Putting baby on a routine
March 24, 2013 8:55 PM   Subscribe

How do you put a six month old baby on a routine? Or should you even try to? What kind of schedule worked for you?

At the moment our baby is a bit random with when she sleeps and we would like a little bit of predictability. The books have all kinds of schedules but I'm starting to feel a bit dubious about the lack of research that goes into them. We know very few people with babies the same age as ours and so want to hear actual schedules that worked for people. Also what kind of routine did you get into during the waking hours - eg did you do a walk every morning, and play mat every afternoon etc?
posted by meech to Human Relations (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have much faith in sleep schedules, mainly because all it takes is a cold or teething or growth spurt to disrupt them. At least for my kid. You will not ruin your child's ability to sleep for the rest of their life either if you don't establish one as a baby, so don't let that alarmist stuff get to you.

What you can try is a same time every night that is bedtime..it can be fairly late for babies (10 or so) and then get pushed back to toddler or kid-appropriate times like 7 as they age. Make that time quiet, dim lights, do a story, whatever you usually do, but be prepared for the fact that it may not work every night.

For my kid, that's what we did, and even if he refused to sleep, we remained boring and quiet until he dozed off. One of us would usually stay with him in the room, until the day that switched and he slept better if we didn't. Which is how these things tend to go.
posted by emjaybee at 9:10 PM on March 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

6 months is kind of the borderline of where babies move from 3 naps a day to two naps a day. I found that getting the nap schedule a little more predictable made sleep easier all around. A rule of thumb schedule I found helpful was to have about two hours between waking up in the morning and going down for the first nap, then another 3 hours or so until the next nap. Breakfast and a bit of playing go in the first gap, then lunch and a bit more playing, a walk or whatever go in the second gap. Add in running errands or whatever else you need to get done during the day. I don't know that you have to have a set schedule of activities while the baby is awake. Just go about your usual business and sprinkle in some talking, playing, etc.

This is going to vary a bit by baby and your particular schedule, of course, and as emjaybee points out, count on the sleep getting all messed up again with new developmental milestones, teething, colds, etc.

Once the naps were a little better nailed down, I found that our son did better sleeping in uninterrupted stretches at night, which made his parents much, much better rested and happier as well. This article has some schedules that seem to map onto what our experience was.
posted by goggie at 9:27 PM on March 24, 2013

It was a thing about pacing for us. I can't comment much on the daytime for that age, since my wife was home more than I was; however the night routine was: Dinner Time -> Bath Time -> Quiet Time/Story Time -> Bed Time. Late night waking time was not play time - instead we focused on feeding, changing, and sending our kid back to bed.

Yeah, teething and colds disrupt the schedule, but it gives you something that you know what you need to do (which means that on some days you can autopilot it), and it also makes sickness about 30x easier knowing the schedule.

The weird thing about sleep was though, that before the schedule when we let the baby set the schedule, they wanted to stay up later, but were generally less happy throughout the day. Whereas, when we set the schedule, they were sometimes unhappy about the change, but they settled into the schedule and spent more of the day in a happier mood. For my second kid, she's always been on a schedule - one to make sure our oldest keeps his, but also because it makes two a lot more manageable.
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:35 PM on March 24, 2013

Well, every baby is different. I've never kept to a routine; my kid melts down if we don't get her meals and naps within a 30-minute window.

That being said, what worked for us was starting first with making sure Baby Snickerdoodle was sleeping well at night, and then setting mealtimes and the morning wake up. When her night sleep wasn't going well, she was simply too overtired to nap. So I just napped with her until we had her sleeping well at night (defined by 2 5-hour blocks followed by a final two hour block, with nursing in between). Then we figured out when baby wanted to wake up, and keep it consistent. At six months, that was around 6:30am. Then it was nurse, play, and nap around 9. The key was not getting haphazard with it; my kid did not do stroller or other on-the-go naps, so I had to force myself to be home and ready to put her down for a nap by 9am, 1pm, etc. Basically, I cleared my schedule for a week so or two while we worked on this.

Again, some babies are more rigid than others; to this day, toddler Snickerdoodle will only nap willingly with her lovey and the right music. It really depends in how flexible yours is.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:38 PM on March 24, 2013

I really like a lot of Ask Moxie's advice for this sort of thing. This post and the comments are a great starting point: http://www.askmoxie.org/2011/03/getting-a-baby-on-a-schedule.html

She talks some about the idea of kids falling into a 2-3-4 routine, which is to say, morning naps often happen around 2 hours after wake up. The next nap is about 3 hours after waking from the first nap, bedtime about 4 hours after waking from the second.

