Wait! Don't stop reading this article! I know the idea of a baby schedule may seem “backwards” and harsh at first. You've already decided you want to demand feed your baby – and you don't want your baby to “cry it out” when upset! There is a difference, however, between strict, harsh scheduling, and gently bringing a routine – a rhythm – to your baby's days.
Creating a predictable schedule will benefit both you and your baby. It's possible for the routine to change sometimes – you may not be able to avoid an appointment scheduled at baby's nap, or baby may have a fussy day. It will also evolve as your baby grows. But most days it'll be there to give your baby security. Young children like to have a predictable, stable routine to their days. Your little one will appreciate it from babyhood throughout childhood.
Setting Up Baby's Schedule
If you're still pregnant prepare your baby's routine by letting go of your expectations for baby's early weeks! These weeks are a time of bonding for you and your child. They're a time for you rest with your new baby. When your baby is two weeks old or so is a good time to start gently easing towards a daily routine.
Commit to finding some rhythm for yourself – this is your starting place. If this is your first baby it can be tough to do. There's a temptation to just let days melt away! If you've got older children you may already have some regular eating and sleeping times to start with. Begin by picking a time to wake up in the morning, times to eat your meals, a napping time, and when you'll go to bed. You can begin to build baby's schedule around these “pillars.” Here's an example:
|7:00am||Wake Up and Breakfast|
|1:00pm – 2:30pm||Naptime|
This can be a basis for your day – work your other activities in around these. Some days things may change – you may set errands for one morning a week and skip snack time that day, for instance. But stick to a routine most days; you'll feel better because you're eating and sleeping as you should, and you'll tend to be home more often than not – which is good for you and your baby.
Now build your baby into the schedule. Look at what you have going on and decide when you'd like your baby to be sleeping. As I said earlier – having a routine and schedule for your baby doesn't mean you need to be rigid about feedings or let your baby “cry it out.” But in looking at your schedule you may see some times that are natural for offering to nurse your baby. Look at the example with a young baby added in:
|6:30am||Nurse baby||Nurse and back to sleep|
|7:00am||Up and make Breakfast||Sleeping|
|10:00am||Snack and nurse baby||Nurse and down for morning nap|
|12:00pm||Lunch||Sitting with Mama/playing|
|1:00pm||Naptime||Nursing/Napping w/ Mama|
|2:30pm||Up for housework/home business||Sleeping|
|3:00pm||Snack/Time with Older Kids||Sleeping|
|4:00pm||Nursing||Up to Nurse/Play|
|5:30pm||Supper||Sit with Mama/Play|
|7:00pm||Nurse/Rock baby||Nursing then sleep in bassinet|
|10:00pm||Bedtime||Up to bed with Mama|
This isn't complete at all; nursings are only listed a couple of times and of course baby will nurse a lot. With a young baby there will be a lot of napping in between “big” naps. And if you put your baby to bed early (I won't go into detail in this article but an early bedtime has been proven to be good for children) he or she will most likely wake to nurse a time or two before you carry baby to bed with you.
These examples let you see how you can develop a structure to the day and build a baby schedule.
Getting Baby on Schedule
How do you get baby accustomed to this? Don't force it! Just have the schedule as a guideline for your day. Continue to nurse on demand. But if you're getting up at 7 and want to make breakfast and eat while baby sleeps make a point to offer to nurse your baby at 6:30am so he's full and content to sleep through breakfast time.
When you sit down for your morning snack, offer to nurse baby. When you lie down in bed to nap (and you should take a nap or at least lie down daily!) help your baby to latch on and nurse to sleep. Following these routines and offering to nurse, or dancing with, bouncing, or otherwise soothing your baby will help her learn when sleep times are and what sleep routines are like.
As I write this article my new baby is six weeks old. I've been working with him on getting into a good routine in stages since he was two weeks old. At this point he sleeps through our breakfast almost every morning. He's also quickly gotten used to a nice afternoon nap, which he starts with me in the bed (when I come downstairs I bring him with me and put him into our baby hammock beside my desk). There have only been a couple of mornings and afternoons when he didn't want to sleep.
Now bedtime is a different story – he's not yet going to sleep easily most nights, but he is getting used to the routine. We swaddle him then nurse him, then I put him in the baby hammock beside me. If he continues to fuss I'll pick him up again and nurse or hold him (and offer him the potty if it's been awhile since he's gone – we're EC'ing). I try to keep it very low-key to encourage him to sleep.
On the whole he's getting more and more used to the routine. He nurses very frequently and I have him in the baby carrier on me or sitting in my lap most of the day – but I do enjoy his afternoon nap when he'll spend the second half sleeping beside me while I do some work. And I love that he sleeps while I cook breakfast (the only meal I cook without children underfoot!)
It Takes Patience
It's a process – your baby will gradually get to know the schedule and routine of your days. You'll find that your baby associates nursing at certain times – or other things (like a bath or swaddling) with getting ready to sleep. He'll also make other associations – getting into the sling means it's time for housework or a walk outside, being put in the car seat means it's time to go for a drive, etc.
There will be some days that are rough. Days when all you'll do is dance with a fussy baby or sit and read to sick children. There will be times when your baby doesn't want to sleep, and days that it feels like your baby will never learn that it's bedtime!
However, a good stable routine, a happy life of knowing when to expect what, riding in the sling around the house and outside with you, listening to you sing and read, and just observing the world from a secure schedule and place in your arms will give your baby a great start. And it will give you peace of mind – and eventually a little time for yourself while your baby is content to sleep or play 🙂