Scheduling the Unschedulable

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So many people told me when I was pregnant with my first baby that babies can’t be scheduled. They would laugh when I would tell them about books I’d read about how to help your newborn adjust to a schedule, and they’d tell me to just be prepared. Babies have their own schedules, they’d tell me.

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I’ve always been hesitant to say this out loud (er…online?) because I know so many people will disagree with me, but I’m here to tell you that we scheduled both our babies from the time they were infants. Yes, it will depend on the disposition of your baby, and yes, you must adjust your idea of what a “schedule” is, but insofar as creating a routine and helping our babies learn that we are awake during the day and asleep at night, we were able to do that relatively quickly and easily with both of our babies.

As I mentioned, I think the first thing you have to do when you’re thinking about getting your baby on a schedule is to redefine what the word “schedule” means to an infant. It would be really hard to teach an infant that we go to bed at 7:00pm, or that we wake up at 7:00am, or that we don’t eat until noon. Babies don’t care too much about clocks. What they do care about is knowing their needs are going to be met, and what they can be taught is what routine we use to meet those needs. So, I am more comfortable using the word “routine” for an infant, as opposed to the word “schedule.” However, I do believe the first step to a solid schedule with bigger babies is a solid routine for little ones.

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For newborns and infants up to 6 months old, I think the biggest challenge for creating a routine is teaching their bodies the difference between night and day. They have to learn that we are active during the day and that we sleep at night. One thing we did with our kids was that we never went into the bedroom where they slept at night during the day. The bedroom was strictly for nighttime sleeping. Instead, we put them down for naps in their pack ‘n plays in the living room, right in the middle of all the action (well, “action” may not be the right word, since I watched Oprah through most of my maternity leave…). I didn’t put the dogs out in the backyard or turn the television down at all. They learned to take naps in the house during the day with all the noise of a regular household around them. Then at night, when I wanted to teach them to sleep longer, the room was always quiet and dark. Their bodies learned quickly that during the day we nap and at night we sleep for longer. Using this technique with both babies, we had them sleeping through the night in five- to six-hour stretches by three or four months old.

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Another thing we did that really helped create a routine was to stay home for the first few months. I know that there is a tendency to want to get out and explore with new ones. So many people to meet, so many things to see! And there are other parenting philosophies out there that actually encourage getting your baby out and about. While we certainly didn’t sit at home all day long, we tried to be home by about 4:00 every afternoon so that we could settle into our regular nighttime routine at the same time every day. I took the kids out during the day pretty constantly. We usually had some kind of errand to run at least once a day, and that was good for them to get used to napping in all kinds of situations, but I really wanted their bodies to become accustomed to calming down and sleeping heavily at night, so we tried to be home and ready for our bedtime routine at a decent hour every day.

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There were some days, though, that no matter how routine we were with our schedule, the baby just didn’t want to cooperate. Especially Gracie. If Gracie didn’t want to sleep, she didn’t sleep. If Gracie wanted to eat, she wanted to eat NOW. She has her momma’s strong will, and when she didn’t want to do or did want to do something, well, that’s just what she did. On those days when she did her own scheduling, I learned to just go with the flow. Scheduling an infant is not a science, nor is it something set in stone. There will be ebbs and flows, and a good parent knows to just ride out those moods without frustration or expectations. If Gracie didn’t want to nap when she normally napped, that was okay. But the key is to not give up on the entire routine just because it gets off track for a bit. We still went through the motions of our routine, even when Gracie didn’t want anything to do with it. If she skipped her nap, we still put her to bed at the normal time. If she was hungry and ate earlier than usual, I still fixed her a bottle at her normal feeding time, too (I would simply give her a little less). Be sure to be flexible when you’re scheduling a baby, but don’t throw the whole process out just because they get off track for a while. You have to be the consistent one, not your baby.

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Scheduling newborns, infants, toddlers, children, and husbands is all about patience. (See what I did there?) Don’t let anyone make you feel like you shouldn’t even attempt to schedule, if that’s what you want to do. I think children of all ages – even wee ones – appreciate a home life that is stable, consistent, and dependable. And if you view a routine or schedule as providing those things for your babies, then you’ll do just fine.

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