Does My Baby Need Routine Sleep Time?

By Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves,

Naomi AldortQ: I get a lot of advice that babies and children do better if they have a routine way of doing everything, especially sleep time. Personally, it is very challenging for me to enforce a sleep time on my baby. How important is it to have schedules and routines for sleep, food, or other activities?

A: It is best to do what brings peace and joy to you and your family. The beauty of keeping your baby in your arms is that you get to know her well; this closeness allows you to respond to her cues rather than apply external theories. Any ideas that do not come from your baby are unlikely to resonate with who she is.

You are well connected to your baby and therefore find it difficult to oppose her direction. Congratulations! Nurture this healthy attachment. There is no need for you to “attach” to ideas that oppose your baby. She is your guide. When you respond to her lead, she learns to trust and rely on herself. Self-confidence and independence are the ability of the child to rely on herself and listen to her own body and soul.

Each child is different and each family unfolds uniquely. If your baby signals her need for routine, follow her lead and it will bring you joy and peace. However, since you say that trying to create routine brings you stress, it must be that it contradicts your baby’s guidance. Listen to your baby. Why struggle to create something that goes against her nature?

Let Nature Provide the Rhythms

Nature does not need humans to make up rhythms. Whatever rhythms are needed are already there. The sun rises and sets, hunger and tiredness come and go, the seasons flow one into the next. We can relax; it is all taken care of.

Inside the child’s body, things occur in a rhythmic flow as well; the child’s own rhythm. She grows, teeth arrive, hair grows, mind develops, muscles become useful, etc. Everything happens on time. Likewise, your baby has innate natural body rhythms. Any external imposition will override your baby’s inner guide and confuse her. She will then learn not to trust the way she feels inside and to become needy and dependent.

In our society, most of what you will hear about babies and children involves strategies to control and shape them, starting with sleep and feeding. The need to control is rooted in fear and mistrust. This fear is unfounded. When babies and children are allowed to discover their own body’s signals they know to go to sleep as well as they know to ask for the breast. When they sleep based on their own inner rhythms, they develop not only healthy sleep habits but self-reliance and independence.

If you visited our home when our three children were young, you would think that there was a routine. However, we did not create a routine. Instead, what you would have seen is a flow that evolved over time around the nature of the children. Everything in nature takes upon itself a rhythm of its own. We must honor this rhythm and flow with it.

Honoring the Flow

Children eat when hungry and sleep when tired. They become aware of their bodies and their needs by being autonomous, not by being controlled. When young, the baby falls asleep while being carried, regardless of where we are or what we do. The baby must continue to be aware of her own body and learn from her own experience. As children get older, family synergy creates a flow that includes times of sleep and times of being awake. Let it unfold.

Some families enjoy rhythm and rituals and that’s what brings peace and joy to their lives. Others enjoy the flow of no routine. Look at nature to learn that there is no one best way. There are rivers that run smoothly with straight shorelines; there are streams meandering down steep slopes; there are creeks that carve their path around boulders and stones; there are gushing waterfalls with rainbows. There is soft rhythmic rain and there is a wild irregular stop and go storms; there are landscapes that look organized and neat and those that are wild and unpredictable. Such is life and such is the nature of babies, children, people, and families. There is no right or wrong and no need to match the ideas of others. Listen inside yourself and flow with your baby.

Indeed, rhythm is not a method to get somewhere, but can be the natural outcome of responsiveness to babies or children who seem to create it on their own. Be responsive to your baby and she will lead you on her path. Flow peacefully with reality and with your baby’s ways and times of sleep.

14 thoughts on “Does My Baby Need Routine Sleep Time?”

  1. Nice to hear this! I too had a hard time with “routines” every night. When my daughter was about 8mos I read “No Cry Sleep Solution” Big on routine, & if that works for parents, good deal! For us, it was kinda stressful. I did what the book said & really examined “was I actually content with our sleep situation?” Well, yeah, I was! So we ditched the routine & I’m personally really glad, because shortly after that we ended up moving a long way & then moving often & there’s just no way the routine approach would have worked out! She’ll do what she’ll do when she’s developmentally ready :))

  2. Such a great question, and a very common one from first-time parents. Your response is thoughtful from an attachment standpoint, however there seems to be some confusion about the words schedule and routine. Grace and peace.

  3. This article came at the exact time I needed it to. I am subscribed to the mailing list and it arrived today. Last night I started thinking about whether or not I should put my toddler on a sleep schedule even though I don’t think I should ever have to force him to sleep or wake up. This article confirmed my natural instincts. Thank you. 🙂

  4. Great article, right on. I see so much energy wasted trying to bend the nature of children (not to mention the earth) to our will.
    It takes ingenuity to match our needs and responsibilities to the needs and capabilities of our individual children, but it can be done. And in the end, it’s not only easier, it’s healthier.

  5. Your advice is music to my ears. It’s exactly the way we operate with our 3-year-old and 8-month-old daughters. We have a family bed and very little that arises out of any sort of preconceived structure in our house. We believe we have delightful, gentle, generous, grounded little people, partly at least because we have resisted much of the chorus around us to control and subsume the children. Love your site!

  6. Very good article. Makes me feel better any having no routine. My kids are happy and well adjusted and I am at peace w our “flow” thank you for our reassurance

  7. What a fantastic article, thank you 🙂 I have been struggling to find a way to describe how our 6 month old has been sleeping 10 hours a night from about 4 months old. We didnt ‘do’ anything, but let her show us when she was tired and respond to her moods. I co-sleep and she lets me know when its time to put my book down and turn off the light and off to sleep we go, for her to wake up at 8am on the dot every single morning. People cant believe it when I tell them that we didnt use any form of sleep training! Now, when people ask, I will direct them to this article 🙂

  8. Every baby is different, you just have to see what works for your little one. We found a sleep device that really helped us. ʺSleepy Bee.ʺ We would turn it on like 10 mins before wanting to get her to fall asleep and she would related the sound to sleep. It’s kinda like sleep training. Or the Pavlov’s Dog theory. haha! …not to relate our baby to a dog, but you get the point. 🙂

  9. We’ve done this from day 1 with our daughter, and she’s settled into two perfect nap times a day that she picked all by herself! Of course, she spends most of them nursing in her sleep, haha!

  10. I did not try to enforce a routine, I just picked up on her cues. Usually about 7pm she starts getting super fussy, rubs her eyes, etc. I put her in her pjs and we lay in bed together. By 8/830 she is asleep. I then get a couple hours of mommy time (usually spent doing dishes or laundry) then join her in bed. It works great for us, but some nights its not till 9, some nights its earlier – I just listen to her.

  11. I’m so glad I found this article! It describes my feelings towards raising a child and life in general! For so long in my life I was stuck to routines and I was not happy. When I leaned to finally go with the flow of nature and just listen to me, the flow of nature and of my surroundings, and now my child, only then did I see smoother results. You either learn to sail with the wind or keep fighting against the wind in the wrong direction!

  12. Thank you for this. As a stay at home mom, I really didn’t want to enforce a schedule. I kept feeling like I needed to. Then I come across this story and all the other comments on not having a schedule set. Made me feel more comfortable about letting my little one choose to do things when she’s ready. Puts me at ease.

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