Babies and sleep = a loaded topic and one that can be particularly divisive amongst other mothers, depending on your baby and if they did or did not sleep. Unfortunately there are too many judgements made on you as a mother and your baby, depending on the path you take: routine or no routine.
I understand that routines won’t work for everyone – not everyone is a routine person – but I do get asked pretty regularly how I got my three babies to sleep, and why (and how!?) my 4 and 6 year olds still go to bed at 7pm. So I am sharing my experience because it is what works for us as a family.
I’m a firm believer that babies need a routine to sleep, feed, play and feel secure and well-rested for the massive amount of changes and development they go through in the first year, and beyond. For me it works, and all my babies have really thrived being on a routine.
The idea of following a routine appealed to me because not only do I like to feel organised, but I was petrified of having a baby that wouldn’t sleep or feed properly, and with no family support network I knew that I’d (largely) be on my own. Besides, I had no idea when to feed a baby (um… when they cry?) how much sleep they would need (er, don’t they just sleep when they’re tired…?) how often and so on.
Almost all my close friends had started their families WAY before me. As in, 10 years before. The saying ‘You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know’ really rang true when I was pregnant. All of a sudden I realised I knew very little about babies. I really should have paid more attention when my friends talked about their little ones, but then, it wouldn’t have made any sense to me anyway.
I wanted to get organised and be as prepared as possible, which I realise now was probably driven by anxiety: I was very nervous about giving birth to a baby, but even more worried about having one that didn’t sleep. I LOVE my sleep. Love it. I’m not a morning person, I’m not a night owl – I like to sleep and I NEED my sleep to function.
A friend introduced me to two routine books when I was pregnant with my first baby – I went and bought them both immediately. I bought Tizzie Hall’s Save Our Sleep and Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby and read them (mostly) cover to cover, eager to learn and memorise everything I could before my newborn arrived.
I’d read that Jamie Oliver’s wife Jools followed Gina Ford’s routines with her four babies, and I thought well, with four kids (now five!) she MUST know what she’s doing.
“Jools is a militant Gina Ford and it bloody works. What people don’t understand is that sticking to (a routine) is a job, it’s not easy, it’s not casual, it doesn’t suit you. I see some of my friends who have a very casual approach – you must never judge… but when their kids are going to bed at two in the morning they look knackered. Gina’s basically just a structured routine, and it’s quite a lot to remember, but it does work,” Jamie Oliver said in an interview with The Guardian
I knew some friends that had used Tizzie Hall‘s routines and I was willing to try anything that worked for them, so after reading some online blogs decided to go with ‘Save Our Sleep’ (Tizzie lives in Australia too so all the measurements for feeding and Daylight Savings advice are appropriate for Australia. Gina’s in London.)
Bec Judd has written at length about following Tizzie Hall’s sleep routines for her two children, and a number of other well-known mamas are reportedly fans too, including Cate Blanchett, Sarah Murdoch, Rachel Griffiths and newsreaders Magdalena Roze and Deborah Knight.
My first baby, Ava (now 6) wasn’t a great sleeper, or feeder. We struggled with breastfeeding – she suffered terrible silent reflux and despite medication and lots of medical advice, it didn’t work. I had to be careful with her reflux not to overfeed her expressed breastmilk and formula, but to also ensure I fed her before she got too hungry otherwise she’d gulp her bottle which only made it worse.
I followed the ‘Save Our Sleep’ routine from about 4 months and it helped immensely with Ava – knowing how much to feed her and how often, what times she should sleep and how much sleep she needed for her age, whether she was in pain, or hungry, or protest crying helped me with her sleeps, her feeds, and eventually allowed her to get a more restful sleep. I learned to swaddle wrap her correctly, put the right bedding on her so she was warm enough, and she consistently started sleeping through the night at about 18 weeks with a dreamfeed, two weeks after starting the routine.
The routine helped me to distinguish her cries (and overtired whinge cry as opposed to a calling out cry or a hungry cry), when she was hungry or tired, things I just wasn’t able to figure out on my own.
I felt more confident too. From the book I got lots of advice on swaddling and bedding, weaning to solids, how to progress from one routine to the next based on her age and her sleep requirements, and for the most part, everything just worked. She was a happy, contented little baby that was thriving, and so was I.
After a few months, I adapted the routine to suit my own daily routine, but establishing a consistent pattern of feeding, playing and sleeping really was fundamental for my baby’s more settled and happy nature.
In the old days, mothers lived near to their own families and had grandmothers, aunties and uncles and cousins all around to help give advice, support the mother and raise the baby. “It takes a village” they used to say. But it’s not like that anymore, certainly not for me or a lot of mothers, particularly living in cities or countries away from their extended family networks.
For my next baby I knew I was going to use the routine from birth, and as Ava was still a baby herself (14 months old) when my second baby Sasha was born, I needed to have a routine, whether formal or not. This newborn baby HAD to sleep. She just had to! For a while it felt as though I had twins, and two separate routines was a lot to remember, but after a few weeks it became MY routine too, and helped my newborn and toddler to be more settled and me to be more attentive to their individual needs.
Then for my third baby Marnie, following the routine started in hospital, and really started to work when she was 3 weeks old. With a 2 year old and a 3 year old, as well as a newborn, knowing who was doing what and when really helped us as a family to keep everyone happy and settled – and sleeping!
There’s loads of advice on bedding, cat napping, using a dummy and comforter, correct room temperature, swaddling, how to follow the routine with siblings, toilet training, formula feeding and more, which I have found incredibly helpful. It’s become second nature now.
On the advice of Midwife Cath (after becoming friends on Instagram!) I started feeding her formula for one of the night feeds. Well, my husband did. He did the first night feed while I slept (about 10:30-11pm). I’d express milk before an early bedtime at 8:30pm so I wouldn’t miss a (breast)feed, then I’d breastfeed her second feed at about 3am. Ironically, it was her best feed, it was so calm and quiet. Everyone was (still tired, but) happy! Marnie starting sleeping through the night at about 17 weeks with a dreamfeed.
So from newborn until we started on solids (4 to 5 months) our routine went something like this:
7am wake for a breastfeed
8:45-9am put into her bassinet/cot swaddled to self settle to sleep
11am wake her (if she was still asleep) for a breastfeed
12:45-1pm put into her bassinet/cot or stroller to self settle to sleep (often I would use this middle of the day nap to get out and about with the stroller)
3pm wake her (if she was still asleep) for a breastfeed – usually a smaller feed
4:30 take her for a walk in the pram, put her in the baby carrier or put her in her swing for a short nap
5:15pm wake her
5:30 bath her
7pm put into her bassinet/cot to self settle to sleep
Feed her when she wakes – between 2 and 4am
7am wake her…
I used this particular routine until she was 17 weeks old (4 months) when we started her on ‘solids’, baby puree, fruit puree and so on.
I understand that routines won’t work for every family, but for me, having three babies in four years meant that to keep all my girls happy and all their needs met without them getting overtired or hungry, I need to stick to a routine. And for us, it works. They know what’s happening and when and we avoid the overtired, cranky kids because they’re getting the sleep they need.
Besides, I really do believe babies and children thrive, and feel much more content, if they know when meal, snack, play and feed times are. My girls all still go to bed at 7pm and sleep 12 hours a night. Occasionally on weekends too my older girls will still have a day nap.
If you’re keen on following a routine I’d highly recommend checking out these helpful resources:
The Baby Whisperer Tizzie Hall at Save Our Sleep
Midwife Cathryn Curtain at Midwife Cath
This was a guest post I wrote for Wonderful Mama