Are routines a good or a bad thing for babies? Do they help them sleep better? Well, it’s not entirely as simple as saying “Yes! A routine will help your baby sleep better”. If it was, I wouldn’t be writing this!
For years parents have sworn by the strict routines encouraged in Gina Ford’s The Contented Little Baby book. They probably work for some babies (and I can totally understand the appeal of trying to impose some order on the chaos and uncertainty that a newborn brings to a new family). I think, however, that the evidence is that these routines are restrictive, unsupportive of successful breastfeeding, not really in line with what we know about normal infant behaviour, and generally not great for parents’ mental health. Interestingly, what the research has found is that parents who try to use these types of routines actually have higher levels of postnatal depression and more feelings of inadequacy about their parenting skills1. Instead of throwing the book out and saying “This doesn’t work”, parents are more likely to feel like they are failing as parents or that their baby is “broken” because they can’t stick to the routines. That’s not good, is it?
At the other end of the spectrum is an approach supported by Dr Pamela Douglas, who runs a parent support clinic in Australia. I absolutely love The Discontented Little Baby Book that she wrote (see what she did there?).2 Her approach to sleep is to do very little to facilitate sleep during the day. She encourages parents to get out of the house and go about their normal activities with baby in tow and provide a stimulating environment for baby. If baby sleeps along the way, well and good, but the idea is to just take enough of the sleep pressure off to keep baby going to night time, when most of the sleep should happen. I think this approach works really well for some parents, so if the thought of having to be stuck in the house at the same times every day for naps doesn’t appeal to you, then definitely look at this method. I’d say it definitely works well for some babies, but not all. My first baby always slept easier when I was out and about but fought sleep at home. My second was the complete opposite, he’s always held off sleeping until he could get home and into bed. It means travelling has always been a dream with baby number one, and a complete nightmare with baby number two, but sleep at home as been the other way around. As we say in Northern Ireland, swings and roundabouts.
The middle ground, however, actually covers a fair bit of the ground. On the Holistic Sleep Coaching course I’ve learnt about normal infant sleep, how to recognise sleepy cues, how to develop gentle routines based on babies’ sleep needs and how to provide the right environment for babies to fall asleep when they’re ready and to help them consolidate their sleep. It means regular naps during the day and a routine before bedtime. The really nice thing is, though, you can lean a little bit more towards the routine end of the spectrum depending on your parenting style, or more towards the “winging it” end of the spectrum, if that suits your personality, while still working around normal infant sleep. It truly is a Holistic approach and there is a lot of flexibility to suit your family life.
If you’d like to talk to me a bit more about your baby or child’s sleep, I’d love to hear from you.
- Harries, V and Brown, A (2017) The association between infant parenting books that promote strict routines, and maternal depression, self-efficacy, and parenting confidence, Early Child Development and Care, accessed 12/01/2019: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03004430.2017.1378650?needAccess=true&journalCode=gecd20
- Douglas, P ( 2014) The Discontented Little Baby Book, University of Queensland Press, Queensland