Baby Bedtime Routine for Working Folks
January 3, 2015 5:30 PM   Subscribe

We discovered this week that our four-month-old needs a much earlier bedtime. We now start the routine after 6 PM, with him in bed by 7 PM (and it's working great). But we've been on vacation for these new bedtimes and I'm having trouble visualizing how this routine will go on a weekday. How do you do it?

This is our first and only baby, and he was generally a good infant sleeper until the regression hit. A combination of an earlier bedtime and the Baby Merlin Magic Sleepsuit is helping a lot. He's still doing multiple overnight feedings, but I'm sure they'll decrease with time.

However, the new bedtime routine starting at 6 PM means we will begin it almost the minute that we walk in the door after picking him up from daycare after work. I can't believe we will get so few precious awake minutes with him on weekdays. And we hardly have any commute time!

But how do we fit it all in? When do we adults eat dinner? And how will we fit in a dinner for him when he starts solid food in a couple of months?

i would love to get a sense of your early dinner & bedtime routine. How do you make your household work around it in the evening? Advice welcome.
posted by aabbbiee to Human Relations (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
My kids needed early bedtimes too. We swung our hours so one parent worked 8-4 and could do pickup earlier but we had commutes so evening was (still is) a rush:

- meal planning and prep ahead. Crockpot remains BFF
- at some points adults ate after bedtime
- our "family meal" is breakfast
- we do baths in the morning during non-dirt-crazy seasons

It sucks but sleep is so important.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:42 PM on January 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

My husband and I both work fulltime but have the relative luxury of being home by 4:30 pm. Our seven-month old also has a "natural" 6pm bedtime (meaning this is the time that his body decides it's time to sleep for the night, so we rolled with it). Baby is generally not great at napping while at daycare so many days we have just enough time to get him out of his car seat and get the day's bottles soaking in the sink before he has to cuddle up with dad for a late nap. The parent who's not trapped under a sleeping baby takes responsibility for making dinner (we eat simple meals like spaghetti). Junior usually wakes up with enough time to play a bit before for-real bedtime comes. He gets two meals of "solids" (puree w/baby oatmeal) at daycare so we just don't do that at home during the week.

It's really not a lot of time we get with him on weeknights, and it's a bummer, but I am resigned about the situation for now. We figure sleep is more important than mom and dad getting to play with him.
posted by trunk muffins at 5:48 PM on January 3, 2015

Parent who is not doing bedtime with baby can be prepping dinner, and keep in mind that bedtime does not need to last forever - you can probably get the bedtime rituals down to 10-15 minutes by being consistent and making sure he's not getting a ton of stimulation right before. Make sure that BOTH PARENTS follow the same exact bedtime routine. Baths do not need to happen every night - unless he's been rolling in mud, once a week is fine.
posted by bq at 6:06 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm on baby #2, with both parents working full-time out of the house, and I feel the angst on the lack of quality waking hours during the work week. But as mentioned above, sleep is SO IMPORTANT for the whole family, so make that happen. Our kids have always been early to bed, early to rise, so remember that early mornings, when everyone is bright-eyed and happy, can be good quality time. With only one kid I would even sneak in a stroller walk, which was quite pleasant in the early-morning quiet.

With one kid I would not hesitate to do an adult dinner after baby bedtime. Seriously, enjoy a couple more months of adult meals and conversation...once it's family dinner time - along with all the benefits of a family meal - comes the need to adjust the menu and timing to suit your toddler as well as a lot less pleasant conversing over wine and more dodging flying food bits. As your baby gets older he/she will be able to stretch bedtime out a bit, and that will let you bring him/her to the table for a proper third meal along with you.

Nth the suggestion to do one or two solid feedings at daycare, in addition to breakfast at home, so that you don't need to try to squeeze that in, as an over-tired baby won't eat much to begin with.

