Chris McFadden is a qualified sleep consultant with a huge online following. But what would he have changed about his own children’s sleep routines?
I must admit, I no longer miss a bedtime routine as I am predominantly at home because of our business setup. However, before COVID, I was working in London and always running to catch a certain train so I could be home in time for my eldest boy’s bedtime routine.
Sometimes I missed it; and even when I caught the train I wanted, Teddy was on many occasions just too tired, and my wife had to put him in his cot before I got home.
It was sad, but I understood he needed to go to bed earlier.
Now I know what I know as a leading sleep expert, if I could go back in time, I would have changed some things so that I never missed a bedtime.
So what are those things I hear you ask….
Firstly, as a family we wouldn’t have focused on a 7am to 7pm routine. That’s what the books told us to do. However, it doesn’t have to be 7 to 7; bedtime can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you give your baby an opportunity for around 12 hours of night sleep.
I work with many families that do 7.30 to 7.30, and many other families who have bedtime at 8 or 8.30pm. And as a sleep consultant, and a former commuting Dad, I am completely with that and support my clients to achieve their desired routine.
The only time that I suggest a routine timing, that may not be as ideal for the family, is when their child has to be up at a certain time in the morning for nursery or going to a childminder and it could potentially lead to less night sleep.
Other than that, following a routine that allows Dad to see his child or children every single night – and ideally every morning too – is to me what’s really important when setting a routine.
Secondly, I would go back and understand what my baby’s daytime sleep needs really were. Because we weren’t sleep consultants in the first few months of Teddy’s life, we didn’t know what and when he should be sleeping. So at 5 and 6 months, we would have him awake at 3.30pm every day so that he was tired enough for bedtime at 7pm.
Looking back, how did we think that was right? But I know from working with clients, us parents aren’t really educated enough about sleep. He should have had another nap in the early part of the evening, finishing around 90mins before bedtime.
If he’d had that early evening nap on a daily basis, he wouldn’t have had to go to bed early because of being overtired, and I would have gotten to see him.
Therefore, I encourage you as a family to work out the right daytime sleep routine for your child. Please have a look at my routines here which can help you.
So those are some of the most important things to think about to ensure you never miss a bedtime. But when you are home in time, what can you do to encourage a strong and consistent bedtime routine, and one you are always part of?
When you get home, just get straight into time with your family. There are so many boring life admin tasks that you COULD do when you get home; but they can wait. If your little one wont be awake too long, make the most of that one-on-one time. Start their bath (if needed/wanted), change them into their pyjamas and snuggle up for a bedtime story.
A bedtime routine is great for a young child, and my wife was happy to hand my son over when I got home! A simple but very effective bedtime routine is feed -> bath -> sleepsuit -> sleeping bag -> top-up feed -> story and then into the cot.
Even for breastfed babies, there can the option of a bottle with expressed milk, or Mum could do a full feed at the start of the routine so that you can then take over until baby goes to sleep without handing baby back to Mum. The routine should be no more than about 20-30mins so having a feed slightly earlier won’t make too much difference to when your baby would next need a feed if they are still taking milk in the night.
There may be pushback at times from your little one – not many babies don’t want their Mum when they’re tired and a bit grumpy. But it’s important to not get into a habit of handing over your baby to your partner – unless for feeding – even if she is standing nearby ready for the handover. Otherwise, it can become a habit for you to handover, a habit for baby to seek out Mum and a habit for Mum to be ready for that swap over.
If you want to remain part of the bedtime routine regularly, stick with doing the routine and settling your baby, even when your baby is a bit upset about it not being Mum. They will calm and get used to doing it with you.
Bedtime really is a wonderful part of the day for many Dads. Be mindful when they get a bit older to leave a bit of time between you getting home and them actually going to bed, because no doubt they’ll be much more stimulated by you getting home from work. As a Dad, this bit is just lovely and something I love when I do happen to be out of the house in the daytime.
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