For the first few months after Hailey was born people kept asking me if I had her on a schedule yet. They were specifically referring to eating and sleeping. At the time, she was feeding and sleeping whenever she pleased and I was just along for the ride. The idea of trying to get her onto a schedule seemed like an insane concept to me. We were in survival mode.
Around about the 3 month mark, my other mommy friends with babies the same age seemed to be attempting to put their babies on a schedule. It’s supposed to be what’s best for baby. Babies are happier when they know what to expect. This still seemed like an impossible task and I was resistant.
When I contemplated this more I realized two things.
- My definition of schedule was different than the definition used by others.
- I was resistant to putting myself on a schedule.
I’ll start with the first point. For me, a schedule was something that operates around a clock and calendar and to be strictly adhered to. For example, naps will be at 9am and 1pm every day. Other people seemed to use the word “schedule” interchangeably with the word “routine”. An example of a routine would be having a nap 2 hours after waking up, then again 2 hours after waking up from that nap. A routine seemed less daunting to me and it was what we had already sort of established.
The second point was a bit more specific to my definition of a schedule. The thought of putting myself on a schedule gave me a panicky feeling. I needed the flexibility to do what I wanted when I wanted (within reason obviously). One of the main things keeping me sane during my mat leave is that I have an activity or an outing with other moms and babies planned most days. I need that interaction with others.
When my husband and I talked about putting Hailey on a schedule we were both in agreement that our lives didn’t really adhere to a schedule. Even our jobs don’t follow the typical 9 to 5 pattern. We also like to travel and would like to continue that with our children. We need a flexible, adaptable baby. It’s a skill that we both value in ourselves and we want Hailey to be able to be happy regardless of what happens in her day. We also want her to be up for anything life throws at her.
We currently have some semblance of a routine. We wake up in the morning, we nurse, we have a seat on the toilet, then Hailey plays by herself while I make breakfast, we eat breakfast together, then we either have a nap or a bit more playtime before a nap depending on how sleepy she is. After the morning nap, we don’t really have a routine. We used to but right now we don’t.
Sometimes that morning nap comes about an hour after she wakes up and other times it happens 3 hours after she wakes up. I really leave it up to her. I will encourage her to sleep if she is getting sleepy. If we have something planned and she hasn’t slept we do it anyways even if it means waking her from her nap right after she went down.
This strategy may sound chaotic to some and to be perfectly honest, it probably would to me if I was on the outside looking in. How could we possibly know what to expect from day to day? How is it possible that Hailey isn’t a complete tired mess? How do I plan anything?
To answer those questions, I expect that every day will be a good day and that we’ll have fun doing whatever we have planned regardless of whether Hailey has napped. When I picture us at swimming lessons, or music class, or getting together with friends (whatever we have planned for the next day) I picture Hailey as happy and enjoying herself. And I trust that she will even if she is tired. She’s proved to me time and time again that she can be up for 4+ hours and still be happy. We still have fun, successful outings more than nine times out of ten. It’s ok if we get it wrong some days. I’m sure this would happen even if we were on a strict schedule.
I plan my days with our absolute happiness in mind. Here are my general “rules” to planning happy days.
- We never have anything planned before 10am. This gives us plenty of time to get ready in the mornings. It usually allows for a morning nap and if not, it’s possible that Hailey will sleep in the car or stroller on our way to wherever we are going.
- We never plan anything to start after 3pm. Afternoons are a big gamble and there is currently very little consistency in napping. If naps have been short or have not really happened then Hailey will start to get miserable around this time of day. It is important that we get a quick nap in here to make it to bedtime and being home mid to late afternoon makes this much easier.
- We try to plan only one thing per day. That way she can catch up on naps during our down time. If we have more than one thing I really think through how the timing is spaced out to allow for naps/eating before committing.
- If we have several things on the agenda on one day, it’s often nice to have nothing planned for the next day.
- If our plans are with someone (e.g. my parents) who has a flexible schedule then we don’t set a specific time to meet. We just plan to meet after Hailey’s morning nap. This ensures she is at her happiest when we are out.
- If we are doing running around (e.g. groceries, etc.) or another activity that doesn’t revolve around Hailey then I make sure I take moments to play with her, interact with her, and chat with her while we are out so she doesn’t feel forgotten. This makes her feel included and adds to her happiness.
- If it’s a day where we don’t get her morning nap in then instead of getting flustered I continue to visualize the day being successful (even if I don’t understand how that’s possible). If I get flustered then I’m not having fun. Then Hailey picks up on that and then we’re sure to spiral downward. If I’m positive I can stay happy even if Hailey ends up being cranky. Usually this means I can settle her a lot easier.
This strategy is working for us. A schedule was not right for me and therefore not right for Hailey. I need to be happy if I expect her to be happy and a schedule was not something that was ever going to make me happy. The bottom line for me always is to do what feels right for you. There is no right answer.