Monday, March 16, 2009

Like we know what we're doing ...

This just landed in my Facebook inbox, from my friend Sarah whose son is just about three months old:
I'm going back to work in two weeks and I'm trying to get my little man on a schedule. He is great about his feeding schedule most of the time, but I cannot get him to nap during the day unless he's in his swing. He doesn't scream or cry or anything, he just kind of plays in his crib. I'm worried that he's not sleeping enough and he'll have a hard time once he goes to the babysitter. Any ideas? How did you guys get your little ones on a schedule to return to work?

Ah, schedules. They really do make life easier, but they can be such a pain to get started. And babies? Yeah, they're unpredictable little balls of need. The schedule that works perfectly today is likely to be disastrous tomorrow because of teething or sickness or some new skill. And you can't really blame the kid. I mean, who wants to nap when your gums are burning or you've just gotten the hang of sticking your toes in your mouth?

Back to the question at hand, I became a little obsessive about getting The Boy on a schedule before I went back to work. The Boy was formula-fed and going into daycare and somewhere in my hormone-addled, guilty mother's brain, I was convinced that if the daycare ladies gave him more bottles than I did, I was a bad parent. This doesn't make sense, I know, but it's what I thought. I spent the month before my maternity leave ended stretching out the times between feedings and getting The Boy on an every-three-or-four-hours feeding schedule, with naps about two hours after every bottle.

Our ideal schedule looked like this:
Feeding -- 7 a.m., 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 7 p.m., 11 p.m., 2-3 a.m.
Naps -- 9 a.m., 1 p.m., 5 p.m., 9 p.m.

We hit that ideal maybe one day. Maybe two. Times were fudged, sometimes the kid wouldn't nap and other times the daycare ladies would insist he was starving and needed an extra bottle. Eventually, The Boy settled into eating about every three hours, and he stopped needing the late bottles very early on. Around five or six months, we discovered if we put him to bed at 7:30 p.m., he'd sleep to about 5 or 6 a.m. Around eight months, he stopped taking three naps a day, and now we're down to one nap, usually, and some days none, though yesterday, he took two.

The moral of my story is the baby probably will tell you what he needs, if you give him some space to do it. My tips:
  • Don't worry about creating a schedule for the baby. Create a schedule for your family. How much time do you need in the morning to feed him and get ready? When is everyone going to be home at night?
  • Figure out what time your day has to start and work from that, not set times all day. Lunch isn't at noon. It's roughly six hours after we got up and had breakfast and three hours after "second breakfast," what we call The Boy's morning snack.
  • Focus on food. For us, once we got meals settled, everything else fell into place.
  • Sometimes quiet time can stand in for naptime. Try leaving him in his crib, if he's not wailing. He might fall asleep, and even if he doesn't that time alone might be all he needs.
  • Once you get a schedule going, expect it to change.
Michelle adds:
Schedule? What is that?

I had eight weeks off with Peanut and we didn't get into a routine until the very last week before I went back to work. She's breastfed and would eat every three hours, almost around the clock at the time. She'd need a nap about an hour after waking, sleep for an hour, be awake for two, eat, sleep for an hour, be awake for two ... you get the point.

I was so happy that we finally had a schedule. But I was still concerned about her sleeping habits since it consisted of her sleeping in my arms.

I think she was completely out of the schedule and sleeping on her own at the sitter's within a couple weeks. Sometimes Peanut slept in the swing at the sitter's when she wasn't feeling cooperative, but she rarely enjoyed the swing at our house for some reason.

Now Peanut operates on three different schedules throughout the week. One when she is with the sitter during the day where she usually takes one, 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day; one when she is with Daddy twice a week where she usually takes two, 1 hour naps a day; one for the weekends where we get a nap in when we can.

In all three scenarios, I would let her take a late afternoon/early evening nap and sometimes she wouldn't wake up until 6:30 p.m. or later. That meant she would stay up until after 9 and even as late as 10. This was not working for anyone especially with the screaming fits that usually accompanied bedtime. So last week I cut out the late nap and she promptly goes to bed by 8 p.m. with little to no complaint. It is one the best decisions I've made as a parent.

I agree with Hillary. Don't be too concerned with a schedule. Do what works best for you and the kiddo. Does he seem sleepy? Let him sleep. Does he seem hungry? Let him eat. He'll let you know what is and isn't working. And if it isn't working, don't be afraid to change something. You'll find what works best for everyone.


k said...

While pregnant I was all Anal Annie about reading books on getting babies to sleep through the night and be on a schedule. Yeeaahhh...I should've saved my time and just continued to eat more waffles and coffee cake in a pregnant fervor.

Thankfully baby came out knowing his days from his nights and eating and napping pretty reliably.

I think it's all about rolling with punches.

Sharyn said...

Kaelyn has slept through the night since she was 3 months old, and pretty much put herself on a schedule, consistently waking up at around 8:15, taking a bottle, napping at 10:15 in her swing, eating another bottle at around noon, refusing a bottle at daycare, napping at daycare, then gulping two smaller bottles for john before bedtime, which varies, depending on how long she napped.

Now that she's on baby food, it's a little harder to figure out ... she still gets up around 8:30, though the last few days it's been more like 9:15. Sometimes, though, if she is too stuffed from dinner to take a bottle before bed, she will wake up hungry in the middle of the night for a bottle, then sleep later. Which of course screws up the next day, but she usually works it out.

That being said, I have spent the last nine months of my life fretting her eating because she goes through periods where she's sick or teething or something and refuses to drink altogether. John and I still count ounces because for the longest time she wouldn't take more than 18 in a day.

We still haven't figured out how a child of OURS doesn't like to eat.