Mom, Could You Pencil Me in for a Nap?

17 Sep

"Seriously. Don't feed me again, I'm tired."

One of the most debated and misunderstood tools of parenting has got to be the implementation of a routine. Personally, I think there is some major confusion going on about what a routine is and why it is used. After more than eight years of attachment parenting, I’ve come to realize that routine and schedule are not dirty words, they are simply a reality.

A Routine is Not a Schedule; A Schedule is Not a Routine

While these words often get used interchangeably, they are definitely not the same. Let’s say, for example, you wake baby up at 7 a.m. every day, eat breakfast at 7:15 and are out the door by 8 a.m. This is a schedule.

On the other hand, if baby wakes up (usually at 7 a.m.), gets a diaper change, nurses for about 20 minutes, followed by playtime, then one more diaper check and it’s time to leave the house. This is a routine. It may be bound by some time restrictions, but it’s a consistent set of activities that take place each day in the same order. Your baby knows that as soon as diaper is changed, eating will begin, then playtime.

When you are not bound by a schedule (from work, older siblings or your own daily agenda), a routine can be very flexible. You could let baby sleep in if teething or illness prevented a good night’s sleep, but you would stick with the consistent order of activities. If your baby normally stays awake for 3 hours before needing a nap, you would simply count 3 hours from the time baby woke up to readjust the nap.

Or perhaps you will need to be somewhere outside the home during a time when your baby is usually napping. Clearly adjustments need to be made. My youngest daughter’s natural rhythm involved an afternoon nap at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, this is when her older sister needed to be picked up from school. (The car ride was only a few minutes, not long enough for an actual nap.) I had to tweak her natural routine a bit to meet her needs while still meeting the needs of our family. So, in this regard, our routines are driven by the schedules of all five people in our family.

Why does it matter? Science knows.

Ah, that’s the real question. Whether parents want to believe it or not, routines make happier babies. They cry less because they know what to expect. They don’t need to cry out in hunger or tiredness, because those needs are met before they become urgent. Personally, I fell into a routine almost by accident and, oh, how I wish I had saved myself the eight months of exhaustion and simply set up some consistent routines from the start. (You can read more about that at Confessions of a Disorganized Mom.)

But, there’s research to back up the importance of a routine as well. In June, 2010, a sleep study involving 8,000 children (the largest of it’s kind) revealed the following:

  • Children in households with bedtime rules and children who get adequate sleep score higher on a range of developmental assessments;
  • Results indicate that among sleep habits, having a regular bedtime was the most consistent predictor of positive developmental outcomes at 4 years of age. Scores for receptive and expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and early math abilities were higher in children whose parents reported having rules about what time their child goes to bed. Having an earlier bedtime also was predictive of higher scores for most developmental measures.

“Getting parents to set bedtime routines can be an important way to make a significant impact on childrens’ emergent literacy and language skills,” said lead author Erika Gaylor, Ph.D., early childhood policy researcher for SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. (SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, June 7, 2010, read full text here.)

Behavioral Impact of Routines

Literacy and language skills are one thing, but behavioral improvements can drastically impact a household. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL is now a part of Vanderbilt University, one of the leaders in autism research) published a reference manual for early childhood teachers titled “Helping Children Understand Routines and Classroom Schedules”. Here’s an excerpt:

Studies have documented that schedules and routines influence children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development. For example, predictable and consistent schedules in preschool classrooms help children feel secure and comfortable.

Also, schedules and routines help children understand the expectations of the environment and reduce the frequency of behavior problems, such as tantrums and acts of aggression. Activity schedules that give children choices, balanced and planned activities (small vs. large groups, quiet times vs. active times, teacher directed vs. child directed, indoor vs. outdoor), and individualized activities result in a high rate of child engagement. (Read more here.)

Let me repeat that last sentence about the importance of activity schedules that give children choices. Many parents resist routines because they fear it will become too rigid or create a child who is unable to be flexible when necessary. What happens, however, is just the opposite. Children become more adept at making choices based upon what is available to them; as opposed to demanding something that they simply expect will be available.

A Routine is not a Label, It’s an Action

Our children are at our mercy. We set the tone and the pace of their days. As a parent, I strive to create a flexible, fun and nurturing environment for my three daughters that respects the unique needs of each child, and I help many new parents do the same.

I also advise new parents that for the first four months your routine is this:
Fall in love with your baby, eat healthy foods, get more sleep.

MOM DARE: The key to setting up a positive routine is to resist the notion that “one-size-fits-all”, and develop a strategy that respects the individual needs of each member of your family (including yourself). If you don’t have a consistent routine for your young child, this is the week to try it. Write everything down to see what works best. Then repeat. If you need help based on the age of your baby, write a comment or question here. I’ve got sample routines that I can post.

Grace and Peace.

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11 responses to “Mom, Could You Pencil Me in for a Nap?

  1. lorilowe

    September 17, 2010 at 7:44 am

    This is good advice not just for the baby but also for the school-age child as your research suggests. A routine that involves healthy sleep and eating patterns is essential for them to be at their best. The earlier one starts a bed-time routine that gives them adequate sleep the better. If they have trouble falling asleep, at least their body can enjoy relaxation time and they can learn self-soothing and relaxation strategies.

  2. momswithgrace

    September 17, 2010 at 9:11 am

    I agree. It’s difficult for new parents to imagine six years into the future when their newborns will begin an elementary education. Establishing consistent routines before this time helps children to adjust more easily to a school routine, not to mention they can enter school well-rested and ready to learn.

