While we all know that routine is extremely important for babies and toddlers both for their sense of well-being and for their sleep habits, for most of us, staying home to get them to bed every single day for all their naps and correct bedtime will not always be possible. There are times that naps are disrupted because of appointments, as much as we try to schedule otherwise. Sometimes, something special comes up in the evening and bedtime is off-kilter. Who would miss a sister’s wedding reception to put a little one to bed?
At these times, we have a choice. We can find creative solutions for their need for sleep or we can ignore it and hope for the best. I find that hoping for the best may work with a toddler or young child, but for a baby, ignoring their needs will almost surely lead to a breakdown.
As I share with you what we do when we need to take a young baby out over sleep time, I remind you that doing this on a regular basis will neither give your baby restorative sleep nor promote good sleep habits. This is for occasional use. I can’t determine how many time it is possible to disrupt your baby’s regular sleep patterns without lasting effects, as all babies are different. You, of course, know your baby best.
Handling Outings when Baby Needs to Sleep:
1. If possible, time the car ride to your advantage. Either plan to leave home a little earlier so that baby can sleep in the car on the way or hold back a little to allow baby to nap as long as possible at home without waking him. My sister’s sleep doula says that any nap under 45 minutes is not restorative, so if possible, aim to allow baby to sleep at least that long (though, of course, something is better than nothing).
2. When you are out, watch the baby and the clock. You have often heard it said that it is best to watch your baby for tired cues. I wholeheartedly agree. However, watching the clock will give you the back-up confirmation you need. For example, when A. starts to act tired, I have a look at the time I recorded for when he last woke up. If I see that it has been an hour and 20 minutes, that is good confirmation to me that I need to act quickly to help him get ready for sleep. I will change him and then start to help him wind down. If someone else is holding him and I notice sleepy signs, I will ask for him back and move onto #3. The main thing, here, is not to start waving toys in his face or, for an older baby, feeding him Cheerios (hee hee — get it, Cheerios?) to try to keep him happy. This will backfire later. If he has a need for sleep, you need to do your best to meet this need, just as you wouldn’t try to change his diaper or tickle his toes if you knew he was hungry.
3. Every hour and a half, reduce stimulation to offer your baby an opportunity to sleep. He may not take this opportunity, but set the stage for sleep, anyway. Perhaps you are at a family member or friend’s home and there is a quiet place for baby to sleep there. However, most of the time when you are out, you do not have the advantage of putting baby to sleep in a bed, so you’ll have to be creative. What I usually do in this situation is get A. snuggled in the sling and go to as quiet a place as possible. If I am at church, I will move to the back of the room so I can stand and rock a bit (and leave quickly if A. fusses!) I shush quietly in his ear, pat his little bum, and jiggle vigorously. I am trying to help him shut out the world by reducing outside stimulation. Once he is good and sleepy, I toss the tail of the sling over his head (or tuck him inside the wrap) and do my best to let him sleep at least 45 minutes. Other moms may find it helpful to nurse baby to sleep. They key when you are out is to do whatever it takes to allow them to sleep if they need to. As a baby gets older, they will not need to sleep every 1 1/2 hours. However, they do have a natural lull in their activity cycle that will benefit from a rest, so doing these wind-down activities will help them stay happier when you are out.
4. If it is baby’s bedtime and you need to be out, provide an opportunity to sleep, treating it like a nap, but being prepared for bedtime. If you need to switch baby over to pyjamas and a night-diaper, now is the time, but if you will be out a lot longer, know that your baby will probably wake after a little sleep. Even if it is not ideal, providing this opportunity for a rest will help baby to stay as happy as possible for the rest of your outing, not getting insanely overtired and miserable.
Our last 24 hours:
Today was a particularly unusual, disrupted day. I have not numbered his naps, since the morning was just junky, little catnaps. Steve and I have a weekly date that A. used to sleep through. Now that he is older, we are in the awkward phase of his being too young to stay at home and too little to sleep well on the go. Our date is very important to us, though, so we all make the sacrifice. In the evening, we attended a Valentine’s Dinner/Dance, so I implemented the strategy above and it went very smoothly.
6:33am Woke for the day
7:46am Fell asleep in the car
8:00am Woke up on transfer to baby carrier (14 mins sleep)
9:00am Another 20 minute nap in the car
10:27am 33 minute nap in car
11:42am Fell asleep in car
12:20pm Woke on arriving home (38 minute nap)
Ahhhh…home. I was expecting his next nap might be a bit on the short side from the disruption in the morning. Remember that sleep begets sleep.
1:46pm Bedtime Routine/Soothing (10 mins)
1:56pm Fell asleep in co-sleeper
2:42pm Woke up (46 minutes — yup, shorter than his usual naps)
4:14pm Bedtime Routine/Soothing (5 mins)
4:19pm Fell asleep in co-sleeper
5:56pm Ugh. Had to wake him up to go, poor baby. Nap was 1h 37 mins.
We had originally wanted to leave at 5:45pm, which would have necessitated us getting him up at 5:30pm, so we compromised by leaving later to help us all have a better night.
At the Dinner/Dance:
7:50pm Fell asleep in sling as per our strategy above
8:43pm Woke up (nap of 53 minutes)
When I sensed A. was tired next, I changed him into his night-diaper and put on his hat and snowsuit since I knew we would be leaving the party soon and I didn’t want him to fall asleep and be disrupted again.
10:02pm Fell asleep in the sling
Seamless transfer to car and out of snowsuit (took it off in the dark in our bedroom) and into co-sleeper! I feel like a seriously pro-mom when this happens. 🙂
4:35am Woke up and nursed for 13 minutes; left him in bed with me because he is so sweet and I just wanted to cuddle him before he grew up, got his driver’s license, went away to college and then got married.
6:39am Woke up for the day.
Another really good night, despite the interrupted sleep.