Sleep coaching your little one is a demanding endeavour. I’ve never had a client who said it wasn’t worth it, mind you, but nevertheless, it’s a lot of work, and it requires a lot of discipline.
But once they set things up for their baby to have a steady, predictable nap schedule and sleeping consistently through the night, they sometimes find they have a new issue facing them.
They’re hesitant to deviate in any way from their routine.
It’s totally understandable. After all, they’ve usually gone from a horrible situation where neither they or their little one is getting any sleep, often for months, to a completely opposite scenario where Mum and baby are both well-rested and happy, and it’s usually taken place over a few weeks.
That’s a big improvement in the whole family’s quality of life, and one that parents are really, really hesitant to risk upsetting.
But if you’re the parent of a young baby, that means three naps a day and full nights of sleep every night, so when are you supposed to, you know, live?
I don’t mean, “When are you supposed to get out for a fun night with your girlfriends?”
I mean, “When do you get the opportunity for adult girlfriend chats?”
After all, if you’re sticking to a rigid nap schedule with a newborn, you’ll get about an hour at a time when you could conceivably get to a friend’s place or café – which is doable I suppose. But what about any number of essential things like the dentist, getting your hair done (yes that is an essential) or the doctor’s appointment, let’s face it theses take longer than an hour.
So for those times when life insists on impinging on your schedule, I’ve got some advice for minimising the impact that changing the schedule can have.
First off, wait until you’ve formed a solid foundation for daytime naps. If baby’s been sleeping well during the day for about two weeks, you can feel pretty confident about switching things up a little bit every once in awhile.
How often is once in awhile? Well, I’d say 4 out of five days is consistent enough so as not to throw anything out of whack, but pliable enough to let you get some things done. But do play about with your little one, as they are all different and mine couldn’t go a couple of days in a row!
Second, if you have to skip a nap, or need to have one take place in the sling, car or the buggy, I suggest you prioritise the first nap of the day. That’s usually the one where baby will get the most deep sleep, so keep the car nap for later on in the day if you can or better still arrange a sleep walk with some friends for the last nap of the day, so you can get some adult chat while taking the edge off for bedtime.
If you do end up needing to let baby nap in the car, do what you can to make sure she gets a full nap. If she falls asleep five minutes into a ten minute drive, well you know how that is going to end up, personally I wouldn’t encourage a young baby to be in a car seat longer than needed, but I have kept driving in those circumstances.
What I don’t suggest is trying to move baby into her cot in the middle of her nap. I don’t see a lot of success with this approach until 18 months or older, and I think you’re usually better off just letting her sleep wherever she managed to fall asleep in the first place.
If, however, baby does wake up before she’s had a decent nap, don’t try to put her back to sleep right away. You’re better off waiting for about an hour or more before you try again.
Ideally, give baby the opportunity to sleep in her cot for naps or the same location you want her to sleep in the nights, a general rule is 80/20 and remember respecting day time nap needs only last a short time, by 3 most kids no longer take a regular nap.
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for some help if you can get it - if you can pass her over to a parent or a friend for a couple of hours, you should absolutely take advantage of it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to pay the favour back down the road