I noticed my son falling into this pattern as he went through his first year of life, and what worked for us really was observing his behavior and gently guiding a schedule around what we saw. He often was sleepy before he started showing strong signs of it. It took us a long time to establish a naptime/bedtime routine, and I wish we'd started earlier -- we accidentally fell into a routine, just based on what worked to get our kid to sleep, and our friends who started earlier (i.e., after the newborn crash course) at least had a bedtime routine they enjoyed, because they'd engineered it from early on.

Otherwise, though, we didn't really sweat a schedule until we became determined to get him to nap outside the baby carrier, because, until then, if we were doing something else, he'd just sleep in the Ergo. We wore him for all his naps. We still don't really have an intentional schedule or routine beyond sleep, although the sleep schedule (for a two-year-old) is sacrosanct. If naptime does not happen within the specified window, everything goes to hell.

You know your family best, though. If the current setup is working, awesome. If you think a little more structure would suit you better, start moving in that direction. Routine can make things a bit easier for little ones -- it helps them figure out what's happening next in an otherwise unpredictable world -- but your routine may look different than what the books prescribe.
posted by linettasky at 11:54 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Dinner Time -> Bath Time -> Quiet Time/Story Time -> Bed Time. Late night waking time was not play time - instead we focused on feeding, changing, and sending our kid back to bed.

This is what we do also. I can't remember exactly when we started off on a more organised schedule, but it was probably around 6 months, if not a bit before.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 3:02 AM on March 25, 2013

I share your skepticism about getting a schedule out of a book. A lot of those books seem to boil down to, "This worked for my baby, and therefore it will work for every baby in the world, and if it doesn't work for your baby, YOU MUST BE SCREWING EVERYTHING UP!!!"

We got both our kids on semi-regular schedules when they were between 4 and 6 months. What really worked for us was using a website called trixietracker.com. Every time our baby fell asleep or woke up, we'd enter it in the website. Then we'd look at the various graphs it generated and tried to tease out patterns.

For us, the most helpful feature was a sleep probability chart. It let us see the time our kid was most likely to fall asleep, and then we'd use those times as target nap times, and try to guide the kid towards being asleep then.

Honestly, I sometimes felt like a jackass tracking every minute of my childrens' sleep-- I worried it made me seem like a stereotypical over-controlling yuppie dad. But it was actually the opposite of controlling. The whole idea was to figure out my childrens' natural sleep patterns and work with them, instead of fitting them into a pre-printed schedule just because it worked for some bestselling author's kids.

For us personally, we found that the routine leading up to sleep was pretty important. We'd do a lullaby before naptime, and the whole pajamas/storytime/lullaby thing before bed. For the rest of the day, we were a lot more flexible, and it didn't seem to do any harm. I suspect some kids would need a more fixed daily routine than ours, and some would maybe need less.
posted by yankeefog at 5:47 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I don't think you can impose a routine, maybe not ever (whimper), but certainly not until after the 1-year mark. Best is to get a sense of whether your kid is more structured naturally or more chaotic, and learn to work with/around that style. In all cases, a recognizable bedtime routine is good, but I don't think there's anything you can do to make a kid wake and sleep at the same time, or switch from cat-napping into longer stretches, or whatever.

Six months is about when it's first reasonable to hope that they might sleep through the night, or that various methods of "sleep training" (from letting them cry to structured methods of responding) might help your kid get there, but that's still a long way from having a predictable schedule overall. Plus there are still a couple shifts in number and timing of naps in the next year-18 months that happen for even the most natually regimented kid, so there's no point in getting too invested in a predictable routine.

Keeping a log can help, either to predict sleepiness (or recognize it better), as well as to judge how much sleep your kid tends to want overall (12-13 hours is common). But you may just find that you have a kid who's all over the place, and I think that's just a temperment/wiring feature, not something that can be "worked through." Sorry. %^)
posted by acm at 6:43 AM on March 25, 2013

My baby naturally fell into a routine around 4-6 months:

- 6am wake
- 7am breakfast
- Nap #1 9-11am
- 12pm lunch
- Nap #2 sometime between 1-3pm for 45 minutes to 2 hours
- 6:30 pm dinner
- 7:45-8pm quiet play
- 8:00-8:15pm bedtime routine
- 8:15pm lights out
- 8:30-6am YAY SLEEP (baby used to wake once between 2am-4am to breastfeed and started sleeping through the night with no wakeups around 8 months)

We arrange our day to support this schedule, but I don't freak out if he doesn't want to nap or isn't hungry for solids at lunch time. We're all a lot happier if we stay on some kind of schedule. I found that once we had a solid night-time routine in place, our daytime routine became more predictable too.
posted by jrichards at 6:56 AM on March 25, 2013

I have to strongly recommend the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It was invaluable in actually teaching me about kids' sleep needs! Even if you don't follow his recommendations for putting your kids on a sleep schedule, you will learn a lot in the first few chapters that you can apply to your own kids.
posted by yawper at 7:42 AM on March 25, 2013

We started out trying the 2-3-4 schedule but I found that Babybel really just does better with a nap after 2 hours of being awake. (He's 9 months old now.)
posted by bluebelle at 8:00 AM on March 25, 2013

Oh, baby schedules! We also have a six month old and I’m happy to share what works for us. Our kiddo is scheduled, but it’s really one that she made. We just had to pay attention to pick up on it.

