Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Implementing a Routine

There are many divisive topics within the realm of parenting, and deciding whether or not to nudge your child into a routine is one of them. I continue to talk about this topic because I think dialogue about the most controversial topics is particularly helpful. Even reading something that we disagree with helps us clarify our own thinking and choices. At the end of the day, how we parent is a choice that each of us makes based on what we think is best for our children and what will leave us feeling proud of ourselves as parents. Those choices are definitely going to vary from parent to parent, child to child.
In short, I share my thinking simply to contribute to the dialogue and peel back the layers of my logic--not in an attempt to try and convince anyone that our choices should be their choices.
I've written a lot about my first three weeks with Henry and how it was difficult to read his cues and discern what he needed and when. That's when my friend introduced me to the book Baby Wise, and I learned about the basic routine of Eat, Play, Sleep every 2.5-3 hours. The simple concept had such a positive impact on our interactions with Henry. When he woke up from a nap, I would feed him. Then he would have a short period of activity time, during which I would watch for clues of fatigue (namely yawns). If he started crying then, my first response would be to help him get to sleep (rather than feed him). If he woke up before 2.5-3 hours, my first response would be to try and soothe him back to sleep (rather than feed him), which generally worked. If it didn't work, then I would see if he was crying from hunger. This kind of routine helped us to better anticipate and therefore meet Henry's needs. For us, "scheduling" is not in opposition to "on demand." Both Henry and Tate get to eat when they want to eat; it's just that we consider where we are in the schedule when deciding what to offer first.
Plus, with Henry, a routine had the added benefit of providing a structure to our days and lives. For example, I could make sure to shower daily simply by setting Henry up for activity time in the bathroom right after a feeding. Also, Matt and I could continue to enjoy things like going out to dinner. I would feed Henry, Henry would have his awake time in the car, and then we would let Henry sleep in the Moby wrap while we enjoyed our meal.
We quickly realized that implementing a routine felt like the best way to meet everyone's needs. Our parenting approach is very much about looking at the family as a system.
Throughout Henry's life, we constantly watch for signs that the routine needs to change to meet his changing needs. We make adjustments as necessary. For us, the routine is part of what helps Henry feel secure and safe.
We knew that we wanted to nudge Tate into a routine, as well, so I read a couple different books before his birth. I liked the advice in Baby Wise, which is to not worry about a routine in the first two weeks. However, we quickly found that Tate's natural inclination was to sleep all day and then wake up every hour all night long to make up all the feedings he missed during the day. We also learned that Tate uses the same signals to indicate that he's tired and hungry.
Very early on, we decided to try waking him up every three hours during the day for a feeding to see whether that would impact his sleeping during the night. It had an immediate effect. When we helped him fit in feedings during the day, he then stopped waking up every hour at night (and instead stretched it out from 2.5-3 hours). Because we immediately saw positive effects, we decided to continue with that approach for the first two weeks.
At the end of the second week, I took Henry and Tate to church (Matt had a soccer game), and I met a woman who used The Contented Baby to get her daughter on a schedule for the first year of life. She explained that the book provided detailed schedules that changed frequently throughout the year.
I decided to download the Kindle version (Editor's Note: I just discovered the Kindle app, which makes breastfeeding so much more fun!). I appreciated the level of detail in each of the schedules, and I appreciated that they changed frequently throughout the year to match the child's changing needs. We implemented the schedule for a couple days, but Tate didn't really seem to like the "split feeding" concept, and I didn't like the way the schedules significantly decreased the amount of nap time throughout the first year. The schedules didn't seem aligned with the kind of sleep that Henry wanted/needed during his first year.
That's when I found my way back to my post about baby routines and decided to try out the routine from the Baby Whisperer. So far, Tate seems to be doing really well with it. It follows the same Eat-Play-Sleep pattern every three hours. Tate wakes up twice to eat between 10pm and 7am.
For Matt's and my personalities, knowing generally what to expect and when to expect it helps a lot. It's easier for Matt to fit in a run when we know that Tate is highly likely going to be sleeping for the next hour and 45 minutes. I can schedule work phone calls during expected nap times, and I can shower every morning after Tate's first feeding of the day. He eats really well during the feeding times and falls asleep quickly when we start to put him down for naps.
It's definitely a lot harder to adhere to a routine with a second baby because it requires a lot of time at home. In general, I'm able to implement it every day during the week, but the weekends are much more difficult. Tate doesn't nap nearly as well when we are out and about, so it's easy for him to get over-tired on the weekends. We're hoping that our approach with Tate leads to the same results that it has with Henry. Henry is a great sleeper (he definitely has his difficulties--especially when it comes to napping on the weekends these past couple months), but in general he goes down easily and sleeps well. I know every child is different, so we'll see what happens with Tate.
Definitely feel free to chime in with your thoughts on what works for your family. I appreciated the discussion we had about these issues a couple months ago!

