Doctor's Appointments - Woof.
Let's talk about doctor's appointments. Going to the pediatrician can be scary for many children, and rightfully so! It's a room filled with people you don't know, with toys you aren't familiar with, and it often ends with something painful. You have to get undressed, and it's usually cold in there! When your baby goes back to the same doctor's office, they will feel an association. You hope that they associate it with curiosity and friendly people, but it could also be only a negative association with feeling sick or the pain of shots. It's bound to make a grown-up worry. This week, our Hazel has a doctor's appointment right in the middle of her nap, and she is getting some vaccines. We worry it will be tough for her. It doesn't help that the appointment's timing will disrupt our sensitive baby's sleep.
At Lovebug, of course, we love our sleep. (Duh.) Research shows sleep has so many magical qualities that keep us healthy and in tip-top mental shape. One of the most significant benefits of sleep is that it keeps babies and toddlers adaptable and curious. When a toddler or baby feels well-rested, they are more likely to approach new scenarios calmly and feel brave towards new things. We want that for them, and especially at the doctor's office. We want them to think that the doctor is a safe place to keep us healthy, not a scary place to fear.
It seems like doctor's appointments always are scheduled in the middle of nap time. (Right?!) Not much we can do about that! Babies sleep all the time! But as a caretaker, you wonder, "What should I do about the nap schedule?"
Let's say your doctor's appointment is in the middle of nap time. What do you do? Do you try to pull your nap in earlier with the risk that your baby doesn't sleep? Do you skip the nap altogether and roll with the punches the rest of the day? Do you split the nap in half? How does each option affect your baby's mood at the doctor's appointment and the rest of the day?
If you find yourself in this situation, my suggestion to you is to evaluate these options and decide what might work best for you, your baby, and your family.
Option A: Pull Nap in Earlier
One of the most challenging things for humans is that we don't sleep when we want to sleep. We can force ourselves to wake up, but the onset of sleep can only be shifted by about 15 minutes each day. With babies, it's no different.
If you have a solid nap routine that you have consistently done every day, this option becomes possible. Start your nap routine 15 minutes before your scheduled time (whether you are using your own schedule or the Lovebug schedule), and start your routine in its usual steps. You might find that it takes your baby a few extra minutes to fall asleep, but they will still get rest for their bodies. When it's time to leave for the doctors, go ahead and wake them gently.
The risk is medium here because your baby might not take a nap at all. If you haven't made a strong association with your nap routine, your baby may not settle at this earlier time and start to fuss. The fussing could cause an adrenaline rush, and then you will have to forfeit the nap. The payoff is highest if you can do this option because sleep that is not in motion is the most restorative sleep. And we like that.
Option B: Nap in the Car
This option is the one that I would choose because it's low risk and not too tricky. You do a shortened routine and lay your baby in their car seat with a white noise track playing. If your doctor is close to you, you could get into the car a bit earlier than you would otherwise. If they fall asleep, you can drive around or treat yourself to a latte. You deserve it!
Once you get to the doctors, there is no need to wake them up abruptly. If you can remove your car seat and let them stay sleeping, go ahead and do that. They will probably wake while you are in the waiting room naturally because there is a scenery change.
This option is likely to get you the most amount of sleep with the least amount of effort. The only downfall is that the sleep tends to be more "junk sleep" because the sleep is in motion. However, as a sleep consultant, I would choose this option when the child is typically fairly well-rested. It won't bug them too much. The risk is that your baby doesn't sleep in the car, but when it time it well and do your best to set conditions for a nap on the go, you can mitigate the risk.
Option C: Skip or Split Nap
Another option is to skip or split your nap.
To skip the nap, you would not offer your baby the nap and then keep them up until their next scheduled nap. Keeping them awake will be the best option to keep them on their preferred schedule. If it's your last nap of the day, an early bedtime is always an option.
Some will split the nap into two car naps - I would advise against this option. The reason is that it's going to make your baby's body clock confused on when to start their usually scheduled. It can result in a couple of days of disrupted naps, especially if your baby is relatively sensitive.
No Matter What, you have an early bedtime in your pocket.
Ultimately, you are going to know the best option for your family and baby. There is usually so much more going on with doctor's appointments, and the added stress of a nap schedule is something we want to be the least of your worries. When your baby is a good sleeper, they will bounce back quickly. We always will recommend an early bedtime on disrupted days like doctor days. If you have trouble getting back on a schedule, try Lovebug's dynamic schedule or talk to us at one of our free Thursday Instagram Live Sessions. Follow us at @thelovebuglife on Instagram for reminders. Everyone is welcome to join.