We hear this from parents all the time in our consultancy: “We always stick to bedtime at 7pm and before that: bath, feed, story”. This consistency around the bedtime routine is great - IF the daytime has gone to plan that day. But here’s where and when you should be flexible:
If naps have been rubbish/short/missed
Bringing bedtime earlier should be the number one tool in your tool kit when you’ve had a day where naps have gone out the window and you’re aware that your baby has had very little daytime sleep. Putting them down earlier rather than stretching them to their normal bedtime will likely mean they are easier to settle and with less tears.
If they are dropping a nap
If you’re currently transitioning from 3 naps to 2 naps, from 2 naps to 1 nap, or from 1 nap to no nap, your baby will benefit from an early night in the short term. They may be ready to drop a nap but they are still getting used to being awake for a longer duration from one day to the next. So by temporarily shortening your little one’s awake window or overall day length this will help them manage better whilst they adjust.
If they’ve had a super-stimulating day
If the day has been much more stimulating than usual – seeing lots of new faces, a trip to the Zoo, etc. or, when your baby suddenly starts rolling or standing and therefore is using lots more energy than usual - they will likely be more tired than usual. So tune into their demeanor; if they are showing signs of tiredness earlier than usual, be flexible with their bedtime.
The key thing here is to have some flexibility around bedtime timing and the bedtime routine. When you need to, forgo the bath and prioritize getting your baby down earlier. Don’t be afraid of a 6 pm bedtime when your baby has had very little daytime sleep - and - it won’t mean they wake earlier the next day! It will allow them to catch up on the sleep they’ve missed in the early evening instead.