Flexibility with your baby’s routine will help you achieve consistent nighttime sleep.

Most people think when it comes to baby sleep, that they need to be super rigid, and typically that turns them away from working on sleep.

However, when it comes to babies, rigidity can actually cause them to wake more. This is why we always say that The Full Feedings Method® is a routine and not a schedule.

Schedule vs. Routine

A schedule means that everything with your baby is done based on the clock. They eat at a set time, nap at a set time and go to bed at a set time. But what do you do if they wake early one morning or have a short nap (or 2 or 3)?

Well, if you're using a set schedule, then you would have to wait until the clock says it's time for the next feeding or sleep.

The problem is, your baby can't tell time and neither can their body. A baby doesn't know that they have to be awake 20 min longer between naps because they woke 20 min earlier. So, their bodies become overtired because they're awake longer than they can handle. This over tiredness can cause them to wake up more often overnight and/or have trouble taking naps.

The way I like to think about over tiredness is to imagine a night when you go out with friends for a late dinner (likely pre-baby ha!) and you're tired when you go out but you get a second wind and you have energy again for dinner. Then you go home and try to fall asleep but you still have that extra energy. That's kind of what overtiredness feels like.

When your baby's body (or yours gets overtired it looks like they have a lot of energy (which is confusing) and their bodies produce more cortisol, which is a stress hormone. All of this can cause babies to wake up more often overnight or have trouble staying asleep for naps.

Being too rigid with a routine can lead to unnecessary stress for both you and your baby.

It is for this reason that we believe following a flexible routine with your baby based on OWT and time between feeds.

What can we be flexible with?

⏰ Feed times
💤 Nap times
🛏️ Nap lengths
😴 Number of naps per day
☀️ Start of day times

Flexible feed times

Feeding a baby can be challenging and exhausting. Therefore, we often want to go to a set feeding schedule at an early age. However, many babies also feed best upon waking, when they're the most rested. If we have a set feeding schedule, you may end up delaying a feed far into their awake window (or keeping them up too long between sleep) which can cause them to have trouble eating fully.

Flexible nap times

Just like with feeding, we want to be flexible with when your baby naps. Having a set schedule doesn't allow for common changes babies have in their day like early wakings, short naps, etc. When we have a rigid nap schedule, it can often mean babies are staying awake too long between sleep which can cause them to become overtired (and therefore wake more).

By being flexible, we can keep baby's OWT (optimal wake time) in mind and adjust the day as we go to help them to sleep before they become overtired, when their bodies are able to get the most restorative sleep.

Flexible nap lengths

We all want your baby to take perfect naps that are the exact length you're aiming for. However, this will not always be the case and that's okay! If you can rock your baby back to sleep to extend the nap, amazing! When you can't just get them up and start your next cycle of EAT PLAY SLEEP.

By being flexible with nap lengths, you can help your baby manage their day without becoming overtired at any point, reinforcing the idea of helping them to sleep before their overtired so they can get their best restorative sleep!

Online program members, the nap lengths listed on the guide are the maximum we want them sleeping at any given time. It's okay if their nap is shorter, just adjust the day as you go based on OWT and add in a catnap at the end of the day (and/or move bedtime earlier) to get to bedtime without becoming overtired.

Flexible number of naps per day

As mentioned above, when your baby has short naps (or an early start of day) you may need an extra nap at the end of the day. We usually limit this nap to 10-15 min to not exceed the total amount of sleep we recommend for their age.

Pro tip: when you're dropping a nap it's expected to have some days with the extra nap and other days without. This is a great way to ease your baby into their new monthly routine!

Flexible start of daytime

This is probably most peoples least favorite part. Our goal is 7-7 sleep (over 13 weeks, before that bedtime is closer to 8pm) but we need to be flexible in order to get there. If your baby wakes at 6:30am and they're hungry and ready to start the day, leaving them in the crib may cause them to become overtired before their first nap, which can start the cycle of overtiredness we're trying to avoid.

There are times when it's okay to let them be in the crib in the morning, but this is really dependent on each baby. If you're currently doing this & your baby is getting overtired before their first nap, try getting them up when they first wake (after 5am) to see if that helps to cut the cycle of over tiredness.

What can we work to be consistent with?

Although we do want to be flexible, consistency is key. Consistency does not mean rigidity, it's just focusing on keeping a few things the same everyday as best as we can.

👩🏻‍🍼 Number of feeds per day
🌙 Bedtime
💭 Dreamfeed time
🍼 Feed lengths / amounts
⏰ How long baby is staying awake

Consistent number of feeds each day

We want to aim for the same number of feeds each day. Disclaimer: if you add in a catnap you will have an extra feed that day, but we want to always work to have at least the same number of feeds each day and not have fewer feeds.

Consistent bedtime

This does not mean your baby will go to sleep at exactly 7pm every single night. But, we want to aim for bedtime around the same time each night, within a range of 30 min or so. This helps your baby to set an internal rhythm.

Consistent dreamfeed time

Our goal is to offer the dreamfeed between 10-11pm so choose the time that works best for your family within that range. We want to work to keep this consistent so it can help your baby to get on a consistent routine each day and night. By keeping this the same, we can begin to set more of a routine.

This would only vary if your baby wakes earlier and they're hungry, then you would feed them when they wake up and work to try and increase feeds the next day a bit.

Consistent feed lengths/amounts

For babies under 6 months, we want them to eat for 30 min (with burp time) over 6 months, it does begin to decrease slowly. By being consistent with their feed lengths (nursing) and feed amounts (bottle feeding) we know what full means for your baby and we can know if they're waking from hunger or something else.

Consistent amount of time between sleep

We believe that babies have a set OWT that is how long they should be awake between sleep. By being consistent with this, we can work to keep them from becoming overtired and they can learn to fall asleep independently more easily, because they won't be over/under tired. We do not feel that OWT increases throughout the day, in fact under 6 months we feel that the last awake window is the shortest of the day, so we keep it consistent all day long.

Consistency and flexibility are two important ingredients in getting that nighttime sleep you're aiming for. As with anything, all of this does take work but the payoff for you and your baby is worth it.

If you want to learn more about a program that values flexibility, our Infant Online Program has some AMAZING content, including monthly guides that show you what an age-appropriate routine looks like. And if you need help with troubleshooting your baby's sleep by following a flexible routine, we would love to teach you The Full Feedings Method® and support your family to a full night of sleep.