In my short journey as a parent, I have come across quite a few words with such deep stigma that parents shy away from even mentioning them when in the company of other parents. A lot of these words are culture dependent. What’s taboo in one place might be the norm somewhere else. Sleep training, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning, bottle feeding are a few such examples. In most cases, no matter which side of the divide I might be in, I do see the point behind the conflicting view. The only word with a stigma that baffles me is ‘routine.’
If you haven’t yet met anyone who colours with anger, disbelief and/or a judgmental attitude at the mere mention of the word ‘routine’ for babies, consider yourself lucky. I, on the other hand, have been called a ‘strict’ mum, laughed at, ridiculed and reprimanded for having a routine for my baby! Having learnt the importance of a good routine for babies the hard way, I have learnt the vital, life-saving skill of ignoring each and every comment that tells me otherwise. However, it wasn’t always so easy.
Now when I say routine, I don’t mean a rigid, inflexible plan that doesn’t allow room for development. Far from it, actually. I don’t imply the use of ‘punishment’ if the routine is toyed with. I don’t mean regimented feeding for newborns neither do I believe a baby under 6 months can be spoilt by picking or soothing every time it cries. What the naysayers of routines for babies do not understand is that the predictability that comes with one is not mundane or boring for a baby. Rather, it is reassuring and thus, allows babies to thrive. So having a routine is not something I do for my benefit alone. It helps my baby know what’s coming and prepare for it.
Take for example the matter of sleep. A newborn doesn’t know the difference between day and night. It demands food when hungry, sleeps when tired. As a result, it often happens that newborns get a majority of their daily quota of sleep during the day and remain awake at night. Does it mean you should keep them awake against their will during the day? No, I don’t believe so. But routinely taking them out during daylight helps immensely to set their circadian rhythm right as well as to sleep more at night. I didn’t know this when my baby was a few weeks old and I struggled with the sudden loss of sleep (I slept very well even during my third trimester) and the emotional and physical toll of giving birth. But a little over a month into my baby’s life, I succeeded in setting her internal clock straight, making night times more restful for her as well as for me.
After the 4-5month sleep regression that invariably catches up with most babies, the way that your babies sleeps undergoes a monumental change. I know mine did. All the early victory dance at having a baby who slept for 4 hours at a stretch at night came to naught when she started waking every hour, every night. When I mentioned this, I was told that’s what babies do, that I must adjust. When such ‘get on with it’ advice is handed out, it is usually presumed that sleep is a dispensable luxury and wanting more of it is ‘selfish’ and ‘unmotherly!’ No one stopped to think that the lack of sleep was affecting me and keeping me from doing the best that I could have for my family. Now that I know better, I have no doubt that establishing a routine early on, having a set bedtime and slow but sure steps to remove any and every sleep crutch could have saved us all a lot of tears and crankiness. I know that because ever since I have managed to tick off all three of those points, my baby has not only slept better but also has had a much sunnier disposition. It doesn’t require a lot of brainstorming to realize that a well-rested baby is a happy, thriving baby. But it’s a concept that my sleep deprived mind took a long time to understand.
In the early, insecure days of motherhood, one scathing comment holds the power to undo a lot of good. If you happen to question anyone offering such criticism, they will tell you they only mean well. But well-meaning comments are, ultimately, not so if they don’t do any good. So if you are a routine-loving mum, don’t let anyone else’s chaotic parenting philosophy stop you from doing your thing. Following or not following routines for babies can change your life. Choose which side of the divide you wish to see your family in.
Do bear in mind that what I write here is only from experience. I am neither a medical professional nor an expert in the matters of nutrition or sleep. Also, not all babies are the same. Having said that, I do believe babies are alike enough to benefit from an orderliness to their days instead of ‘winging it’ or ‘going with the flow’ as a rule.