“What do I do when my baby falls off her schedule?”
This question inevitably comes up because vacations, Grandma, and time changes happen. So do last-minute errands, emergencies, toddler toilet training, or whatever random everyday things pop up to destroy all the hard work you’re putting into your baby’s routine.
But don’t despair! The answer is simple: start over.
When your baby falls off her schedule, don’t force her back on. If she wakes up too early, don’t leave her screaming in her bed. Get her up, feed her, and start the rotation from there. That is what is so nice about a rotation or routine—you’re not tied to the clock. In the old days, they were, and that was what made schedule feeding so horrible. But in a rotation, you’re only tied to a sequence. Get back on feed/wake/sleep however you can.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t put effort into your routine. You should. Probably the biggest effort you’ll face in the beginning of establishing a routine is keeping your baby awake. It can be so hard! One day maybe we’ll know why God allowed newborns to sleep so much and older infants to never do it. But keeping a newborn awake during a feed or afterwards can be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Try, try, try—not just for the schedule’s sake, but for theirs—they will eat better and more efficiently, the more awake they are. And they’ll get needed stimulation for their eyes, ears, etc. But do try to keep the eating (breast or bottle) going as steadily as is humanly possible in the early days: tickle the feet, undress the baby a bit, stroke their cheek. I used to even put the baby down on the carpet temporarily if they were totally out. I’d get them from their nap but they were so passed out I couldn’t get them to latch on. So I’d lay them on the carpet to see if the hardness would stir them. I even did that in the middle of feeds if they’d check out. So do what you can. Don’t be mean, but be creative!
Anyway, so you should put effort into your routine. Lots of babies go back on one naturally, but lots don’t. And almost all babies need help learning how to fall or stay asleep. (I have other posts on Sleeping). Most babies want to fall asleep after their feeds, so it takes effort to keep them up. But they are usually happy when they can do it, and excited to be around you.
But don’t ever punish a baby for not being on the schedule. They can’t help it… they’re just a baby! Go back to the rotation, flex it if they’ve missed a feeding or need help bumping bedtime up or down. Work with where the baby is at that time. If it’s a time change, usually a week is enough. If it’s a vacation or house guests, it usually only takes a day or two of effort. The same with sickness. If your baby thinks that getting up in the middle of the night or special attention is now the norm, it usually doesn’t take more than three nights to go back to normal (provided the child is actually feeling better!). It will be hardest the first night, but stick with it… it will be easier the second night. And remember that babies can generally re-learn their routines as quickly as they lost them; their flexibility is both a curse and a blessing. But they will definitely re-learn more quickly than they learned the first time! The key is always kind and gentle, but firm and resolute, persistence.