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Meg said...

Routines are something that we thrive on, in our family. I also believe that children thrive on routines- as long as those routines are healthy.

We are followers of Baby Wise. We love Baby Wise Mom (google her, she's great)and have used it successfully for both of our children (who are 16 months apart)and will for our third (coming September 2013).

Angela Mae said...

I was totally lost and starting to feel a little desperate during our son's second week of life until I started reading Baby Wise. Getting on into a routine and flexing it with an awareness of baby's needs is so stabilizing!

Sara E. Cotner said...

It's amazing to me how aligned the recommended schedules are with both Henry and Tate's patterns/needs as infants. If Tate starts to wake up before it's been three hours since he ate, it's really easy to soothe him right back to sleep. When he wakes up again, it's typically within a couple of minutes of the three-hour mark. After he has eaten and he's enjoying some awake time, I notice that he gets fussy and starts yawning about 5-10 minutes before his nap time is "supposed" to start. By the time I change his diaper and start putting him to sleep, he's usually falling asleep right on schedule. I feel like he gets all the food and sleep he needs when he needs it, and I have a sense of what our day looks like and when I'll have time to accomplish stuff for myself.

Kirstie Hinton said...

I'm glad things are going so well with Tate, Sara.

I was wondering if you use the sling with Tate as much as you did with Henry? I remember Henry took all his naps in the sling for a while, which is exactly what my daughter did for the first four months of her life.

I'm now pregnant with my second child and my "plan" is to nudge the baby into a similar routine to the one you describe here. I remember thinking my daughter should perhaps be moving to more of a routine just as she turned 3 months, but I wasn't brave enough to try anything because she was still sleeping six hours, followed by four hours, followed by two hours every night and I was scared to disrupt that! She started waking every 1 1/2 to 2 hours at four months so I had to help her with her sleep then! Can I also ask you at what age both Henry and Tate were when you felt they could benefit from a routine. (Sorry if you've covered this before)

Thank you for your considered posts on this, it is useful food for thought.


Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Kirstie!

Yes, Henry took every single nap in the Moby wrap for the first three months of his life!

With Tate, I tried not to get him in that habit and tried to follow what all the books say: set them down when they are drowsy but awake. Let them settle themselves, but don't let them cry.

Well, it worked great during his sleepy newborn phase, but now it's much easier to put him in the Moby, give him a pacifier, and pat his back. He conks out within minutes. I am able to transfer him to his moses basket, but he will typically wake himself up from gas. If I'm in the room with him, I can respond quickly and pat his back. If I'm in the other room and he wakes himself up too much, I have to put him back in the Moby (and he will fall asleep quickly again and finish out the remainder of his nap). Because I've had a lot of work to get done lately, I've been keeping him in the Moby for his entire nap, so he'll sleep easily the whole time without much input from me. I try not to worry too much about establishing bad habits in the first three months (i.e., the fourth trimester). I've read--and believe--that you can't spoil a baby during that time.

With Henry, we started the eat-play-sleep every 2-3 hours routine around week three. With Tate, we started it on day 2! Since the routine required waking him up to eat, I felt like I was actually helping my milk supply instead of hurting it. And so far, Tate seems to be doing really well with the routine. The book I'm following now (Baby Whisperer) says the routine changes around 6 weeks (the amount of awake time stretches out by 15 minutes) and then the whole routine changes again at 4 months.

k said...