Just know it gets better, the kid will stay up a bit later soon and also there'll be more fun stuff to do with them when they get a little bigger - that engagement helps keep them awake, too.
posted by handful of rain at 6:08 PM on January 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh - and just also on the adult meal thing, menu planning + one big grocery shop on the weekend, and focus on menus that are simple with a make-ahead component. Lots of blogs and internet resources for this if you need help. Crock pot is great, also marinating meat ahead, make a double batch and freeze half (or split a regular recipe into two smaller pans). At our house whatever parent doesn't have the kid (or kids) is running the dinner prep, as well as doing all the sort the mail/clean the bottles/feed the pets stuff.

I like quick bath as part of the bedtime routine, but that's me. Even with a bath and nursing, I can have our nine-month-old down in 30 minutes. Do the same thing every night, but it doesn't need to take an hour most likely.
posted by handful of rain at 6:31 PM on January 3, 2015

We're in the exact same situation in our household (with a 21-month old) and I was writing out a detailed outline of our dinner/bedtime routine, but on preview, all the previous posters have it. We've found Trader Joes has some great, easy meals in their frozen section, and crock pot meals are great. My wife, her sister and her mom also exchange freezer meals so we usually have several ready to go meals in the freezer. We will also have one of us cook while the other is doing the bedtime routine when we want something the child may not like (though generally he eats the same thing we eat, and we don't dull our meals down for him). We have our bedtime routine, which starts around 7, down to about 10-15 minutes (a little longer with a bath) so that we get as much play time with him as possible after dinner.

On weekdays, I think I get about 2 hours with my child between our morning and evening routines. It sucks, but it means I make sure when I do have time with him, I am fully engaged with him. I've talked to my boss about the situation and he understands that this means I have to leave on time as much as possible, and my wife understands that this may mean some work after our child goes to bed.

It's tough, it's tight, but you can do it.
posted by noneuclidean at 6:40 PM on January 3, 2015

We've got a 5 month old and 22 month old. Both of us get home between 6-6:30 most nights and bedtimes are 7 and 7:30/8. Work nights are a little crazy but what we do:
-menu plan, shop and cook a couple large batches of protien/veg on the weekend
-Super simple meals, reheat protien, steam some veg in the microwave and a bagged or basic salad
-first person home takes care of kids and does whatever they can of reheating/microwaving to get dinner on the table
-put baby down and toddler in the bath ASAP
-leave all the chores for later
-baby has an almost non-existent bedtime routine. This works (for now at least) bc she's a good sleeper.

It does kind of stink, but as others have said, it's worth it for us to try and get as close to their natural bedtimes as possible. Things that make it feel better:
-we cosleep. This is of course very personal, but I love having them close at night, especially when I don't get much time with them during the day. I feel like it gives me baby time and hopefully gives them a parent fix. I also think I sleep much better than if I had to get out of bed even once a night. But as you probably know, cosleeping seems to be great for some parent/kid combos and terrible for others. You probably have a good idea by now where your family falls on the spectrum.
-I work 4, 9 hour days plus 4 hours at home over the weekend. And I start early. This means I'm home with them one week day in addition to the weekend. Not sure if you have any options for a slightly modified schedule, but even one day a week of getting home earlier can really make a difference in how it feels - for me at least, 5 days a week feels like virtually THE WHOLE WEEK, but 4 days a week feels like just over half the week.
-as others have said, enjoy your mornings as much as possible. Neither my husband or I are morning people, but our baby wakes up absolutely delighted with the world, grinning from ear to ear and making our tired, pre-caffeinated selves kind of glad to be up at whatever ungodly hour it is.
-it's also nice to have kid free evenings to take care of chores, clean up the chaos left by us focusing just on them till bedtime and have a little adult time.
posted by pennypiper at 7:35 PM on January 3, 2015

