Kids' Sleep: Rely on Routine or Go with the Flow?

Elfie enjoying the artwork at a late night opening of an exhibition

Elfie enjoying the artwork at a late night opening of an exhibition

Davina here - Last month Nick and I decided to take a risk and go against our own rules and keep Elfie up late. We wanted to take her to the opening of a friend’s exhibition in Brick Lane. This was a really big deal for us, and it has taken us almost 3.5 years to be relaxed enough to do this! Was it worth it? I don’t know. . .

There were some good and some not so good moments. We took her out for dinner first and she seemed so tired and didn’t eat well but she then went on to really enjoy a lot of the art, interacting with video works and special paper that left hand marks in response to heat. Thankfully with the help of much needed chocolate, she got home ok without collapsing with tiredness. I remember saying at the time that it wasn’t worth it but looking back we did have some lovely moments. I remember feeling excited and proud to take her out and introduce her to friends but also stressed when she moaned or didn't eat her dinner. For us it was probably most worth it because it relaxed us a little and made us realise that keeping her up late one night is not going to ruin her sleeping pattern forever!!!

Background into our sleep routine with Elfie 

When I was pregnant with Elfie I had so many ideals in my mind about what kind of parent I wanted to be. I wanted so much to have a hypno-birth at home in the birthing pool and that reflected what kind of mother I hoped to be. I hoped to breastfeed until Elfie was at least 18 months and sling from day one. The truth was that I ended up having a very clinical planned c-section birth due to Elfie being breech, my milk supply vanished when Elfie was only 7 months and I couldn’t sling until she was 12 weeks due to section. These three things did matter to me a great deal and perhaps because of my outspoken passion for them many people assumed I would co-sleep and have a relaxed routine. This was the opposite from the truth. Nick and I both love our sleep and even before Elfie was born were in bed most nights by 10pm. We always strive to have our 8 hours sleep and were both ourselves brought up with strict bed time routines. 

Elfie never co-slept with us and in fact we moved her into her own room (right next to ours with both doors open) from 4 months as she slept much better that way. Since then we have enjoyed having our bedroom back to ourselves in the evening but we make it a special family space for stories and cuddles early evening and morning and that works for us. I try to shower her with cuddles and love when she is awake and then enjoy quiet time or time with friends and family when she is asleep and I like being able to cuddle my husband at night time or have the luxury to watch a film in bed - I am not sure how easy these things would have been for us if we had found a way to co-sleep with Elfie (I say found a way as she has always seemed to want to sleep in her own bed). 

Our love of sleep and comfort in routine was something we both strongly felt we wanted to invest in our parenting and from around 12 weeks we started a bedtime routine, which was soon followed by a strict nap routine (when I say strict I mean we were strict with ourselves to ensure she could always nap at set times). This has worked incredibly well for us and from six months Elfie slept 7-7 every night and napped three naps a day, a total of 3-4 hours. Looking back we were incredibly strict about it  and we sacrificed a lot to make it happen. I would nearly always go home for Elfie’s naps,  meaning we planned everyday for almost 3 years around them. This meant very few day trips for us! And we would never keep her up past her bedtime. I have a strong memory of my parents asking us out for dinner on holiday to celebrate my sister’s birthday when Elfie was four months but refusing as it meant keeping Elfie up late. 

The reason for this tightness in routine was very much driven by fear that if we stepped her out of her routine we might distract and ruin her sleep pattern. I now wonder whether this fear was valid and whether I will follow such a strict routine again with baby number 2. Would it even be possible to do again with the second child? I guess I will have to wait and see and find my own way of meeting Elfie’s needs with the baby’s routine. 

Do you have a routine or do you allow each day to lead the way? Have you managed to find a way to make your second child’s routine marry with your first’s needs? Any advice much appreciated!!

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