I believe in responsive parenting and when it comes to sleep support, learning your baby’s sleep cues and responding to their sleep needs is step one in helping your baby feel happier and better rested.
Many ‘routines’ for infants do not support responsive feeding or parenting. Some suggest sleeping and feeding your baby by the clock which is usually not in-keeping with your baby’s natural sleep and feeding patterns. This can be challenging and may impact on breastfeeding and milk supply. Others suggest separating feeding from sleeping, and again these often don’t work as it is very normal for your baby to want to feed to sleep.
Here are my tips for creating a responsive routine around your babies sleep and feeding rhythms.
Create a clear day and night: One of the most effective ways to help support your baby’s natural sleep pattern is to set them up with a 24hr day split between nighttime and daytime.
Aim to start and end their day within the same hour every morning/evening. This might be somewhere between 6/7am – 6/7pm or 7/8am – 7/8pm.
So, let’s say its 7am and our baby wakes up chatty and alert, this would be a great time to start the day. If you’re not quite ready to get up yet, that’s ok! You can bring baby into bed with you for their morning feed BUT open up the curtains first. Natural light is the main indicator to your baby that their night has ended, and their day has begun.
Awake Windows: Now you know what time they are roughly starting their day, the next step is to learn their natural awake windows. Below is a chart of the average awake windows for babies up to 2 years.
The key however is to use this chart as a guide as no two babies are exactly same. So, it’s 50% looking at the clock and 50% watching your babies for signs. Tired cues can include yawning, eye rubbing, whinging and for babies who use the breast to fall asleep, rooting.
So, taking our baby above who started their day at 7am, they are 6 months old, so I know on average they have a 2.5hrs awake window. That means, from around 9am I will be watching them for their tired signs. Once I see some clear signs they are getting tired I can put them down for a sleep anyway I want. This can be feeding, or this might be a great time to go for a walk and they can sleep in the pram.
Once they wake, all I need to do is take a note of the time, and then 2-3hrs later watch them again for tired signs.
It’s worth mentioning that the first awake window in the morning is normally the shortest with the length of time babies can stay awake between sleeps increasing as the day goes on.
Flexible Bedtime: Keep plotting out their naps until you get to the end of the day – the key here is to work out the best bedtime for your baby. So again, looking at our 6 month old above. If they woke up from their last nap at 4.30pm then a 7pm bedtime (asleep for 7pm) would be perfect. However, if they have been awake since 3pm I am going to bring bedtime forward to 6pm to avoid them getting too overtired. Over tiredness is the biggest cause of frequent night wakes and early rising.
Daytime Naps Length: Finally, consider how much sleep your baby roughly needs each day. Again, the chart below provides a guide but this is to be used as a rough estimate as every baby is different. The key is not to give too much daytime sleep or this can interrupt their body clock and confuse day with night.