A few caveats:
- Obviously, the standard caveat of ‘every baby is different’ always applies with baby advice
- We started working on a schedule with her as soon as she came home from the hospital. It will probably take some time to get a schedule structured that works for you and baby.
- We loosely followed Babywise and the whole eat, activity, sleep pattern and noticed she fell into a schedule herself. We have taken advantage of knowing her preferred pattern and adopted that as her ‘schedule’.
- Our baby has always been a pretty good sleeper and has been going 9+ hours at night since she turned 3 months old. We don’t keep to a strict nap schedule these days because she will nap just about anywhere (crib, pack n play, car seat, stroller). I am not as strict on napping since if I want to go to the mall, I know she will nap in the stroller if it’s that time of day for her.
- She sleeps well at night (10.5 hours without waking) but her naps during the day tend to be shorter but a bit more frequent since she really only likes to be up for about 2 hours before its time to nap again.
- My kiddo is formula fed. I am not sure if or how BF’ing would impact her schedule.

Our typical day:
- 6:30 AM wake up, immediately followed by feeding.
- 8:30AM-9:30 AM-ish nap.
- 10:00 AM feeding
- 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM – nap
- 1:15 PM – feeding
- 2:30 PM – 3:30 PM – nap
- 4:30 PM – feeding
- Somewhere between 5:15-6:00 PM she usually wants a little 20-30 minute power nap
- 7:30/7:45 PM – Feeding
- 8:00 PM – down for the night

As others have suggested, we find that she typically only stays up 2 hours following any given nap or sleep. She might vary off the nap schedule above by 15-30 minutes, but that is the typical pattern for her. She usually naps for 45-60 minutes but may go as short as 20 minutes or as long as 1.5 hours.

Her schedule is pretty consistent but when she is in a growth spurt or teething, the schedule goes out the window for a while and we go into survival mode. When she hit the 12w growth spurt, she went from sleeping 8.5-9 hours straight at night to being up every 3.5 STARVING. We just fed her and she went back to her schedule when she was done with the growth spurt.

We keep our feedings consistent. I say we do a modified feed on demand in that if the kiddo is clearly hungry and cannot wait to the next feeding, we just feed her and make adjustments from there, knowing she really can only go about 3.25 hours between feedings before she usually is hungry. But if it’s feeding time, we do not wait for her to show obvious signs of being hungry. We just feed her and she takes what she wants to take. I think keeping the feedings consistent help us to be able to schedule our day and helped the naps to fall into place.

We also break what is typically considered a cardinal rule of “Don’t wake a sleeping baby.” If it’s feeding time and she has been sleeping long enough for it to count as a nap for her, I will wake her to feed. If she is still tired, she will go back to sleep after her feeding. I would not be so willing to do this if she wasn’t easy to get back down if needed and since she rarely gets upset if she is woken. We RARELY have to wake her now though. That said, if she has a bad day and needs more sleep like when she fights her sleep and ends up going down later than normal, I will push off her feeding a bit and pick back up when she wakes up.

We have made tweaks as we’ve gone. She has slowly been putting herself to bed earlier and earlier. At the beginning of last month, she dropped her 7.30 power nap and moved her bedtime up from 9PM to about 8PM. It was a welcome change since it allowed us some ‘us’ time, but we definitely didn’t make the change for her, we just didn’t fight it when she wanted to change it.

We are also very consistent on her first and last feeding of the day. I think that helps to keep her schedule for the day, but let me tell you, now that I am back to work, I sometimes wish I could sleep in a bit later on the weekends.

As for activities, we don’t necessarily keep to a schedule. We mix it up – tummy time, jumperoo time, walk time, etc. I think the variety is almost as much for us as for her.

People think that we are crazy because I am a freak about tracking her eat and sleep but having a predictable schedule has been a huge help.
posted by polkadot at 9:46 AM on March 25, 2013

My partner and I agreed that the only forum we would read for baby stuff would be ask metafilter. And without fail all the answers have been balanced, fair, polite and friendly. The answers here are no exception - none marked as best, as all are incredibly helpful.
posted by meech at 1:40 AM on March 26, 2013

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