Last week, I was housebound with my super-contagious pink eye AND flu-ridden three and four year olds. Such a treat. But it turned out to be a blessing in (a VERY thickly veiled) disguise because once I stayed home, my schedule-less three month old fell into a sleep schedule! This exciting milestone brought a whole bunch of memories rushing back from when I was trying to get my Baby Bunch on a schedule when they were very small a few years ago. My single biggest concern (beyond even eating or sleeping myself) was getting my Bunch on a schedule where their naps overlapped by at least ONE hour per day. This one hour was absolutely critical to my sanity, as I'm sure most of you can attest. With that one hour, I could summon the strength of a thousand men needed to finish my day. Without that one hour, frankly, the rest of the day was shit.
As I went through the exercises of trying to tweak my new baby's schedule around that of his older brothers' preschool and playdate schedules, it occurred to me that I should probably share my lessons learned with you Baby Bunchers who are still trying to get the sleep schedule thing to shake out.
So how exactly do you “fit” schedules around each other? I can’t answer this question for you because it is unique to your Bunch, but I can provide some helpful tips to help you do it.
IDENTIFY PRIORITIES - The first thing you need to do is figure out, based on age and temperment, which child’s sleep requires highest priority. For example, my oldest baby was an easygoing baby who seemed to require little daytime sleep and rarely “fell apart” due to a missed nap. He also wouldn’t sleep in public or in a stroller. My second was fussier and a little more tempermental, but (at least in the beginning) would sack out in an infant seat and sleep anywhere. I quickly figured out that I needed to plan my outings around the nap schedule of my oldest because the baby would sleep anywhere.
IDENTIFY NATURAL SLEEP CYCLES - Stay home for a few days (I know this sucks, but it will be well worth it in the long run) and put your kids down for a nap whenever they seem sleepy. Write down their sleeping and eating schedules for these days down. Include notes on temperment ("woke up happy", "had a not-so-good-feeding", etc.)
BEGIN "TWEAKING" SCHEDULES - Once you have it all on paper in front of you, figure out where you could move someone's nap up or back to get them to overlap more with their sibling. Once you see what can be moved, start moving up or pushing back that child's nap by about 15 minutes at a time for a few days until you get it where you want it. I figured out that if I kept the children out all morning so my oldest missed a morning nap, then he AND the baby would sack out for three or so hours in the afternoon. By manipulating their natural sleep cycles a little (OK, a lot in this case), I was able to score a minimum of one hour, sometimes three, of overlapping nap times and peace and quiet each day.
BE FLEXIBLE AND STAY IN TUNE WITH WHAT WORKS BEST FOR YOUR KIDS AND YOUR FAMILY - A friend of mine with children the same age and an older child who required significant and frequent amounts of sleep to function,found that it was just easiest to stay home all the time and follow her oldest’s sleep cycles. This allowed her to nurse or spend time with the baby while the big boy was sleeping and kept everyone happier all around. She found herself feeling a little stir crazy staying home so much, but quickly realized that for her family, going out wasn’t worth the misery it generated for everyone! Also, remember that sleep cycles change quickly as your child ages in those first two years. So what works now may not work in a month - be flexible!