Henry was born at 33 weeks (7 weeks early) and so he started his life on a very strict feeding schedule in NICU. They would feed him my breastmilk first via the tube, then by a syringe and finally through a bottle. He would be fed at 12am, 3am, 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm and 9pm. When we took Henry home after 3 weeks, we pretty much followed the same routine until he reached full term. For us this was tiring, especially having to wake a sleeping baby to feed him, but Henry needed regular feeding to put on weight, and that he did!
From 5-7 weeks (so the 2 weeks before he reached full term), his neonatologist suggested we drop one early morning feed as he had reached a good weight and it would give me a break! So we did, we dropped the 3am feed, which meant that after the midnight feed, he would then feed at 5am, continuing every 3 hours thereafter. As Henry took a really good amount at midnight, it was much easier doing this but we could only do it if he had a full feed at midnight.
At 7 weeks old Henry was full term. Having attended a workshop on sleeping patterns, I knew I wanted to follow a routine but weren’t sure if it would be the strict Gina Ford schedule or a more flexible version, the E.A.S.Y. routine from The Baby Whisperer. I’m in a Facebook group for Mum’s of premature babies in Dubai and it has been a huge source of both support and useful info. I was recommended a version of the Gina Ford routine as a good transition from Henry’s already quite strict feeding schedule.
So this is our current schedule (since 7 weeks actual, 1 week adjusted):
Activity: 8am (we listen to baby nursery rhymes on YouTube)
Feed: 10am (I am quite flexible here and sometimes feed at 10.30)
Activity: 11am (play gym, singing songs, playing with a rattle etc)
Nap: 11.30 -2pm (if we are at home, this is always in his cot in the dark)
Play: 3pm (play gym etc)
Feed: 6.30 (cluster feed)
Dream feed: 10.30 or 11pm
The first week on the routine I struggled and actually fed Henry at 1pm, 4pm and 7pm (full feeds). At this point he didn’t seem ready for a 4 hour gap. But after that first week, I adapted to the new routine and he was happy to have the bigger morning gap after a good 10am feed.
From weeks 8-10 on the routine, I would demand feed from his dream feed to his 7am feed and Henry would wake up once around 3-5am.
Something funny: we thought we had to wake Henry up for his dream feed, so we did for the first 2 weeks on the routine. HAHA. But no, the dream feed is amazing when done right (his asleep but awake enough to safely drink). I also don’t think Henry would sleep through without it right now. So Henry does now sleep through from 7pm – 7am, occasionally waking up for his dummy or if he’s going through a growth spurt, an extra feed. I’ve also found that he is more fussy with feeds during a leap (The Wonder Weeks app) and now that he is teething. He also has reflux and possible allergies (we are with an allergy specialist working on this) so sometimes he’ll wake up with digestive issues. I know this may change but for now, I’m enjoying that he is a relatively good sleeper! Mama needs her rest.
He naps 3 times a day: one hour in the morning, 1.5-2.5 hours early afternoon (depending how long he sleeps in the morning) and 30 mins – 1 hour late afternoon. Henry is now 18 weeks and for now we are sticking to this routine but it’ll change once we start weaning.
A few tips I’ve received from others and from our own experience:
– Always start your day at the same time. I was recommended that it shouldn’t be any later than 7.30am.
– I have read that you shouldn’t let babies sleep after 4pm so it doesn’t disrupt their evening routine but Henry does sometimes have his nap 4-5pm and it hasn’t made a difference.
– I asked a few people at which point they dropped the dream feed and they all said it was when their baby woke up at 7am and wasn’t hungry.
– Our bedtime routine starts at 5pm and it’s so, so important for Henry as it helps him sleep much better. I’ll do a post on that next but it involves low lighting and massage.
– I was also advised to put Henry in his crib in the dark for his big nap. This makes such a difference and helps him really sleep well.
– In regards to nap times, I’m quite flexible and take it day by day. For example, if we are out then Henry might nap for longer in the morning, in which case I’ll try shorten his bigger nap. Likewise, if he needs more sleep in the day then I do let him as it doesn’t stop him sleeping through the night (normally during a growth spurt). I guess I just listen to what he’s showing me through his behaviour, feeds and mood.
– I take Henry for a daily walk at 5.30pm and it is integral to his bedtime routine as the fresh air helps settle him ready for his bath.
– Download The Wonder Weeks app if you haven’t! It’s amazing for preemie babies especially as you put in their due date rather than birth date. This way you can track their mental development as it’s supposed to happen, rather than what you think his age should be doing. It’s also super useful for knowing when they’ll feed less or sleep less!
– Since the day we brought Henry home, we have kept a diary of every feed (as suggested by a friend who has preemie babies). I record the time and amount of milk he takes, any spit up or pain (we are going through a stage of reflux), his temperature (if he is unwell or after vaccinations) and the type of poop. It sounds like a lot of work but actually a lot of parents of preemie babies do this as it’s so useful to take to the paediatrician to check formula, weight, allergies etc.
So that’s that, our routine for Henry. We are quite strict in that we try to keep to it each day and Henry seems to thrive on a schedule. I’m certain it’s a result of his strict routine in NICU but for us, it has definitely helped us live life fairly normal rather than Henry dictating what we do and when. He’s the most chilled out, happy baby and his routine only contributes to that. But most importantly, as a preemie baby it was vital he consistently fed and had enough sleep to put on weight, and his routine enabled him to do just that.