort of structure and routine in our lives, so it is healthy to establish them with your children at a very young age. If it helps them to sleep through the night, like it did for us (and provide you with predictability and keep you sane), then it is completely worth it! All, in all, I can’t stress it enough: Routine, routine, routine!!