Sleep training your little one is a demanding endeavor. I’ve never had a client who said it wasn’t worth it, mind you, but nevertheless, it’s a lot of work, and it requires a lot of discipline.
But once they get their baby on a steady, predictable nap schedule and sleeping consistently through the night, they sometimes find they have a new issue facing them.
They’re hesitant to deviate in any way from their routine.
It’s totally understandable. After all, they’ve usually gone from a horrible situation where neither they or their little one is getting any sleep, often for months, to a completely opposite scenario where Mom and baby are both well-rested and happy, and it’s usually taken place over a few weeks.
That’s a big improvement in the whole family’s quality of life, and one that parents are really, really hesitant to risk upsetting.
But if you’re the parent of a young baby, that means three naps a day and full nights of sleep every night, so when are you supposed to, you know, live?
I don’t mean, “When are you supposed to get out for a fun night with your girlfriends,” although that's a totally realistic goal as well mamas!
I mean, “When are you supposed to buy food?”
After all, if you’re sticking to a rigid nap schedule with a newborn, you’ll get about an hour at a time when you could conceivably get to the grocery store. Or go to the dentist, or get your hair done, or do any number of essential things that, let’s face it, take longer than an hour.
So for those times when life insists on impinging on your schedule, I’ve got some advice for minimizing the impact that changing the schedule can have.
First off, wait until you’ve formed a solid foundation for daytime naps. If baby’s been sleeping well during the day for about two weeks, you can feel pretty confident about switching things up a little bit every once in awhile.
How often is once in awhile? Well, I’d say 4 out of five days is consistent enough so as not to throw anything out of whack, but pliable enough to let you get some things done. And no, you can’t “bank” those days. No keeping to the schedule for 12 days and then breaking the rules for three in a row. Most babies can follow the 80/20 rule...meaning they can tolerate about a 20% variance from the norm over a week.
Second, if you have to skip a nap, or need to have one take place in the car or the stroller, I suggest you prioritize the first nap of the day. That’s usually the one where baby will get the most deep sleep, so keep the car nap for later on in the day if you can.
If you do end up needing to let baby nap in the car, do what you can to make sure she gets a full nap. If she falls asleep five minutes into a ten minute drive, you might consider just driving around for a bit until she’s had a decent nap. (From a safety standpoint, please be sure all stroller or car seat naps are fully supervised)
What I don’t recommend is trying to move baby into her crib in the middle of her nap. I don’t see a lot of success with this approach and I think you’re usually better off just letting her sleep wherever she managed to fall asleep in the first place.
If, however, baby does wake up after before she’s had a decent nap, don’t try to put her back to sleep right away. You’re better off waiting for about an hour before you try again.
Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for some help if you can get it. Ideally, baby should be in their crib for their naps, so if you can pass her over to a parent or a friend for a few hours, you should absolutely take advantage of it. You’ll have plenty of opportunities to pay the favor forward down the road.