By: Aileen Dunbar, Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist
“Is he on a schedule yet?” I remember getting this question as a first-time mom when my son was a few months old. I’m sure it wasn’t the person’s intention, but it instantly made me feel I was doing something wrong as I was following his lead in terms of feeding and sleeping. It felt instinctually right to follow his cues but comments like this or reading traditional sleep books planted doubt in my head about my approach.
My doubt was put at ease when I discovered the Baby-Led Sleep approach, developed by Lauren Weber, which emphasizes parents following both their instincts and their baby’s cues to determine times for eating and sleeping. This approach has a foundation in responsiveness and building connected relationships when it comes to your baby’s sleep, and I felt so inspired by it, that I became certified as a Baby-Led Sleep and Well-Being Specialist after my daughter was born a couple of years later.
A key component of this approach is to focus on the uniqueness of each baby which has an impact on when they are ready to eat and sleep. While it is important to accept that each baby will not follow a strict schedule, predictability within the day is still an attainable and worthwhile goal as it leads to less stress for both baby and caregiver. This is where tuning into your baby to determine their natural rhythm for the day can be very useful.
How can I find a natural rhythm for the day with my baby ?
1. Tune into your baby’s sleepy cues to figure out when they should go down for nap or bedtimes. Tired cues are different for each baby but here are a few examples: staring into the distance, becoming clingier, pulling ears, rubbing eyes, and becoming less social and engaged. 2. Once you figure these out, you can keep track over a few days of the time between each sleep period, called a wake window. (For more info on wake windows and tired cues, you can get your free download HERE!). 3. This will allow you to get a rough idea of when your baby will be waking, napping and going to sleep at night so you have some more predictability in your day. Keep in mind that babies usually extend their wake windows by about 15 minutes every 3 weeks so this rough “schedule” will be shifting according to this.
4. Once you have a rough idea of when your baby will be napping each day, this will help you know when to start winding down for nap and bedtime.
5. Having routines for nap and bedtimes are a great idea as they signal to baby it is sleep time helping them feel more safe and secure. Tips for developing sleep routines
Tip #1: Determine which aspects you would like to include in routine. Here are some common aspects but it is of course up to you what you would like to include: -bath -reading books -breastfeeding or bottle -baby massage -putting on pajamas -singing lullabies -rocking, bouncing, swaying, etc. to sleep -putting on the noise machine and turning off lights ⠀ Tip #2: Determine the order in which you would like to do routine.
It is a good idea to be consistent with this as then it creates a safe, calming environment for baby before sleep where they know what to expect. ⠀ Tip #3: Try to fit in your chosen aspects without it taking too long and baby becoming overtired.
This is where tracking baby’s wake windows and knowing their tired signs should help as then you know approximately when you should start the routine. Also, you could condense the bedtime routine to include fewer elements at naptime. Try not to stress if sometimes you have missed baby’s tired signs and need to either shorten your routine or get rid of certain parts to avoid baby becoming overtired. The key is to aim for consistency but not be hard on yourself if things go off the rails (which of course they will from time to time!).
Tip #4: Routine doesn’t need to be set in stone and you can change things that are no longer working.
The most important aspect of the routine is that it is calming for both you and baby. Babies co-regulate with their caregivers, meaning they rely upon their calmness to enter a calm state themselves. So, for example, if you are no longer enjoying bouncing your baby to sleep and want to change this part of the routine, then this is perfectly understandable. There are ways to make gradual changes while supporting baby’s emotions. (If you want to learn more about this, book a free 15-minute consultation with me HERE). Also, the more sleep associations baby has the better so then if you want to eliminate one, it should be an easier process.
In summary, in the Baby-Led Sleep approach, we do not believe in following a generic schedule based on age, but instead value tuning into baby’s tired cues and using routines to signal when it is time for your baby to sleep. So ignore those people who tell you your baby should be on a schedule. You are doing an amazing job following your instincts!