This is a response to some reader questions about how to incorporate a parent-led schedule versus a baby-led schedule. My initial post on our parent-led choice can be found here.
"I am going to be a first time mom and am interested in a doing a more parent-led approach then a baby driven one. I completely agree with you when you say that the child should fit in to your life instead of the other way around. I do have a few questions though that I was hoping you could please answer. "
- when do you start implementing a schedule? Right when they are born or a week or two after?
- a lot of articles I've read, both for and against parent-led schedules, say that it needs to be constantly consistent. So if I set the schedule so I want the baby to wake up at 8, but i know he could sleep past 8, do I wake him up or just adjust the schedule to start when he wakes up?
- with feedings, do you BF within a range or 2.5 - 3 hours or have you set it so every 3 hours they eat, no matter what? And what if they act hungry after only an hour and a half or so after you fed them, do you wait until the 2.5 hour mark?
- I read that vacations and such can really be hard on babies of parent-led schedules since they have a hard time adjusting, have you found this to be true?
First off, let me tell you that when I had my second we ended up in a more baby led approach, not really on purpose but mostly because we were exhausted with the demands of a newborn and then 18 month old and so we didn't have the will power to stick it out with the parent led approach. Now that my littlest one is about 18 months himself I can assure you this was such a BIG mistake! I will preface everything with the idea that each child is going to be different, some may be easier than others, etc. BUT #2 has been a pain in the butt especially when it comes to sleeping and I think this is hugely due to the fact that we didn't push as hard to get him into a great routine from the beginning.
With #2 we were in a crazy world of non-stop eating, still to this day the kid eats like a champ (which was not the case with #1 since he was 4 weeks early). So this kid was eating 4 oz. every 2 hours from the DAY we brought him home from the hospital! This started the challenge because I figured we'd slowly start pushing him longer and longer until he was on a 4 hour schedule but again the exhaustion of it all won us over and we just gave in and kept feeding him on demand (mistake #1). Getting up to breastfeed and make bottles (because my poor boobs surely could not keep up with his hunger!) every 2 hours for MONTHS on end was absolutely exhausting, no other way to put it. And the constant eating led to the co-sleeping because the thought of getting up and even walking across the room to the pack n play was exhausting ha! It got so bad, I kid you not, that we had the most ridiculous routine just trying to survive because there is no napping with the baby when you have a toddler to run around after and business to run and school work to do. Our routine with #2 was to fill one bottle with just 4 oz of water, fill another with 2 scoops of formula and put the wee one on a co-sleeping pillow right in between my husband and I's pillows.... all 3 of us cozied up the bed night after night.... then when he'd wake up crying to eat I'd roll over, pour the water into the formula bottle, shake and plop it in his mouth barely staying awake long enough for him to finish. There were plenty of nights that he'd spit the bottle out and spill everything all over the bed requiring sheet changes in the middle of the night. And with him eating this much there was no diaper that would hold up so we had many nights of clothing changes and sheet changes as well.
Here's the best part... this went on for EIGHT months. I wish I was joking, the kid continued to eat every 3 hours in our bed for 8 months. A nightmare doesn't even come close to describing this. I finally put my foot down at 8 months and put the kid into his own crib in his room for the FIRST NIGHT ever. I still shake my head thinking about this. I can't even describe the feeling of having my bed back!! This decision made things more challenging because it was more work to feed him but at that point I was done, done, and done with this outrageous set-up we had going that I didn't care. And I DEMANDED that hubbs jump in to help as he had truly slacked in this department due to his demanding work schedule over the previous eight months. I told him I didn't care and there were some nights that he did everything 100% and I actually got to sleep.... ah sleep... kind of. It's amazing how your body can survive with such little sleep. I had grown so accustomed to doing this that after he finally would sleep through the night I was still wide awake half the night, like a little internal alarm clock that would go off. Craziness I tell you.
Luckily, he finally started weaning himself off of so much food shortly after we booted him to his own room. There were more and more nights that he'd go 5 or more hours without eating and less nights that he was up every 3, but my goodness he was about 9-10 months old by this point! Even today he is not nearly as good of a sleeper as baby #1, whether this is due to the schedule or not... who knows but I can't help but wonder if it would've helped even a little bit! As he is now over a year and a half old I'm still trying to get that sleep back, and there are still MANY MANY nights that the kid ends up in our bed to sleep. Obviously he grew very accustomed to this and it's still a challenge we deal with. I'm all for co-sleeping, but not to this extent, unless you're ok with sharing your bed indefinitely with your kid... it's not a good set up for us. And it all goes back to giving into the whole 'baby led approach', I applaud parents that can do it this way, we are not those parents!
