Congratulations! You’ve taught your little one some independent sleep skills and they’re finally sleeping through the night AND taking long, restful naps during the day. This is a life-changing achievement and you should be absolutely thrilled!
Only… what now? Do you seriously need to plan your entire life around your baby’s sleep schedule?
Teaching your baby the skills to fall asleep independently is the all-important first step, but there’s an ongoing commitment afterwards that you really need to take seriously. Carving out your schedule to accommodate for consistent, scheduled bedtimes and naps is, in some ways, more challenging than those first couple of weeks when you’re camped out next to the cot.
True, your baby’s not waking up five times a night anymore, and they’re going down for naps like a superstar and sleeping for hours at a time, and the whole family’s getting the rest they need, but it can still be a bit of an ordeal to schedule your entire day around your baby’s naps and bedtime.
I often tell clients to think of the initial stages of sleep coaching as the sprint, and the months afterwards as the marathon. Those first couple of nights can be intense but they’re over quickly. After that, it’s time to settle into a groove and establish a consistent, maintainable pace.
I know that this little analogy might sound a little daunting to some people. After all, running a marathon is gruelling work, but it also comes with big rewards. (Or so I’ve been told by my crazy marathon-runner friends.)
So here’s the truth, both the unpleasant and the glorious sides to it.
Yes, your baby’s sleep schedule is going to be pretty restrictive, and you’re going to have to honour it if you want to keep up with those wonderful, restful naps and protest-free bedtimes. Overtiredness will sabotage your little one’s sleep in a hurry and it can spiral out of control pretty quickly, with one bad nap leading to another one, leading to a lousy bedtime, and so on.
That could mean you’re going to have to miss out on some fun stuff. Fun stuff for you, fun stuff for your baby, fun stuff for the whole family, you might have to push a fair amount of it aside to maintain your little one’s schedule. No sense trying to sugarcoat it, that’s the part that sucks.
But that doesn’t mean, in any way, that you and your family are chained to your baby’s cot. It just means there are going to be a few trade-offs.
For example, let’s say you’re arranging a playdate with a friend and their only availability is during your baby’s scheduled naptime. You might be tempted to try and rearrange your little one’s schedule to accommodate the activity, thinking that they’d rather enjoy the activity and companionship in exchange for a slight shuffle in the schedule.
But what’s that playdate going to look like? If your little one’s tired, and likely overtired by the time they’re halfway through their playdate, are they really going to be having any fun? Are you? In my experience, it just ends up in a lot of fussing and tears. Neither child has any fun, and neither do the parents because they’re too busy trying to settle their kids down. If you could see ahead of time that this was going to be the scenario you skipped naptime for, you’d probably stick to the schedule and arrange the playdate for another time when your baby can be rested and alert.
The same can be said for holidays and special occasions. A day at a theme park seems like such a glorious experience that you’d be tempted to cram as much activity into it as you can, possibly skipping naptime to make sure your little one doesn’t miss out on anything. But seriously, the next time you’re at a theme park, have a look around. For every two kids you see having a wondrous, magical experience, there’s one who’s having an absolute meltdown. I can’t say this with any kind of evidence, but I would bet my bottom dollar that those kids don’t actually hate theme parks. They’re just overstimulated, overtired, and in desperate need of a nap.
So there’s the tradeoff. You miss out on some time that could be spent doing more exciting things than napping, but the time that your little one does spend playing with their friends or on social outings is going to be so much more enjoyable because they’re properly rested.
To me, that’s not even a contest. I’ll take quality over quantity every time.
There is one other thing I’d like you to consider, and this one’s all about you for a change.
Babies who can fall asleep independently are a whole lot easier to leave with somebody else.
Asking Grandma and Grandpa to take your baby for a night is more of a gift to them than a burden if your little one sleeps well. You can confidently and comfortably get a sitter for the evening knowing that your baby will fall asleep without a fuss and won’t wake up in a fit because you’re not there to help them back to sleep.
This is one of the biggest benefits of a baby with independent sleep skills, and you should absolutely take advantage of it! Schedule date nights with your partner, have a girls’ night with your besties, or book a solo trip to the spa for the day, knowing that your baby will be happy while they’re awake and sleep peacefully for naps and bedtime.
So no, you don’t need to stay at home all day, every day after you get your baby sleeping well, but you do need to honour their sleep needs the same way you adhere to their feeding schedule. With a little bit of planning and preparation, you can still enjoy all the gatherings and experiences that make family life so fulfilling, and with a whole lot less drama to boot.