A lovely friend whose baby is close in age to Hattie and Joe contacted me this morning and asked me to tell her about our routine. As I started writing my reply I realised that it would be fairly long, so I decided to make it a blog post instead!
This is the routine we’ve followed since late September. I gave Hattie and Joe a few days to recover from jet lag after our trip, and then we made a wholesale change to two sleeps and three meals a day (they were so out of dotes that there didn’t seem to be any point in trying to of things gradually). They adjusted really well to the change, and the rest of the routine was fine-tuned after our multiple birth club hosted a session with the amazing Baby Sleep Consultant and I took her advice on timings during the day: specifically, that babies should, at this age, be up for two hours between waking up in the morning and having their first nap, and then for three hours between their two naps, and then for four hours between their afternoon nap and their evening bedtime. She explained that they need to be up for a decent time before going to bed at night, so they’re actually tired enough to sleep through. She also offered good advice about baby nutrition: to try to include protein and carbohydrate at every meal.
This routine works wonderfully for us: it’s brought order to the chaos of our house. We follow it to the letter – when I say “down for a nap at 1pm”, that’s what I mean: not 12.45pm, and not 1.15pm. This clock-watching element certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but it fits in with my prior corporate work style of having to be at certain places on time, and it makes life really simple: no more ‘watching for tired signs’; it’s bed time when the clock says so. And we follow it on week days and in the weekend. Yes, it means that we’re robbed of spontaneity to a large degree, but I’ve experienced the side effects of what spontaneity does to life with babies, and it ain’t pretty. And as I’ll discuss later, there’s scope to still do what we want to do within their routine. Besides, it won’t always be like this: one day they’ll be onto one sleep a day, which will free up more time, and eventually they won’t sleep at all during the day, and then I’ll be very sad indeed…
I know that a lot of people favour a more baby-led approach: to be honest, our first six months were fairly baby-led. Here’s the thing, though: with two babies, I was run ragged, and by trying to cater to both their needs, I don’t think I was truly meeting either baby’s needs. And I’m 38 years old, and they’re nearly ten months old. I do actually know more than they do about what’s best for them. Besides, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: I’m the last person who can afford to sound smug, and if know that things could need to be adjusted again in a week’s time, but for now I have two well rested babies who: go to sleep easily; sleep all night; eat well; rarely seem to grizzle for no apparent reason; are easy to take out because of the lack of grizzling; and seem to be happy and contented as they crawl around and play all day.
6am/6.30am: the babies wake up, have a breast feed, and then play on the living room floor while Tristan and I have breakfast, and Tristan takes Tui out for a walk. Ideally we’ll soon push back the wake-up time to 6.30/7, as explained below.
7.30am: the babies have breakfast. After breakfast they have more time playing on the floor, and Tristan leaves for work at 8am. I try to get the breakfast stuff cleaned up, but if the babies are getting tired and grizzly I’ll lie on the living room floor and play with them. Best game ever if you’re Hattie or Joe: crawling over to Mummy and trying to pull her hair or put your fingers in her ears. Or, if you’re Hattie, blow raspberries on her tummy.
9am: down for the morning nap. Until recently this was at 8.30am, but we’ve been having a few issues with early morning wake-ups (at 5ish, which is like the middle of the night for me), and several people have suggested that pushing the first nap back to 9am will help. This is what happened on the first morning that I tried to keep the babies up until 8.45am:
The babies put themselves to bed with Tui. It was like they realised that 8.30am had passed, and assumed that I’d just lost track of time (I was in the kitchen, washing dishes). This illustrates quite neatly something that is either a good thing or a bad thing about this kind of routine, depending upon whether you stick to it or not: the babies’ body clocks become totally set to it, so you change it at your peril…
Once the babies are in bed, I’m not going back in there for anything short of blood-curdling screams. A little bit of grizzling is perfectly acceptable – some babies need to let off steam before they go to sleep. Joe has always been a pre-sleep grizzler.
This morning nap is an hour long, and is absolutely sacrosanct: we NEVER mess with it. If Hattie and Joe don’t sleep in the morning, they go completely and utterly feral. People who want to catch up with me in the morning are always welcome to do so, but it will be at my house, and they’ll be asked to text when they arrive, rather than knocking and risking baby wake-ups.
10am: time to get up. If Hattie and Joe aren’t awake by 10.10am I’ll wake them up to keep us on schedule (and this kind of thing may bewilder baby-led fans). The babies would, until recently, have a morning tea feed, but as of two weeks ago they have morning tea instead. It’s their only finger food meal at the moment, and blimey, it’s slow and messy…
After morning tea we might have a small outing (a quick trip to a shop, for example), or a walk, or Hattie and Joe will just play at home. The only regular exception is on every second Tuesday, when I host our multiple birth club’s fortnightly coffee morning for expectant multiple mums and those with babies. It runs from 10.30am – 12pm, so on those days morning tea has (until now) been a breast feed; now that we’re doing food instead I think I’ll fling them straight into the car after their nap and spoon something into them at the venue, which is only five minutes’ drive from our house.