All of that being said, I kick myself knowing that we could've avoided it, at least in some ways, if we had stuck to our guns and got him on a schedule. It would've been a bigger challenge than baby #1 because this kid refused to stop eating! But there were plenty of things we could've tried. We could've started pushing him at least a half an hour and continued to do this until he was on a more bearable eating schedule. I could've been less obsessed with the breastfeeding but after baby #1 I was determined to make it work with #2 so I fought a lot more than I needed to. I could've started rice cereal earlier rather than being paranoid about it and waiting until 6 months. I could've demanded help from hubbs earlier on rather than resulting to short cuts to save my own sanity from lack of sleep. I can assure you that baby #3 will be on a schedule if it kills me!! My husband and I both agree.
And finally to answer your questions specifically-
I do agree that you need to be pretty consistent with your schedule but I'm not crazy rigid. I wasn't a freak about it, there will be days that are off, there will be days that your time table is skewed by an hour or two and that's ok, the main point is that the general schedule is consistent throughout. Holidays and changes to your general routine will mess things up (like we experienced with Thanksgiving and things like that). I would say the first month you're getting used to the whole idea of a baby in general, this time is kind of chaotic. You're getting to know baby's personality, figuring out how much they eat, and this is the time to develop your schedule with what will work best for you AND baby, which may mean adjusting some things in your life to accommodate. For example if you have a yoga class or work phone calls or whatever always set at 9:00 am but this seems to be a good time to start your daily routine you may need to adjust your schedule and bump these things back to 10:00 am. I would take the first month to figure out what's going to work for you all and establish the schedule framework as soon as you can. You can always adjust it, just a little more work and a little less sleep. And I would stick to this schedule as closely as possible for at least the next month. By the end of month 2 you should definitely be seeing a pattern, the schedule should be relatively consistent.
Along those lines, if you want baby to be up and eating at 8 but they are asleep, I would wake them up. This is the best of the 2 scenarios you can end up with (either you're waking to feed them early, or you're having to distract them and keep them happy because they're hungry early and it isn't time to eat yet), so yes, if it were me I'd wake them up! I also set our schedule by the time on the clock rather than the time elapsed, meaning our every 4 hour eating schedule was probably more like every 3.5 since it would take him about a half an hour to actually eat the food. I found it easier to use the time on the clock so that I wasn't constantly having to count how many hours it had been since his last feeding, I'd just look at the clock and say oh it's 2:30 he's going to be eating in a half an hour. I didn't have a range of times really for feeding (unless that particular day was off for whatever reason) so eating was at 8 am, when the clock hit 8 I'd have the bottle or boob ready to go. If there were times that they weren't acting hungry I'd still try to sway them to eat something, even if it wasn't their usual intake, this gets their brain in the habit of waking and being hungry at certain times.
Now they will inevitably end up hungry prior to eating time on occasion and this is the harder to fix and deal with because they aren't exactly the happiest. This is where you have to be able to deal with crying, and it will prepare you for sleep training down the road (which is MUCH easier if you already have them on a schedule!). Luckily the crying part is short lived in both cases. I pushed the boys as long as I could to get them to the scheduled eating time. This can be done by distracting them, playing, giving a pacifier, anything you can do to stretch the time. I also used this method when getting him to go from a 3 hour to a 4 hour schedule after a month or so. I'd start out pushing him 15 minutes, then a half an hour, etc. It's hard at first but they adjust pretty quickly, and their internal clock catches on.
I didn't find vacations hard at all with a schedule because I just kept up the schedule as close as I could. If we were off by an hour or two, fine, I'd start it back on track the next morning. Even if you're in the car or an airplane you should be able to continue to feed them at the right times. And if you end up in a different time zone I would just adjust the schedule to compromise between what we were used to versus where we were. For example if your schedule starts at 8 am but you are in a time zone where 8 am is really like 5 am to what you're used to I would split the difference and adjust the schedule to start at 6:30 or 7:00am while I was there and then do the same thing coming back. You'll find that you can adjust things more and more each day too if you have to, so if you did 6:30 am day 1 of your trip you could probably do 7:30 on day 2 and then be right back to normal for the duration of your trip. Then you just work backwards when you get home (if you need to, sometimes you don't and they fall right back into things).
Ok so that's my extremely long winded response. If there is one concise thing to take away it would be DO A SCHEDULE, don't end up with your baby in your bed for 8 months and die of complete sleep deprivation ha! Start it out early, the earlier the better, and you can adjust along the way. Good luck and thanks for giving me a chance to do a follow up here.