    I also read an interesting research abstract that studied the impact that Hurricane Katrina had on school-age children. One of the findings reinforced the importance of educators establishing a consistent routine for children who were displaced and who did not have consistency in their homes (through no fault of the parents, just the tragedy of the circumstances.)

    Of the parents that I counsel, those who claim they do not need a routine are shocked to realize they already have one that the child has directed. I have them write down their activities for three days. They can see the routine when placed in front of them on paper and can also see that meltdowns occur when they stray too far from the natural routine.

  3. Rachel

    February 5, 2011 at 10:55 pm

    Would you kind emailing sample sched?. My Lily is 3ish months.
    Great advice. Thank you!

  4. momswithgrace

    February 6, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Rachel, perhaps this will help.
    I just looked back at my Typical Day Caresheets for my second daughter when she was 2 months old and it was pretty chaotic. By 3 months, here is what she was doing:

    9am nurse, change diaper
    9:15-10 play
    10:15 sleep in crib
    11:30 nurse
    12-1 play
    1:15-2 sleep in crib
    3:00 nurse, awake for awhile
    4:30-5 sleep
    6:00 nurse
    7:00 bath
    9:00 breast milk in bottle*
    10pm sleep in crib
    3:30am nurse, back to sleep until 8 or 9am

    *(I had learned by this time that my milk supply was diminished by evening. I was caring for a toddler and a newborn and just didn’t have enough rest to keep my supply strong into the evening. Since she was such a great night sleeper, I found it best to nurse from one breast in the morning and pump the other. That way, she got a rich supply of hindmilk before bed instead of the gassy foremilk she was previously getting. It also gave my husband a chance to spend some quality alone time with her, which they both enjoyed.)

    By 4 months we were putting her to sleep around 9pm and she was sleeping until 8am and taking 1 long (2.5 hr) nap and 2 small naps each day. My oldest daughter did not sleep thru the night until she was about 2 years old, so don’t be upset if that is the case! Also, the oldest would not sleep on her back and ended up sleeping with us. The younger one hated sleeping with us and would sleep great only when placed in her own bed.

    Try writing all your activities down for a few days to see what works best for you. Visit for more information on routines.

  5. Kemmy

    May 23, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    I love this! First article I’ve read that makes me feel comfortable. I have a 7 month old and would love to know a 7 or 8 month old example of routine.

    • momswithgrace

      May 24, 2011 at 12:12 am

      Thank you! This is what I used from 6-8 months with my second child. My oldest was on roughly the same, but I didn’t take notice until she was 8 months. And she slept with me so she nursed ALL the time!

      Sample routine for 6 month old baby

      Ah, solid food. What a fun and challenging stage. How do you know when to feed solids and when to nurse or bottle feed? It’s trial and error, but here’s what worked for my middle girl. I also had a 2-1/2 year-old daughter at this time, so our activities were designed to accommodate both children. I usually put the 2-year-old to bed at 2 p.m. for nap, then put the baby down. It’s obvious we were not early-risers! I sometimes wish for this simplicity again.

      8 a.m. Up for the day, nurse (wakes once at night to nurse)
      8:30-10 a.m. Play/errands if needed
      10-11:30 a.m. Nap in crib (may nurse again small amount)
      12:00 Solids in high chair; get dressed if not already
      12:30-2:30 p.m. Play; stays awake for 2-3 hours
      2:30-4:30 p.m. Nurse, nap in crib (if she wakes after 1 hour, try rocking her back to sleep)
      4:30-5:00 p.m. Wake her up if still asleep
      5:30 p.m. Solids in high chair, play
      7:00 p.m. Bath
      7:30 p.m. Nurse
      8:00 p.m. Finish nursing in dark bedroom, sleep in crib
      2:00 a.m. nurse if awake

      • momswithgrace

        May 24, 2011 at 8:39 am

        Here’s one more that we used from 9-12 months when daughter was sleeping through the night and still taking 2 naps.

        Two Naps a Day

        Here is our two-nap routine that was in place for my middle girl at the age of 12 months. She was still nursing during the day, but taking a full bottle of expressed milk at night and sleeping all night consistently. (She started doing that around 5 months.) My very fussy first daughter slept through the night after 12 months, but we were still battling food intolerances at this age.

        And just to clarify, by all night I mean at least 10 hours. I’ve read so many baby books by sleep experts and nannies who claim you can induce sleeping through the night by using a particular method. When you really dig in, they define sleeping through the night as 6 hours of sleep. Man, that was a short night!

        Anyway, 2 naps at 12 months:

        8-8:30 am up for day, change diaper, eat breakfast

        8:30-9:45 play, nurse before nap

        10-11:30 morning nap in crib (ready for nap 2 hours after waking for day)

        11:30-12 change diaper, eat lunch

        12-1 pm play

        1-1:30 pm full bottle (while awake, not in bed)

        2-4 pm afternoon nap (ready for nap 2.5-3 hours after morning nap)

        5-7 pm dinner, play

        7 pm bath

        7:30 pm full bottle

        8 pm bedtime, sleeps all night

  6. Sabah

    October 3, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Your website is awesome-I commend your efforts! please give me a sample routine for a 22 month old and a 10 month old-both are boys-thanks!

    • Sabah

      October 3, 2011 at 1:35 am

      You have already posted one you used between 9-12 months so I just need for my 22 month old then-thanks!

  7. alfiesaden

    January 4, 2012 at 5:54 am

    hello – is it just me !! can any one explain why when i type in the yahoo browser “” i get a different site yet whe i type it in google its ok? could this be a bug in my system or is any one else having same probs ?


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