Schedule Your Baby. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. You’re not doing yourself or your baby any favors by feeding on demand, letting him/her sleep when they want to, or responding to them 50 times during the night, or “rescuing” them from the nap that is “just not working” today.
(Mia Jordan, 6 months old, after her 6am feeding)
You may have “read all the books” or not read a single one past “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and that’s okay. I am going to break it all down for you right here and now, in a simple little nutshell, what works from what I’ve seen and experienced on my own. I should say here for the record, that I do have 10+ years of nannying, including nighttime nannying, otherwise known as a baby nurse, and in the most recent years have began working as a Sleep Consultant to new moms. I have been a baby nurse for 2 different sets of quadruplets, was a daytime nanny for quadruplets (ages newborn to 1 year) and a nanny for other newborns-1 year of age, as well as older children (just so that you don’t think I’m basing what I say off of my own six short months of personal experience).
But I can say that the methods I used on other babies have proven true as I’ve used them on my own daughter, and so now my confidence in this simple schedule is concrete and permanent. So here you go…
On Becoming Babywise (and Toddler Wise),
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer
Colic Solved and
Pick Nick’s Brain (an online ebook about naps and schedules, a great resource: http://www.babysleepsite.com/).
When baby is still itty-bitty (2 weeks-4/6 weeks), you’ll more than likely be on a 2 hour block schedule; around 4-6 or 7 weeks I recommend moving to a 3 hour block schedule, if at all possible. This can be a challenge for exclusively breastfeeding moms, but not at all impossible. And with the block method there is a LOT of grace, so don’t worry.
During this block, follow the simple sequence of events (as laid out in Babywise) of first eating time, then wake/play time, followed by naptime. This sequence of events is very important mainly because you want separation between sleep and eating time. You don’t want to get baby in the habit of having to eat his/her way to sleep every time. This could become quite a pain when you are exhausted and having to breast/bottle feed baby to sleep every single night, or when you’re out and about in order for them to take naps. You want them to learn to fall asleep on their own when they have to, and with your help when available. Learning to fall asleep and self-sooth are both skills that very new babies do not yet posses. So I personally and professionally do not recommend “letting them cry it out” when they are still so small, under 6 weeks; self-soothing is a skill you have to teach your baby, just how you would teach an older child to ride a bike. You’d never just expect them to know how to ride a bike, you have start with training wheels, then holding on to the bike, and finally letting go. This can take time as your child builds up confidence in their own skills and balance on the bicycle. You would never let go on their first time on the bike. In the same way, you cannot expect your tiny infant, who is used to only your womb and does not have their days/nights organized yet, to be able to get themselves back to sleep, or put themselves to sleep in the first place. That is why we used all kinds of sleep cues, and a routine to assist them, like training wheels, in organizing their nights and days, and what is sleep time and wake time. But first let us focus on the schedule in general.
During your 2-3 hour segment, baby will wake from a nap, eat soon thereafter (it doesn’t have to be immediate, especially if you they are waking up a ½ hour or so before they are supposed to eat again) and then have anywhere from 40 minutes to 90+ minutes of awake/play time before going down for a nap. Yes, there will be days when everything gets all jumbled up and you will have a “fail day” and that is OKAY. Remember, every segment is another chance to turn it all around. It’s no big deal, do NOT beat yourself up. Just start again!
Sometimes baby will fall asleep as you are feeding them, and there will be nothing you can do to keep them awake. That is alright. Shake it off. Some day’s baby will not want to sleep at all, and may miss a nap completely in the segment due to being out and about, teething, over-stimulated due to new people, surroundings, etc., and that is fine. Brush it off and reset. But always reset!
Ideally, what you want to keep in the back of your mind as your go-to structure is the feed-wake-sleep order of events in a 2-3 hour time block. This is your mantra.
So, let’s say you are on the 3 hour block, as my daughter at 18 weeks. She first wakes at 7am, and barely gets through a feeding before wanting to go back to sleep. I let her, and she sleeps solid until exactly or just before her 10am feeding. She eats at 10am and then I get her up for the day. I change her, and take her into her play area. She plays and we read a book or two, make breakfast, start some laundry or get ready to leave the house, whatever is going on that day. When it is time for her nap (she has about a 90 minute max for awake time right now, sometimes a tiny more or a lot less), I take her into her room, I close the shutters, swaddle her (get a Miracle Blanket ladies! http://www.miracleblanket.com/index.htm; they have a great how-to video on swaddling that is so valuable, especially if you feel like you have no clue what you are doing!), put in her pacifier, rock her for a few minutes, and then lay her down in her crib when she’s groggy, but not totally asleep. (*A note on swaddling: Even if you think your baby doesn’t like to be swaddled, press on. Babies love the feeling of security, even if it seems they are fighting it. Rarely have I ever experienced a baby who truly fights and “hates” to be swaddled). I leave the room, and she falls asleep. That’s how it goes now, however, but it wasn’t always that easy. If you lay baby down and they cry, it’s okay -do your naptime/nighttime routine; lay them down, and have a pre-determined amount of time in your mind that you are okay with baby crying.