My first child defied all attempts to put her in a routine - at least the ones we read about in books or on the internet. It turned out she was pretty sensitive to weather and sunlight, so she sleeps longer in the winter than in the summer and is more inclined to rest during the day when it's cloudy. Whenever I would try things from Babywise or Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child or whatever, her sleep would get worse. My second child is exactly like the books and game for pretty much any kind of routine we establish for him. I could not believe it when "putting him down drowsy" actually worked! I often felt like a failure with my first child, but I've gained confidence since having the second one and realizing that some kids are just outliers.

lmb said...

"Since the routine required waking him up to eat, I felt like I was actually helping my milk supply instead of hurting it."

YES. My little one is just about 3 months old now, and has never been one to request feedings regularly throughout the day. If left to "demand feed," he would probably only eat half as much as he really needed. In the first few days, he lost over 10% of his body weight and was an incredibly scrawny little guy who had all kinds of trouble establishing breastfeeding. 3 months in, I still wake him up to feed every 3 hours throughout the day (sometimes letting him have an extra-long afternoon nap that stretches it out to 4 hours). At night, he gets really uncomfortable and hungry (rooting around to nurse) in his sleep, but rarely actually wakes up! I hear him wriggling around like crazy and wake him up to eat.

Before he was born, I never thought I would be one of those 'uptight' moms who put their baby on a schedule, but I credit the diligent feeding schedule with the fact that breastfeeding is going way better now and my boy is climbing the growth charts to much healthier levels. We don't have a very established routine for naps and playtime yet though, and I just let baby set the agenda based on his body language (sleepy/fussy = naptime; alert/active = play). It would be nice if I could predict when his naps were so I could get in my own activities more consistently, but I just don't feel like he's quite old enough to push the scheduling agenda too far at this point. Of course, this means I am not getting as many showers as I'd like!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Imb! Have you tried showering during his awake time? I put Tate on a blanket under a wooden arch with black and white pictures.

Autumn Witt Boyd said...

Sara, glad to hear things are going well with Tate! Following a routine was key for our family's sanity. I have twins so I got to see firsthand how every baby is different! They were in the NICU for about a week, and they followed a three-hour feeding schedule, even for our wimpy babies who needed to gain weight, so I figured if it was good enough for them it was good enough for us. (note: some babies were on a two-hour feeding schedule) One thing I would suggest for naps -- are you swaddling him? I know some babies like it and others don't, but that might help give him the "secure" feeling he likes in the Moby wrap, without you or Matt having to wear him for every nap. We swaddled them for naps and at bedtime until they were about 6 months old, it was like being swaddled was their signal to wind down, and they generally went to sleep quickly on their own. One of our boys is inherently a better sleeper and was ready to give up the swaddle earlier than the other, who needs more help and takes longer transitioning to sleep.

Irene Tan said...

Routine all the way here. Loosely followed baby whisperer but in the end relaxed and went with the flow and my son slept through properly around 11 weeks old. Will do it again for the next one! Glad that all is going well with Tate.

Kelsey said...

Eat, sleep, play helped us too! I felt a bit overwhelmned because it seemed that Dashiell wanted to eat every 30 minutes, then with eat, sleep, play I realized he was fussing the second time because he was tired! Even with this routine though he fights sleep and has to be rocked in a dark place with white noise, even if we start this before he's really tired and fussing. It's getting a bit better now going down for naps but he is not the best sleeper at night so I don't think that this routine has helped him sleep through the night. If he does wake before he is due to eat he fusses and then cries and can't be comforted back to sleep without nursing. It sounds like you have pretty good night sleepers! We might need to do some type of modified sleep training in the next two months, now that we are not swaddling he just rolls and flails.

Katy Humphrey said...

Hi Sara-

I am a big fan of routines. I agree with an earlier comment that a routine with my kiddo really helped him to thrive. While we don't stick to rigid times, we do stick to the same order of activities. Our son is almost 2 and every night we eat dinner, play for a bit, pick up toys, change into pjs, cuddle time while reading a book, brush teeth, kisses, song, bed time. Sounds like a lot- but our son knows what to expect and has done well.

We also used "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child". Not to the "t" but it has lots of great information and really defines why structured sleep routines are important.

I appreciate you and your ability to address topics that can be areas of strong opinions. I like the idea of building a community of shared ideas- I think it's great for parents to share ideas without judgement. It's empowering to find encouragement!

Parenting is a learning and growing experience for the adults too!

(a loyal follower)

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