How to handle your child's sleep during the festive season
With Christmas approaching, many new parents who have recently mastered the art of getting their babies sleeping on a schedule are worried that they might all fall apart over the Christmas break.
And I can assure you, those fears could not be more well-founded. Sorry, I know that is not what you realistically wanted me to say…
Between the travel to different houses, the excitement, the constant attention, the trips out, not to mention the gifts, Christmas is the single easiest way to throw all of your hard work out with the wrapping paper and cracker jokes.
But I’m happy to tell you that it doesn’t have to be that way! With some strategic planning and an determination, you can keep that carefully orchestrated routine running just the way you did at home.
There are two major dangers to your little one’s sleep over Christmas. One is travel and the other is family and friends, so I just want to tackle both of those topics individually.
Let’s start with the easiest one, travel.
If you’re thinking about starting any sort of sleep coaching with your Little Darling, but you’ve got to take a visit away to see friends and family in the next few weeks, my suggestion is to put off the changes until you get back. (Although if you’re looking for an excuse to cancel your trip, not wanting to throw your baby’s sleep schedule off is a pretty good one. Just saying!)
If you’ve already started, not to worry. Or if you are just wanting some advice on how to keep a schedule during the festive season, here is my advice:
Taking a trip typically won’t help your little one sleep better, but if you can maintain some level of normalcy until the end of your visit, you and baby should be ready to get back to business as soon as you get home.
If you’re driving to your destination, a clever trick is to schedule your driving time over baby’s naps. Car naps aren’t ideal, but compared to no naps at all, they’re the lesser of two evils by a mile. So, if at all possible, get on the road right around the time that baby would normally be taking their first nap.
If you’re really committed, you might even look for some parks, rest areas, or other outdoor activities that are on your route where you can stop when baby gets up. It’s a great chance to get out into the fresh air, which will make that next nap that much easier.
If you’re flying which I am not sure many of us will be, but I thought I would include it incase you are one of the lucky ones jetting off into Winter sun…
It’s no secret that planes and babies just don’t seem to like each other, so I suggest (and this is the only time you’ll hear me say this) that you do whatever gets you through the flight with a minimum amount of kicking off. Hand out snacks, let them play with your phone, and otherwise let them do anything they want to do. Yup, be the fun time parent, no rules (well mostly).
The truth is, if they don’t want to sleep on the plane, they’re just not going to, so don’t try to force it. It will just result in a lot of frustration for both of you. (And, most likely, the passengers around you, trust me, I have been that parent having to take my infant to the toilet to give the cabin a break from the screaming!)
Alright! So, you’ve arrived, and hopefully you’ve managed to maintain some degree of sanity. Now, I’m sorry to say, comes the hard part.
Because in the car or on the plane, everybody is on your team. Keeping baby quiet and relaxed, and hopefully asleep, is just what everyone is looking for.
But now that you’re at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, it’s just the opposite.
Everyone wants baby awake so they can see them, play with them, take a thousand pictures, and get them ridiculously overstimulated. And it’s exceptionally difficult to tell all of these friends and family members that you’re putting an end to the fun because baby needs to get to sleep.
So, if you need permission to be the bad guy, I’m giving it to you right here and now. Don’t negotiate, don’t make exceptions, and don’t feel bad about it. Firmly explain to anyone who’s giving you the “I’ll just sneak in a take a quick peek,” routine that your baby is in the middle of sleeping and they can do all of those things when the baby is awake. Let them know when baby will be getting up and tell them to come back or catch you the next time. Or better yet, tell people in advance when to expect some baby time based on baby’s schedule.
I know it sounds harsh but if baby misses a nap, gets all fired up because of all the new faces and activity, then overtiredness kicks in, cortisol production goes up, and the next nap is ruined, which results in more overtiredness which derails nighttime sleep, and before you know it, you’re headed home, and it seems like baby did nothing but cry the entire visit.
I’m not even slightly exaggerating. It happens that quickly.
So OK, you’ve steeled your nerves and let everyone know that you’re not budging on baby’s schedule. She took her naps at the right times, and now it’s time for bed. The only catch is that, with all of the company staying at the house, there’s only one room for you and baby.
No problem, right? Bed sharing for a few nights isn’t the end of the world, after all.
I wish I could make it that easy for you, but again, you want to make this as little of a deviation from the normal routine as possible, and babies can develop a real affinity for co-sleeping in as little as one night.
So, this may sound a little unorthodox, but if you’re sharing a room, what I suggest is simple.
Make it into two rooms.
I’m not saying you need to build a brick wall, but I do suggest hanging a blanket, setting up a screen but just figuring out a way to separate the two areas.
If you have recently eliminated any external sleep props like dummies, rocking, feeding to sleep or being held, you might be tempted to slip baby a dummy or rock her to sleep if she’s disturbing the rest of the house, but baby is going to latch on to that really, really quickly, and chances are you’ll be waking up every hour or two, rocking baby back to sleep or putting her dummy back in, which is going to end up disturbing everyone a lot worse than a half hour of crying at 7:00 at night.
Now, on a serious note, I find the biggest reason that parents give in on these points is, quite simply, because they’re embarrassed. There’s a house full of eyes and they’re all focused on the new baby, and by association, the new parent.
The feeling that everyone is making judgments about how you’re parenting is nearly overwhelming in these family gatherings, but in those moments, remember what’s really important here.
Your baby, your family, and their health and well-being.
There may well be a few people who feel a bit miffed because you put baby to bed just when they got in the door, and your mother might tell you that putting your baby to bed for the night is ridiculous but remember you’re doing this for a very noble cause. Perhaps the most noble cause there is.
So, stand tall and remember that you’re a superhero, defending sleep for those who are too small to defend it for themselves. If you want to wear a cape and give yourself a cool superhero name, you go right ahead…WonderMum. Just remember that, like any superhero, you may be misunderstood by the masses.
Ignore them. You’re on a mission.
So to sum up, my main advice for the festive season is to try and keep naps on schedule as much as possible even if that means car naps or pram naps. I would avoid at all costs skipping naps and plan your days around this. Stick with the recommended awake times below at all costs.
Next, I would stick to bedtime no matter how tempting it is to let them stay up later, even if you are being pressured to do so. Remember a well rested child is far more likely to enjoy the festivities rather than a fussy, over tired and over stimulated one. Does your family REALLY want to be around a child that is crying or would they much rather have a happy and contented child to coo over?
If you feel that your child is over stimulated, have some quiet time away from everyone which could be going to read a book, colouring or puzzles. You could also escape for a walk to get some fresh air and reset. The main thing to remember is that this is YOUR child and you know what is best, do not let anyone make you feel guilty about that. You do you!
If your New Years Resolution is to get your babies sleep on track, reach out today to book in for a free 15 minute sleep evaluation call to see how I can help.
Cheers to good sleep!