Getting your baby’s routine back on track after a break

Routines sometimes get disrupted

A baby is sitting in a box wearing a Santa hat. There is a Christmas tree in the background.

I’m writing this at the end of December, 2023, conscious that this is peak disruption time for your baby’s routine! Christmas comes with it’s own set of activities that disrupt sleep. Parents (and by parents, I mean mostly mums) are busier than usual, getting organized for the Big Day. There are visits to relatives, sometimes overnight, which disrupts normal sleeping arrangements and time tables. Older babies and toddlers may be indulged a little bit more than usual with sweet treats. They pick up on our mood too, so if we are stressed by everything we need to do, or annoyed at the mother in law’s veiled criticisms, our children may be out of sorts too. 

Perhaps you’ve taken advantage of a cheap, off season holiday and have spent a few days somewhere warm and sunny. Maybe there’s been a time change. You’ve maybe let your normally careful timings slide and you’re wondering how to get back on track when you get home. 

And let’s not forget sickness. It’s rare to escape at least one cold over Christmas, and that often leaves babies coughing and crying at night time, needing more cuddles and reassurance than normal, and waking more than usual. It’s understandable that you’d let them contact nap more than usual, or that you have to deal with a lot more night wakes. 

All is not lost

It’s important to note that if you had a good sleep routine established before the disruption, it will be easier to return to because your baby’s body clock is used to it. If you did not have a solid routine, now is the perfect opportunity to start one. To be honest, re-establishing your baby’s routine follows the same steps I suggest for establishing a routine in the first place! If you would like some help with your baby’s sleep, here’s how I can help: www.rebeccascottpillai.co.uk/sleep

Have you noticed any positive changes?

While most of us love having a routine in place, it might be worth taking a step back before you try to adjust your child’s routine again. Sometimes we become so fixated on having everything back on track that we fail to notice that sometimes, sleep was actually easier:

  • So, maybe having your baby back in the same room as you when you traveled, meant they woke less.
  • Maybe contact napping with your sick baby actually gave you a little well deserved break.
  • Or perhaps, you weren’t able to facilitate a nap straight away, and your baby was exposed to lots of new, exciting experiences. So when they did take a nap, they were really tired, and the nap happened easily.
  • Or maybe the later bedtime meant that they slept for a longer block of sleep at the start of the night.
  • If you have had more support than usual, or you have felt more relaxed, perhaps your baby picked up on that too. We co-regulate our babies. This means that when we are calm and relaxed, our babies are more likely to be calm and relaxed too.

DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING THAT YOU READ

Sleep training books often sell us the myth that babies need 12 hours in bed at night. Or that we need to keep to strict wake windows. Or that we can’t let our babies get overtired. They often discourage us from being responsive and meeting our child’s need for connection. 

BE CURIOUS

Be curious. Did anything improve? If so, why do you think that was? How can you incorporate that back into your daily routine? 

A young child is sleeping on a sofa, covered in a blanket. There is a Christmas tree in the background.

Reset your baby's routine

RESET THEIR WAKE UP FIRST

The most likely change is that your child has been sleeping later, and waking up later. Therefore, to help reset their internal clock, start adjusting their wake time gradually in 15 minute increments every 3-4 days. This slow shifting will help ease them back into an appropriate schedule without too much difficulty. Move the time earlier until you reach your desired wake up time.

BEDTIME COMES NEXT

When reintroducing the bedtime routine, keep it calming, soothing and consistent. Do the same 3-5 steps, in the same order, every night. Remember that a good bedtime routine should do three things:

  1. It should provide a cue that it’s time to sleep.
  2. It calms and relaxes your child.
  3. It provides them quality time with you.

NAPS

Once your wake up time and bedtime are back at their normal, consistent times, you can tackle naps. I tend to take a flexible approach to naps. Space them out evenly throughout the day, without focusing too much on wake windows. Your child should fall asleep easily within 10-20 minutes of starting a nap. Don’t worry too much about cat naps, as this may be all the sleep that your child needs. 

SUPPORTING YOUR CHILD TO SLEEP

If your baby was previously able to self-settle but now needs more support falling and staying asleep, provide that assistance until they readjust. It’s ok to give your child a little bit more support than they needed previously. You aren’t taking a step back. Usually, it’s much quicker to recoup the progress faster this time around. It’s important to be responsive and give your child the support they need to fall asleep. 

Do you still need to improve sleep?

So, what happens if you get your routine back on track, but your child is still waking very frequently overnight? Well, you might find this article I wrote helpful: Rebecca Scott Pillai | Baby waking at night?

If you do want some more personalized support, I offer practical, affordable sleep consultations. You can find out more here: www.rebeccascottpillai.co.uk/sleep 

Published by Rebecca Scott-Pillai

Rebecca Scott-Pillai is a paediatric sleep consultant and lactaction consultant (IBCLC) based in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. She lives there with her two kids, two cats and dog! With over 20 years experience working with families, Rebecca uses her knowledge and experience to provide collaborative flexible plans for gentle, responsive families.