“Is your baby on a schedule yet?” It’s a question people (especially mothers-in-law, no?) seem to love to ask new parents. It's also a question that can curl some new parents' stomachs into knots. In those first sleep-deprived, milk-splattered weeks of new Mom-dom, some days it can seem like an accomplishment that you’ve remembered to put on pants before going to Rite Aid. The idea of some kind of “schedule” for your life can seem laughable. And I mean, do babies really even need schedules?
It took quite awhile for my son and I to have anything resembling a routine. In the early days, the only given was that every afternoon around 2pm I could likely be found eating a spoonful of almond butter straight from the tub while staring out the window and trying to remember some random fact I could now no longer recall. Like the name of the actress in Twilight. Or what Pat Sajak's face looks like. The rest of the day was just a blur of babybabybaby. Once my little guy started to sleep more and I felt less like the undead, we slowly worked our way into a sort of loose schedule: Nurse. Bat at a Whozit. Read about Hippos Going Berserk. Nap. Repeat.
Of course, some parents are much more into the idea of scheduling, and it seems if they could get their infants to login to iCal, they happily would. Is one approach better than the other? How important is scheduling for babies, really?
I reached out to Dr. Tanya Altmann for her thoughts on mapping out the day for a wee one. Dr. Altmann is a Los Angeles-based pediatrician, television parenting expert, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She's also the bestselling author of Baby and Toddler Basics: Expert Answers to Parents' Top 150 Questions.
"Every baby is different and has different needs," Dr. Altmann says. "While some may do well on a schedule, others need to feed on demand, and if schedules are too rigid, they may not get enough nutrition the first few months of life."
But on the whole, Dr. Altmann gives schedules the thumbs up. "Infants and children thrive on routine, so as much as you can, keep a consistent schedule. Your family will benefit greatly, and then when you do need to deviate, such as a late night out with relatives, your kids will more quickly bounce back to their schedule the next night."
Dr. Altmann does offer some tips for a very gentle start at scheduling. "As babies get older, I usually recommend trying to feed more during the day, then start a regular bedtime routine that ends with babies self soothing in the crib, and allow them to learn to sleep through the night."
But if you find your child really resists a routine, and seems to be more chill surf instructor than the inflexible project manager-type, well no need to fret. As Dr. Altmann said, all babies are different, and so much of scheduling comes down to your kid's temperament. So if your scheduling at first seems on track, then suddenly falls apart again, that is a-ok.
Says Dr. Altmann: "While some kids can go with the flow, most children need consistency and a pattern at least most of the time. I usually tell parents that the 80/20 rule applies to most kids and most situations. If your children are on a good sleep and activity schedule 80 percent of the time, they will be able to go with the flow the rest of the time when you need them to."