The first few months of parenting don’t require much parenting per se, as much as nurturing. After all, this brand new family member is completely in charge: He cries, you feed him; she cries, you change her; he cries, you rock him. You get the idea. And for some parents, the unpredictable nature of when he or she will nap, poop and even eat is at times a bit frustrating. Don’t get us wrong, there are some parents who are perfectly happy tending to their baby’s every need and want, but sometimes it’s easier to run errands, schedule appointments and have visitors when your baby is on a semi-predictable schedule. Plus, some new parents might feel as though they’re supposed to get their baby on a schedule, as if it’s their first test as parents. (This, as we’ll explain, is understandable, yet bogus.)
Facts About Baby Schedules:
If you’re concerned about whether your baby should be on a schedule, keep these things in mind:
- The first three newborn months are basically going to be a free-for-all when it comes to napping, sleeping and eating. Most experts agree that in these formative months, it’s important to follow your baby’s needs as you settle into this new lifestyle change, so don’t even stress about issues like sleep training or feeding schedules.
- Once your baby hits about three to four months old, you might notice that he or she starts to fall into a somewhat regular routine, even if you can’t set your watch to it. You might notice he or she wakes around the same time, eats around the same time, and then takes a morning nap, an afternoon nap and an early evening nap.
- You might even notice that your baby starts a somewhat predictable routine within the first week home, which is perfectly fine to encourage – as long as you’re not restricting your newborn’s food intake.
- If you think you might want to put your baby on a schedule, it’s a good idea to jot down your baby’s waking, feeding and sleeping times for a week or two.
- On the other hand, your baby might not have any regular rhythm at all, even well past three months.
- Most experts agree that some sort of a schedule – whether strict or flexible – helps to make sure all of your baby’s needs are met, and it’s often comforting for babies to have a predictable routine.
- Furthermore, a schedule is convenient for working parents or anyone who has to leave their baby with a sitter now and then.
What Are Your Opinions About Schedules and Routines?
Once your baby passes the three-month threshold into infancy and you can somewhat gauge if he or she is developing a schedule on his or her own, it’s time to assess your own feelings on the situation:
- Are you the type of parent who likes to be in control with an organized daily schedule?
- Do you believe that children function better when they have a predictable routine?
- Are you going back to work soon? Some working moms like their babies to be on a schedule while they’re apart. (It’s nice to look at the clock and know what your baby is probably doing at that minute.) Keep in mind that it’s harder to follow a baby-led schedule when you won’t be around during the day. (More on that to follow.)
- Do you take a more laid back approach to parenting, believing that your baby’s needs come first and your own schedule comes second?
- Do you fall somewhere in the middle? Maybe you’d like a basic idea of your baby’s routine, but you’d rather not put your baby through rigid scheduling.
- And then there are those who would rather not worry about scheduling at all, which is most commonly known as “parenting on demand.” You might fall into this category if you feel that:
- Scheduling an infant is more for the parent than the baby, and putting your baby’s needs above your own helps to create a stronger bond and understanding between the child and parent.
- It’s more important to be on call for your baby than to fit a baby into your own lifestyle. Your baby is your life now.
- Letting your baby call the shots helps him or her to feel safe and valued.
- Parents should be in touch with their baby’s signals more than a time on the clock, which will ultimately strengthen the parent-child bond.
- However, there are downfalls to “parenting on demand”:
- While a young infant might still easily fall asleep throughout the day and be generally content without any type of schedule, it might be harder for toddlers and children to not have a structured, predictable lifestyle.
- A lack of structure and limits might make it harder for your child to learn self-discipline and time management.
- Life runs on timetables, from sitting for story time in preschool to catching the school bus in high school. It might be harder to adjust to a structured environment if he or she has never known one.
- “Parenting on demand” could possibly take away from your friendships and romantic relationship because your life is structured around your child’s unpredictable schedule.
Basic Guidelines and Parameters
- Above all else, every baby is different. While he or she will most likely take your lead, some babies crave schedules while others simply won’t want to be confined into a neat routine.
- Even if you don’t believe in scheduling, you might notice that your baby becomes extremely fussy and overtired after a certain time, or that he or she has a meltdown if the 2 p.m. feeding is late. In that case, your baby is trying to give you a message, so it might be best to preemptively initiate when your baby eats and sleeps.
- Another thing to keep in mind is that your baby’s schedule (or lack thereof) can change from month to month.
- Even if you don’t want to start scheduling your newborn (which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends), you can start establishing a consistent bedtime routine from the day he or she comes home from the hospital. Most experts agree that the easiest way to establish a consistent bedtime is to start with a bedtime routine. (Such as dinner, bath, baby massage, book, feeding and bed.)
- Like most everything in life, scheduling should never be taken to either extreme. If you put your baby on a schedule, that doesn’t mean you should deny a hungry baby when it isn’t a scheduled mealtime, or neglect playing with your baby when the calendar says it should be naptime. On the other hand, your older baby might be regularly exhausted and cranky if allowed to just crash to sleep whenever, without some general framework of a bedtime and nap routine.
- Think of a baby routine as a flexible guideline for your baby to fall into, rather than a series of strict deadlines to set a timer to.
- Your baby’s schedule will change as he or she gets older and starts having larger chunks of awake and sleep time.
- Ultimately, you should follow whatever works for you and your family without worrying about what your mom, the neighbors and that stranger in the grocery store are telling you. Tune into what your baby needs and ignore the opposing opinions. (Because if there’s one universal truth about parenting, it’s that there is always an opposing opinion.)
- Be consistent in the method you choose to follow, but realize that changes will need to be made if they stop suiting your baby’s needs.