Parenting

7 Steps to Building a Baby Schedule

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks during the second day session of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Tuesday, July 19, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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My mother ran our house like clockwork. She had to. When your husband works 60 hours a week and has to eat on the clock, you learn how to cut and paste your life into a strict routine pretty darn fast. Growing up I absolutely hated it. Well into my 20s I preferred to go with the flow. When I wasn’t working I was eating and sleeping when I wanted and doing as I wished. When our baby was born I figured I’d just let him lead the way and work anything else I needed to do around his flow.

No one bothered telling me that babies have no flow.

You think oh, they eat, they sleep, they poo. Easy, right? “It’s not the baby that scares me, it’s the labor,” my friend recently told me. HA! That was the easiest 38 hours I’ve had so far.

Some folks laugh when I tell them I managed to get my 6-week-old on a schedule, but it’s true. Babies love routine and all of the reliability that goes along with it. And new moms love it, too. A routine built with an adequate amount of flexibility brings sanity back into your life. This is how it’s done.

7. Take note of when your baby eats and sleeps for a week.

True story: My husband’s colleague once called her husband to see how the baby was doing. “She’s been crying for hours. Her diaper’s clean. She napped. I don’t get it.” His wife asked what the baby had for lunch. “Oh, crap! Gotta go!” her exhausted husband left the phone and ran for the fridge. The first post-birth purchase we made was a clock for the nursery with a second hand and a date stamp, two essentials for exhausted parents. Yes, there’s more than one app for noting when your baby does what, but we found a simple pen and post-it did the trick. Kiss your memory goodbye: You have a baby in the house.

6. Make a rough outline of your week, noting the days that seemed to work best for baby and you.

When I realized I needed to build a daily routine, I started making rough notes on when our son would eat, play, sleep and fuss. I started noticing a behavioral pattern. Then, I started noticing the cues he was giving me: fussing with hands (hungry), pink-rimmed eyes (tired), anxious grunting (playful). Without writing things down, my blurry mind simply saw every move as a reason to feed, change, or anticipate the terror of yet another crying session. Taking the time to actually observe my child taught me that he hated to nap. Before that I was convinced he had some mysterious ailment. Never doubt the power exhaustion holds over your mind.

5. Pick the day that works best and stick with it as much as possible.

Noting that my son hated napping led to observing that he slept the longest at night on days X and Z. So, we began crafting our routine around those days. The easiest way to do this was to shift meal times by 15 minute increments if necessary. We also rode out the torture of witching hour and layered dinner and night-time feedings so he’d stay down longer at night. Within a few days we managed to break into a routine that worked for baby and allowed us to focus on areas where he needed extra help, like learning how to nap. And since learning is repetition, it didn’t take the little guy long to learn that it was okay to slow down during daylight hours.

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4. Get your spouse on board.

Nothing will screw up your routine faster than a spouse who wants to rile up the baby after work or stay up late on the weekend. I warned my husband not to let our son nap on him on the weekend, to no avail. “Eh, it’s Saturday night. If he wants to stay up later and nap on me on the couch, it’s okay.” I had to explain to my husband that our son had a Dowager-like understanding of “Saturday night” as in, “What’s a weekend?” Needless to say, he wound up learning this lesson the hard way.

3. Welcome your visitors within your time frames.

Everyone wants to see your baby. Good! They can come when the baby is awake and ready for activity. It doesn’t take long for your baby to start waking up to the world for a good hour or two at a time. Take advantage of it and invite visitors within that time frame. If they’re offended, they don’t have to see the baby. They can come clean your house instead. As baby’s routine becomes habit, he will eventually follow the schedule when others are present, as long as you’re there to help. A few weeks ago my son would look like a caffeinated speed freak fighting to stay awake whenever anyone “new” was present. Now he’s comfortable dozing off in front of others when naptime hits. 

2. Don’t forget about your to-do list.

Incorporate your needs into your schedule as well as baby’s! In a Mom’s world, minutes matter. It’s amazing how much you can get done in 10 or 15 minutes. Need a chunk of time? Work it out with your spouse or a visitor. One great thing I started doing was preparing our weekly dinners on Sunday afternoons. Even if you can’t cook the whole meal, taking an hour or two to do as much prep as possible will save you loads of time and stress on busy weekdays.

1. As baby develops, develop your schedule along with him!

Increase playtime, shift around activities and leave plenty of room for growth. Remember to keep everything flexible, because along with growth and development come change. A good schedule is one that can change as baby changes, molded around his needs as well as the needs of the family at large.

My mother wasn’t a control freak. She was right. Schedules provide the foundation on which a strong family can grow. They also teach your baby that, while their needs come first, they don’t run the show. And, guess what? At this age, they don’t want to. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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