Most parents I know ask their childcare provider to have the child nap longer. I would explore doing that, so that you have more time with your child when they are awake. Some people I knew had kids who had naps that lasted 2-4 hours in the afternoon. So their kids were up till 9-11 pm and had lots of time with their parents in the evening. I'm not sure how this works with infants (Canadian mat leave meaning average age of care being different), but maybe your childcare provider or someone else here can shed some light. Most of the daycares I knew had kids taking long naps, so that their staff could go on break and do admin work. I have friends who run home daycares and they were thankful for the breaktime and in no rush to wake sleeping kids if their parents were okay with it, although they tended to have everyone up in time to pick up the daycare providers' own children by 3 pm at school. In that case, I think they gave the kids food a bit earlier and had them napping just after noon.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:40 PM on January 3, 2015

We have a 22 month old whose bedtime target has been between 6 and 7pm ever since she was 4-5 months old. If she is cranky or had a bad nap day, we aim between 6 and 630, or if she had a good nap, it's more like 630-7pm. On preview, seeing Chausette's post, my daughter also takes a 2 hour nap most days and she still is very happy with the early bedtime.

We start her eating dinner at about 530pm, typically, maybe while one of us eats a snack. She doesn't eat anything elaborate - usually stuff like hummus, yogurt, applesauce, fruit, pasta, cheese. One or both of us often has to work in the evening so there isn't a lot of family meal cooking. If we are cooking dinner, usually the dinner cooking happens while the other is doing bedtime routine, as others here also do. Usually one of us does bath time (10-15min) while the other one is doing the dinner prep and gets out bedtime stuff like pajamas and a bottle of milk. Then we switch off and the other parent does tooth brushing and story time for another 10-15min. If one of us is working or had a long/hard day, then the other one takes more like 30 mins and does the whole routine themselves. After going down at 630pm she typically will sleep until 730-8am, and she is happiest on the days when she gets great sleep, so we are definitely of the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child school of thinking and even though sometimes I wish I could just go into her bedroom and hang out with her and cuddle her after her bedtime, we do prioritize her getting a good night's rest over everything else.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:47 PM on January 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sub-question: How do you handle nights when 6:30 PM bedtime has to be pushed later? If the family is out for a meal or event? Or do you really just do whatever it takes to fit the routine or brave the consequences later?
It is also really hard to imagine not doing any dinners with extended family for months and months because this new bedtime is so early.
posted by aabbbiee at 8:23 PM on January 3, 2015

It depends a lot on what "pushed later" means and what the event is. At a laid-back, casual/accommodating event on a weekend, like dinner at the home of a very good friend, I might bathe the baby right before we went (as I mentioned, I'm a big bath-a-day person, so feel free to skip this if you don't agree) and would bring along PJs, overnight diaper and tooth brush (if applicable). The general excitement/newness of the evening would keep the baby perky a bit longer than usual anyway, and just before leaving I'd change him into overnight diaper and jammies. Then hopefully he'd fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we could quickly transfer to bed (with maybe a quick round of nursing if needed to settle him back down). This works pretty well if "pushed later" means an hour or so.

If the event is more formal or lasts later, my husband and I would probably look at taking two cars and having one parent depart earlier after making an appearance with the kid (probably me, since I am the nursing parent)...or just all of us duck out early. One thing to keep in mind is that if the baby wants to sleep at a certain time you get diminishing returns pushing the kid way past bed time (eg dinner or the event might not be enjoyable for the parents if they are trying to keep a kid from outright crashing/meltdown). So pick and choose your battles on how to stretch things. We usually set it up so that I would eat first/quickly while my husband held the baby, and then trade off, at least in the days before the baby will eat finger foods and be able to sit at the table for a bit.

Another tip for a weekend might be to try to get the kid to take a late nap, or sleep in the car on the way to the event (maybe drive the long way if it gets an extra 10-15 minutes of sleep time).

For a weekday, with an infant, we honestly would have a high bar to do an evening out. It's just too crunched with the commute, etc. We'd probably look at having people at our house, with something simple like take-out, rather than having the whole family to go a restaurant.

BY THE WAY: despite what I believe the universe owes me, keeping the baby up an hour later does not mean the baby sleeps an hour later the next day. Just in case you hadn't already figured that one out - so another thing to keep in mind about pushing later.

