Updated: Aug 22, 2021
Children thrive on routine. That's what all the experts say, including me but, I have a confession to make. I am not one for a really strict routine and here is why.
Babies do not come with an instruction manual and for some parents having a plan is a better option then just 'winging it'. Although sticking to a plan religiously works well for some, life and babies have a habit of throwing a few curve balls.
As a Nanny I was conditioned to creating and implementing strict routines, so when I was expecting Ella I already knew what I was going do. Then she arrived 8 weeks early and I realised that it wasn't going to be quite so straight forward. The good thing however about Special Care is that your baby is put in a feeding routine and tube fed according to their weight. Ella was a fairly large 32 weeker so had decent sized feeds and by week three she was going four hours between them, the absolute dream! I asked the nurses if they could get her into a 7, 11, 7 routine and when she came home at 4 weeks, I made sure we stuck to this 'perfect' routine.
The thing is though, within weeks of her being home she was constipated, had severe reflux and was miserable pretty much all the time. My 'perfect ' routine was not so perfect anymore. It was discovered that she had a dairy intolerance and was given special formula milk, which within days changed her into a happy, content baby. All of a sudden I found myself listening more to her cues and following her lead, rather than me trying to dictate a routine. She found her own way, which turned out to be very similar to how I had originally planned anyhow and I was much more relaxed.
When she hit 4 months, I decided to create her bedtime routine, the only part I have always been strict about and stuck to religiously. For me parenting is hard enough without being sleep deprived so establishing good sleep habits is always first on my to do list.
This doesn't mean they have to be sleeping through the night at 4 months, but it will help them to distinguish between daytime and night and ultimately be good sleepers.
During the daytime, the best advice I can give is to read your babies cues and go with the flow. Being in tune with your baby hugely helps you to know when they are hungry or tired. It might take a bit of practice, it isn't always as obvious as you think, but you will then be able to see patterns forming, understand their 'awake windows' (the time between naps they are awake) and then anticipate their needs. This may vary from day to day, depending on things like growth spurts, developmental milestones or illness and if you are governed by a strict routine may end up with an over tired baby who won't sleep or feed.
Some people swear by all naps happening in the cot as they say baby will sleep better. This was definitely true for Ella but would only give her an extra 20 minutes sleep compared to being out in the pushchair or car, so I was able to go out and about and not stress too much and if she was tired earlier than usual late afternoon, we started bedtime a little earlier, again following her cues. Everyone's lifestyles are different so having to be at home all the time for naps is not always possible. I did make sure with Ella that if she had napped out of the cot one day then the next I would try and be at home, but by the time I was back to work as a Nanny it wasn't always possible.
With Leo, he could sleep anywhere for hours! He had to do the nursery run and school runs, so he kind of had to. He would just go to bed earlier if needed. He often would have half his lunch in the pushchair on the way to nursery pick up and then the rest after his nap and there have been several instances where I had to wake him from his nap to do the school run. I have definitely been more relaxed with him which I think has helped, but again, have stuck to a good, consistent bedtime routine.
For me, and the families I have worked with, this approach has been really effective. Both my children have still thrived and both are great sleepers (most of the time) so while I absolutely think routines are a good thing, I do think they need to be unique to you and your baby and if you are going to be strict about anything, it should be about being more relaxed and going with the flow.