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Schedules versus Routines

What is the difference between schedules and routines?

As a very structured person, when I was told my baby should be on a sleep schedule I followed that every step of the way. What was the result? Lots of anxiety and stress that took away a lot of the joy of those early months.

There is a big difference between a set schedule and a routine. A routine is a set of activities that happen in the same order. A routine offers predictability for both the baby and the parents, while there is still room for flexibility and fun. A schedule is to follow the exact same itinerary and timing every time, every day.

If you have an easy going baby and a schedule works for you and your baby, then that is great news. A schedule provides lots of consistency to your day and some parents and babies thrive when following a schedule.

However, if as a parent you get stressed out if things do not go to plan (as usual when you have a baby) and trying to follow a schedule is only going to add extra pressure to your already challenging day, then my advice is to use routines instead.

Here are my personal thoughts on schedules:

  • Babies develop rapidly throughout their first year, which means they are constantly changing; the same happens with their sleep and feeding patterns and their needs. What may work for your baby one day, may not work the next one. And that is okay and completely normal. However, schedules do not have much room for flexibility, so it can be hard to adapt your schedule to your baby's ever-changing patterns and needs.

  • Schedules can also be triggering for parents who: 1.are dealing with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders; 2.need to feel a sense of control or 3.are very structured. It can be very overwhelming to get caught up in all the things you and your baby "should" be doing. You may feel like a failure when things do not go to plan.

  • The feed/play/sleep method is designed to discourage mothers from feeding their babies to sleep. Nursing to sleep is something completely normal and healthy.

Instead, I would say that the more routines you have in place throughout the day, the more relaxed your baby will be. Babies love to have some predictability and following a set of activities in the same order can signal your baby when it is time to sleep and when it is time to have some fun.

There are two factors that play an important role when figuring out the right routine for your baby:

  1. Getting to know your baby and his/her temperament - hence there will be lots of trial and error in that search for the right routine; and

  2. Consistency - this is key to successfully establish a routine.

I have learned that having a strong routine before nap time and bedtime is key to successfully helping your baby wind down and fall asleep. If you are looking for some good ideas to include in your bedtime routine, look no further.

  • A bath

  • A massage

  • A clean nappy

  • Putting on pjs

  • Reading a book

  • Singing a calming and relaxing song

  • Saying “good night” to certain objects around the house or to baby’s body parts

  • Dimming the lights around the house after dinner

  • Feeding (bottle or nursing)

You could do a shorter version of your bedtime routine as a routine before nap time. Please know that it does not have to happen in the order above. You do what works best for your baby. The most important thing is that parents and babies should be able to connect so, your bedtime routine should be fun and something you and your baby enjoy.

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