I'm sure all kids are different and some do fine with varying bedtimes and more flexible evening plans. My kids need a good amount of sleep and like the routine, and that translates to harmony for the whole family. So we are in a phase of life where we are prioritizing that over being more spontaneous and doing a lot of evening stuff. It works for us, we're cool with it. Don't feel like you have to apologize to family who don't get it.
posted by handful of rain at 8:45 PM on January 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Our kid is 2 now and as long as most days and nights he is sleeping and napping well, he can be pushed to a later bedtime. We make sure to keep schedule altering to a minimum. This means not participating in some activities because of nap or bedtime. You will quickly feel out what is "worth" the sleep disruption. For us it isn't much! When he was younger (and nowadays) we had family and or friend dinners at our house so baby can go to bed on time but parents can still socialize. Many times our friends wouldn't even arrive until after babe was in bed. We also would do early dinner/ bedtime and have a sitter or grandparents come after and then meet friends out.

When I worked in childcare we had several little ones who had dinner at daycare at 4:45 before pick up, for exactly your reasons.
posted by Swisstine at 11:09 PM on January 3, 2015

For your sub q, with my oldest it wasn't worth it that often for a year or so in there...a "just one night" change led to 2-3 days of nap disruptions, waking up over & over, etc. (He is 9 now and sleeps fine.)

With my younger, he got back on track faster so we were okay pushing it a little later once a week or so. It still sometimes was meltdown territory. He is almost 4 and his bedtime is 7:15, but is now more flexible much of the time.

We switched to getting together for brunch on weekends, and have people over to our place instead of going out.
posted by warriorqueen at 1:41 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Our daughter is almost 5, and she still goes to bed by 7 at the latest. Sometime she sleeps right away, and sometimes she reads to herself or plays with something, but she stays in her room unless she gets up for a bathroom visit.

She is in preK and yes, she gets home around 5:30, eats dinner, reads a book with us, and goes in her room. Sure, once in a while she stays up later with us (New Year's Eve), but in general, in addition to needing sleep, she does need some private time, which makes her mostly positive and cheerful. And yes, her dad and I eat dinner around 7:45 or 8, after she is in bed (we are present when she eats dinner, just not eating ourselves).

It's hard to not have more time with her during the week. But it is most important for her to feel well rested.
posted by miss tea at 3:47 AM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

A couple of different things. First, the routine doesn't have to take a whole hour. Second, you can probably push the bedtime to 7:30 instead of 7 without a huge negative effect. So that would mean starting bedtime at 7 instead of 6, and you'd probably be fine. Third, forget about regular cooking elaborate meals and chores - just do the basics.

And this is temporary. As your kid gets older, most likely sleep will become more flexible. A reasonable bedtime is still important, but most kids will be able to shift things around a bit as they get older, for example by having a later nap.

For special nights out, you get a babysitter.
posted by yarly at 2:24 PM on January 4, 2015

Sub-question: How do you handle nights when 6:30 PM bedtime has to be pushed later? If the family is out for a meal or event? Or do you really just do whatever it takes to fit the routine or brave the consequences later?
It is also really hard to imagine not doing any dinners with extended family for months and months because this new bedtime is so early.

My son is 20 months and still goes to bed before 7pm. He's a wonderful sleeper and I consider this a serious blessing, as much as I miss not spending much time with him it is great to have so much evening time to ourselves. As to this specific question: we make pushing the bedtime very, very rare. Usually if we're going to do family events we do breakfast or lunch. If we have events ourselves we have a sitter watch the baby while we're out. His bedtime mostly only gets pushed if we happen to be traveling, and it's not a big deal but it doesn't happen more than a few times a year.
There is an upside to this: if you want to get a sitter and go out, you can put the baby down yourselves and the sitter basically is just there in case something happens. No major worries about the baby liking or not liking the sitter because he's not awake to notice.
posted by ch1x0r at 4:27 PM on January 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

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