12pm: lunch. I always do this at home, unless we’re also going to be out for the afternoon nap, mainly to ensure that the babies don’t conk out in the car and then get grumpy when I try to put them back to bed for their afternoon nap at home. After the coffee morning finishes at 12pm on those days I practically run to the car with the babies and drive as fast as I can within the speed limit to get home, so they can eat.
After lunch the babies have a little play in the living room until 12.50pm, when they head back to bed for their afternoon nap.
1pm: Hattie and Joe’s afternoon nap. This supposed to last for 90 minutes, but anything over an hour is fine.
2.30pm: the babies are up again, and have a breast feed. This feed is the next one that I’ll drop, so I can give them a snack instead. Afterwards we usually do something – either a play date or a walk. If we’ve been busy in the morning we’ll take it easy in the afternoon, and vice-versa. I do like to get out for a walk most days, particularly as (according to the Baby Sleep Consultant), exposure to sunshine during the afternoon can help to promote good sleep at night. I try to get Hattie and Joe home by 4.30pm/4.45pm.
5.30pm/6pm: bath (together, using their awesome bath seats. Tristan gets home in time for the babies’ bath, which is awesome.
6pm/6.30pm: final breast feed.
a note about naps…
I start putting the babies into their cots ten minutes before the nap time – so, if I want them to sleep from 9am, I start getting them into their sleeping bags at 8.50am. This gives me time to change a surprise pooey nappy if necessary, without bedtime getting pushed back, and it also gives them time to have a little gurgle and roll around in their cots before settling down and going to sleep. The Baby Sleep Consultant reckons that it should take a baby 5 – 15 minutes to settle down and go to sleep, and that a baby that is out like a light within seconds of going to bed was probably overtired. My experience with Hattie and Joe supports this theory.
All of their naps and overnight sleeps involve sleeping bags, their bedtime cuddly toys (Betty the bear and Larry the lion), the black out curtains shut, and the white noise on. Overnight, and for their first sleep of the day, there’s still a heater on in their room, and they’re wearing long-sleeved pyjama suits with a singlet underneath. For the afternoon nap they’re in whatever they’re wearing that day, minus jeans (too uncomfortable to sleep in, as far as I’m concerned), and I have the heater off, but have a long-sleeved top on (over their short-sleeved onesie today).
I’ve realised that I can resettle them during this nap: if either of them wake up and just chat or grizzle, and it’s before 2pm, I’ll leave them to go back to sleep. If they wake up crying properly I’ve discovered that I can resettle them as if they’d woken up at night: I head in, grab the upset baby, avoid making eye contact, cuddle them, say “shhh” a lot, and then put them back down. Joe woke up crying after 40 minutes today, and ended up going back to sleep for another 45 minutes after I’d visited him. I think the key lies in making the visit very different to the “yay – you’re awake! Did you have a good sleep! Let’s open the curtains!” cheery banter to which I subject them when it’s actually time to get up.
a note about meals…
Breakfast is porridge and fruit: I make the porridge and then mix frozen purée through to cool it down to eating temperature.
Morning tea is whatever finger food I can rustle up: little sandwiches with jam or marmite; slices of chicken or ham; baby rice cakes; pieces of fruit, etc.
Lunch is the one meal that I often don’t make: if we’ve been out, I want to be able to feed Hattie and Joe really quickly as soon as we get in the house. I use Only Organic food and Natureland food, and I stock up when both brands are on sale at the supermarket (which is almost always). It would be bloody expensive to always feed these brands for every meal, but it’s good for one meal a day. Lunch is either a meat and vegetable concoction of some kind, or a vegetable mash with cheese, followed by bought fruit custard (which is mainly rice cereal and fruit), or yoghurt and fruit, or just fruit. And water from a cup or a bottle (both babies have decided that they like drinking from bottles with soft silicone straws, which is helpful).
Dinner is like lunch: something meaty/cheesy with vegetables, followed by pudding (either home made custard and fruit, or Natureland chocolate custard. Hattie is OBSESSED with chocolate custard).
The Baby Sleep Consultant recommends feeding protein and carbohydrate every meal, to promote good sleep. Hattie and Joe don’t currently have protein with breakfast, but other than that I try to stick to this guideline.
A note about changing the routine…
I’ve learned that we can be flexible with lunch – having it out of the house – if we’re not intending to get home for the afternoon nap. Recently we gave Hattie and Joe lunch at a morning first birthday party, and then planned a drive that would give them sufficient time to sleep in the afternoon. I also visited my friend Helen this week and successfully convinced the babies to have a 90 minute nap during a walk – they had a play and their lunch at her house, and when 1pm arrived I put them in their Mountain Buggy with the sunshade on, gave them Larry and Betty, and tucked a light blanket around each of them. I think the key, for them, is the time: if it’s past 12.30pm, they’re going to be getting ready to sleep.