New parents are often confused about the importance of putting their baby on a schedule. Should schedules be avoided or embraced? Like so many other child-rearing issues, there’s more than one right answer.
Toddlers and young children love routines. They feel secure and safe when they know what’s going to happen. In another year or two, you’ll probably have a bedtime ritual: “blankie,” warm milk, and Goodnight Moon to guide your sweet child into peaceful sleep—every night.
Similarly, flexible eating/sleeping schedules can be a great help to young babies and their parents. That’s especially true if you have twins, older children, if you’re working out of the house, and/or you’re a single parent.
But before you try to put your new baby on a schedule, you should know that scheduling is a fairly new parenting concept. Mothers in the past didn’t feed their babies according to the time on the sundial. And many moms today don’t feel right trying to fit their baby into a preset mold.
I am not saying it is wrong to try to put your one-month-old baby on a schedule. Just as long as you understand that babies have only been “asked” to bend themselves to our clock-driven schedules over the past hundred years, and many babies are simply too immature to do it.
Your baby’s receptiveness to being put on a schedule depends upon his ability to handle delayed gratification. In other words, how good is he at holding off his need for food or sleep? Some newborns are easily distracted, but others take months before they can ignore their brain’s demands for milk or rest. The parents of these babies must patiently delay their desire to get their infants on a schedule until their babies are ready for one.
That said, if you want to try your baby on a schedule after one to two months, the best way to begin is by increasing the time between his daytime feedings to three hours. Of course, if he’s hungry before two hours are up (and you can’t soothe him any other way) forget the schedule and feed him. Also, wake him up and feed him if he goes more than four hours without crying for food. Babies who go too long without food during the day often wake up and feed more at night.
The next step in scheduling is to train your infant to fall asleep without a nipple in his mouth. After his feeding, play with him for a little while before you put him to sleep. That will begin to teach him he can put himself to sleep. If he immediately passes out after you fill his belly with warm milk, that’s okay, just jostle him until he opens his eyes. Then lay him down and let him float back into sleep. With patience over the next month or two, this will help your baby develop the ability to put himself to sleep.
It’s easier to establish a schedule if you follow the same pattern every day. After your baby is a month old, start this reassuring nighttime routine:
loving massage with heated oil
some warm milk
a lullaby … softly sung
gentle white noise playing in the background
Within a short period of time, the constant association of these experiences to your baby’s sleep time will work almost like hypnosis. As soon as you start the routine he’ll say to himself, “Wow, I feel sleepy already!”
Most infants automatically fall into a regular pattern after a month or two; however, if you can’t wait to establish a more predictable routine, feel free to give scheduling a try.
If, on the other hand, he seems to resist being molded to your schedule, I encourage you to respond to your tiny baby’s needs with promptness and love; you can always try the schedule again in a week. The bottom line is that your job as a parent is to adapt to the needs of your newborn, not the other way around.