If it’s only 5 minutes to start, that is fine. Let him/her cry for five minutes, then go back into the room and without picking baby up, try and soothe him/her, by stroking their hair, rubbing their back/tummy, putting the pacifier back in, etc. Then go back out of the room, and let baby cry for the next pre-determined amount of time, such as 8 minutes this time. Then go back in if baby does not fall asleep, and try once again to soothe them without picking them up. Leave the room. If baby does continues to cry after the third amount of pre-determined time, go back into the room, and while keeping the room dark/door closed, pick baby up, and gently rock them for a few minutes. After they have calmed down, go ahead and lay them back down, using all your sleep cue techniques that you’ve been using, i.e. putting in the pacifier, brushing your finger over their eyes, rubbing back/tummy, etc. This is how we train our babies to self-soothe, as I was mentioning before… the “training wheels” we are giving them as they learn to “ride the bike” on their own before we take them off, and eventually let go. Giving them the paci, rubbing their back, using a Sleep Sheep or mobile or other such item are all cues that remind them that this is sleepy time, not wake time. And eventually they will learn on their own how to calm themselves once they realize it is sleepy time, but this takes a while. You may have to do this sequence of events over and over for a couple of days, or even a week before baby gets the hint that hey, its naptime whether I like it or not, I’m going to go down for a nap. You are not doing this to be mean, you are doing what is best for your baby.
Babies do 80%+ of their growth and development while they are asleep. Sleep is crucial for them! As a newborn and for the first 4-5+ months of life, babies need to be sleeping at least 14-17 hours during every 24 hour period. So keep offering those naps in the segments, and eventually baby will learn to take advantage of them. If you are gun shy to the whole Babywise mommy following, check out:
Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth. I loved this book and it helped provide even more perspective and assisted me in finding the balance. There are many other such books available, so don’t be shy, get one, or hire a Sleep Consultant or Baby Nurse for a couple of hours/nights if you need some hands on help. Learning these techniques isn’t easy, and it can be even more difficult when you are sleep deprived, over-stimulated and overwhelmed yourself.
Adjustments will always need to be made with the schedule. Nothing is perfect, life requires a constant pursuit of balance, grace and occasionally a need for bumpers down the bowling lane. But I can promise you that if you start baby’s life out on a schedule, you will set them up for success, as well as your entire family and home life. Things will be more predicable then you think, and you can actually start to reclaim your identity as a human being, and begin to relish in your new identity of a Mommy, and a fantastic one at that.
In our home, we recently went through a big change with my daughter Mia’s schedule, as she is now 6 months old, and we had some family schedule changes that have required us to change her schedule. Mia now first rises at 6am. I fought this for so long trying to make her hold off until 7am, which was her old first feeding time. But an important lesson I learned is, are you doing the best time schedule for baby, or for you? Did I want to start waking up at 6am every morning? Not so much. I am traditionally not a morning person. I’d rather be up all night every night, then rising that early in the morning, ha! But Mia began waking at 6am, so I had to adjust things so that we still had structure and predictability, but now we were working with her new stage and needs.
Since I am still exclusively breastfeeding, I have Mia on a 3 hour block still. She can occasionally go 3 ½ or 4 hours, but not often. I assume that she will when I start adding cereal into her diet, but for now, we are still at 3-3 ½ hours. So now Mia eats first at 6am, and then is up for the day. I get her up, change her, dress her, and let her have some time on her play mat with her toys. She goes down for her first nap by 7:30am. She is up by 8:15-8:30, and eats again at 9am. She stays up for another 90 minutes or so (her wake time is beginning to extend as she gets older) and then goes down for a nap. I close her shutters, put in her paci, turn on her mobile, hold her for a minute, kiss her eyelids, and then lay her down. She goes down every time because she has been used to these sleep cues for 6 months. Even when she fights the nap, she still will lay there and nap for at least 20-30 minutes, and then one or two of her naps will be longer during the day. She then eats again at 12pm, then 3pm, then 6pm, and that is her last “awake” feeding of the day. After I feed her at 6pm, she gets a bath, minimal stimulation (no toys), I read her a book in the rocker, and then she is in bed by 7:30pm. I am still giving her a 6th feeding of the day, as a “dream-feed” where I go into her room quietly, leave it completely dark, and without a word I breastfeed her in the rocker glider, softly burp her, and lay her back down without arousing her at all, or as little as possible. Sometimes she burps, sometimes she doesn’t, and if she needs a burp it’s not uncommon for her to wake an hour later crying, in which case I go in and burp her, and she falls immediately back to sleep. She then sleeps until 5:30 or 6am, when I feed her and we start the day of scheduling over.
I know this may seem “easier said than done,” but if you approach it with the idea that your goal is to do the 2 or 3 hour block, and you can mess up and get back on track as you go, it will be do-able. I promise! Always try the “right way” and eventually things will begin to fall into place. Does my daughter still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes? Absolutely. But I never, ever feed her prior to 6am. I will let her whine or cry for a little bit, then try soothing in her other ways, mostly just giving her the paci, or sometimes offering a burp is what is needed.
This is so important. Stick to your guns. Your baby needs sleep. Don’t confuse them by feeding them in the middle of what they are learning to be nighttime. You have to help them get that sleep so they can grow and develop into healthy little people. They will thrive on the schedule and predictability. Your baby only knows what it wants; it is your job to give them what they need.
P.S. Always feel free to email me questions about your baby, sleep issues, schedule problems, and I will use all my expertise and experience to give you the very best answer that I can. But even I am not omniscient, or perfect, but when we all put our heads together, solutions can be found for almost any baby/child issue!