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Adapting the routine for outings by Gina Ford

At this time of year, you may be trying to balance getting out more with your baby and your family routines. If your baby has settled into a really good pattern, you may not feel certain about making changes to your day but it it is important for both mother and baby to get out in the fresh air, to meet friends or visit places that are stimulating and fun. Getting out and about is important for your well-being, especially if, prior to having your baby, you enjoyed an active social life. Seeing friends and family can be a lifeline in the early days when you are making that challenging adjustment to motherhood. I know mums who have felt cut off from the world once their baby arrives, leading to feelings of isolation and depression. It is, therefore, very important that you consider your own needs too, and not just those of your baby. Sometimes I worry that your fear of disrupting your baby's routine may result in your choosing not to go out, or even turning down invitations that you should accept. My routines are intended to help you enjoy your contented babies and find freedom, not hinder it. So if you are unsure as to how to adapt the routine for outings, please read on and I hope you will find some useful advice.

In general, and as I say in my book, I do think it is important to stick to the routine as much as you can from day-to-day, but I do understand that it might be difficult when you have planned a day out. For short trips, such as a walk in the park or coffee with a friend, you can easily stick to the routine by simply arranging your outing around your baby's sleep time. Please note, however, that this does not work with very young babies, who usually fall asleep as soon as the pram starts moving. In the case of very young babies, I would suggest that an outing actually coincides with their sleep time, to avoid them sleeping for too long during the day.

For longer trips, you will have to change the routine slightly - but don't worry, this can be done without losing all the effort you have put in to establishing your baby's routine! The following suggestions should help, but please remember that they are guidelines. You know your baby best, so if you have to make further adaptations, please do so. And if you find something that works particularly well for you, feel free to pass it on to other members through the message boards.

Lunchtime nap

If you have a baby or toddler who can easily sleep two hours in his pushchair during the lunchtime nap, I would definitely recommend you stick to that. The advantage of this is that you needn't change the routine too much, and your child can stick to his regular sleep and mealtimes. Unfortunately, most babies and toddlers do not manage to stay asleep for longer than 45 minutes in their pushchair. If this is your situation, here's how to change the routine to take account of this:

For a baby under 15 months

If your baby is under 15 months, the chances of him still needing a morning nap are great. In this case, I would recommend, as a one-off, to let him sleep 1-1½ hours for his morning nap (should he want to sleep that long). This will keep him happy until after lunch, at which time you can let him have another 45 minutes in his buggy or in the car mid-afternoon. If your baby will not sleep longer than 30/40 minutes in the morning, don't worry - just accept that he may only sleep for 30/40 minutes at lunchtime and then wake up. Even if he is not due a feed, offer it to him anyway. The last thing you want is a wailing baby in a restaurant or at a friend's house, just because you are determined to stick to the routine! If he takes half his feed around 1pm, then give him a top-up at 2/2.30pm before letting him have a further nap in the buggy. He is unlikely to sleep longer than 45minutes, so he will need a further short nap late afternoon. On a day out, remember it is not a catastrophe if he has to have three short naps of 30/45minutes.

If you do not need to travel far, then simply let your baby have a good sleep at home before leaving. If you need to travel for an hour or so to get where you're going, then you can let your baby have his morning nap in the car. Try and leave home about 10 minutes before your baby normally goes down, to ensure he doesn't get over-tired or cranky in the car. If you arrive before he has had a good sleep, and he is still asleep when you get there, then you might consider leaving him in his car seat, while keeping watch over the car. Obviously, this very much depends on where you are. If this is a safe option, open a window a crack to allow a flow of fresh air, and keep a constant watch. I am sure you all know that you should never leave a child unattended in a car.

Depending on the age of your baby, you should be able to anticipate what time he will need his next nap. Just keep in mind that a baby under four months can usually only stay awake for two hours at a time, so this is when his next nap will probably be due. After four months these timings vary, so I would advise you to refer back to the New Contented Little Baby Book for more details.

Toddler over 15 months

At this age, your toddler is likely to have dropped his morning nap. However, if you have to leave home mid-morning for a lunch appointment, it might be the case that he falls asleep in the car, regardless. If this is the case, then you should manage to get through lunch with him in good spirits. But he will need a nap at some stage in the afternoon, so that he is not over-tired at bedtime. If you are shopping, then let him sleep for 30/45 minutes in the buggy. At a friend's house, he may not settle in a travel cot, so you may have to take him out for a short walk to allow him to doze - but try to make sure he's awake by 5pm at the latest so he's ready for bed at the usual time. If for some reason the plan goes wrong and he sleeps between 5/6pm, then don't worry - it just means he won't be ready to go down at 7pm. Relax, pour yourself a glass of wine and watch 'Emmerdale'. Just keep an eye on him for signs of tiredness and settle him around 7.30/8pm when he is sleepy. Start the following day as usual, even if he has gone down later.

If he doesn't sleep in the car mid-morning, try and have an early lunch - you do not want him to get cranky while waiting for his lunch. As your toddler gets older, you should find him becoming more flexible and able to wait a bit longer for lunch; at this stage, outings do get easier!

Evening routine at a friend's house

If you are spending the whole day at a friend's house, it is a good idea to try and keep the evening routine similar to home. Explain to your friend what your child's routine is, and ask if it would be ok to give your child a bath there. This means your child can drink his milk and get into the car at 7pm already in his sleepsuit/pyjamas and sleeping bag for the journey home. If he is not over-tired from the day's activities, he will probably enjoy having a bath somewhere different! Once at home, with luck you will be able to transfer your sleeping child straight into his cot. If he doesn't settle, offer a top-up of milk. This may result in him taking less milk at breakfast, but don't worry as his milk intake will even out over the day once he is back in the routine.

Clearly it might be difficult to give your child a bath if you are somewhere other than a good friend's house. But, again, don't worry. It is unlikely that your child will be disturbed through having missed his bath. Just ensure that he has a good wash the next morning!

Fresh air and exercise

Wherever you may be on your day out, do try and let your baby or toddler get some fresh air and exercise. If you are going to a friend's house or visiting family, it should still be possible for a baby to have a little kick on a blanket, or your toddler to have a run round. Fresh air often helps children to sleep better, so even if your child sleeps in the car, if he has had lots of fresh air and some exercise, he could still be shattered by bedtime. When out with a young baby, try and avoid passing him round too much, so he ends up being in someone's arms most of the time. I am sure family and friends will want a cuddle, but also explain how much your baby likes his little kick!

The next day

Some children are naturally sociable, while others find busy social activities overwhelming. The latter child might be more tired after a day out than a more socially comfortable child. If your baby or toddler seems exhausted after a busy day, make sure the following one is peaceful and predictable to restore their sense of security and avoid them becoming overtired. Let your child guide you on this, but remember that a quiet day at home might seem boring to you, but it can be a great source of comfort to children who need routine in which to develop safely and at their own pace.

I hope my ideas on how to adjust the routine prove helpful. Please don't fret if your baby's routine slips a little when you go out. I have always found that when a baby is contented, he is also adaptable, so enjoy yourselves on your days out - and don't forget your camera!

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