Before our little girl Martha was born last May, I hadn’t really thought about routines. I mean, I knew you were meant to do one, but having dipped into Gina Ford and a couple of other baby books on the subject while pregnant, the notion had all seemed a bit abstract, confusing and, phew, like a lot of hard work. Maybe I would just be one of those effortlessly relaxed hippy chick-type mothers, so much easier.
Alas, one uplifting and elating, but mostly bewildering and exhausting week into our new lives as parents and I realised I was simply never going to be one of those. No, I needed some order and control. I needed to know what the hell I was meant to be doing each day, why she was crying and what I could do about it. I needed my evenings. I needed my sleep. In short, I needed a routine.
And so, the night before my husband went back to work, when Martha was just two weeks old, our very own Mrs Doubtfire arrived. A maternity nurse whom we had specifically sought to help set Martha on the path to a Good Routine, Laura stayed for ten days and did just that, mostly based on the methods of Gina Ford.
The Oracle as far as Laura was concerned; the Devil Incarnate if Mumsnettters were to be believed, Gina Ford, an English author and former maternity nurse, clearly divided opinion. Now, ten months down the line, I have formed my own. So, for any new mother considering going down the “Gina” route, here are some of the things I’ve learnt.
Doing a Gina routine (or any strict routine) at the beginning is hard, isolating and will limit your life… but it does pay off
A lot of people (including well-meaning relatives) won’t understand why your day is dominated by a stressful, self-imposed routine when their baby just sleeps/slept and feeds/fed “whenever” and seems none the worse for it. A lot of the time, you will wonder this yourself. Stick with it. I felt and no doubt seemed both frazzled and neurotic at the beginning of my Gina Ford journey, but the initial hard work paid off pretty quickly and I remain convinced that good habits are easier to form than bad habits are to break.
Use the timings as a guide and try not to stress if they don’t work out exactly
As a floundering first time mother thrown into the deep end, it’s easy to get carried away with the Gina timings, which are very exacting, and feel like you’ve failed when they don’t work out. I felt like this at times until I looked at the real-life Gina routines on her website and saw how much they varied. At the end of the day your baby’s individual patterns and your own instincts are what matters and these will develop as you and your baby get to know each other better.
If your baby is hungry, feed it!
At no point does Gina Ford suggest that you should let your baby cry from hunger, so I’m not sure where the idea came from that you can’t breastfeed on demand and follow her routines. The spaced out feed times are something to aim towards to encourage your baby to feed properly and avoid frequent night waking, but you can get round this by giving “split-feeds” to tide them over if they need it. In the very early days, I would also give a “top-up” before I left the house.
Don’t be afraid to try out or combine Gina methods with those advocated by other baby gurus, but be careful not to get confused
There was a time, after too much reading and googling (what else does one do while breast-feeding?), when I found myself trying to do ALL the routines and ended up getting rather confused; there is a lot to be said for picking a core method and sticking with it. I ended up doing core Gina with a bit of Tracy Hogg and, of course, my own instincts all thrown in together.
The 11pm “dream feed” will give you control over your nights
The “dream feed” is a last feed given to baby before the “core” night (12-6am) begins. It is best given as a bottle of expressed or formula milk by daddy while mama goes and catches up on some sleep and is a LIFE SAVER. Re-introducing this (after a short, ill-advised period of not doing it) was the best thing we ever did, giving me the chance to go to bed and catch up on sleep and my husband the chance to have a lovely, snuggly quiet time with Martha last thing at night. Most of all, it gave us control over our nights allowing me rule out hunger as the cause of any further night-waking not reasonable for Martha’s age and stage. We dropped it when Martha was established on solids and never looked back.
The lunchtime nap goes wrong for everyone
The two hour lunchtime nap advocated by Gina is a godsend in many ways as it gives you a set period in the middle of each day to catch up on sleep or do laundry, eat lunch, take a shower, do some work etc. That said, the majority Gina Ford mothers have trouble with it at some point and it often ends up being the most stressful and frustrating part of her routine to establish.
I swaddled Martha tightly for her lunchtime nap until she was about six months old and would nip in with a dummy if she woke early, which seemed to do the trick most of the time. When it didn’t, the only thing to do was take a deep breath and start again the next day.
Don’t let routine get in the way of having a life, or enjoying your baby
It is all very well trying to establish a routine, but it’s important to have a life too, and enjoy those precious early times with your baby. The occasional sleep on you is not going to mean they always want to sleep on you if, for the majority of the time, you are teaching them to sleep on their own.
Meanwhile, no routine is worth sacrificing a nice invitation out for lunch. At the end of the day, life is too short and things never turn out as badly as you may imagine they’re going to when that hard-won routine is put to the test.
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