When it comes to coaching your baby into a more specific routine, there are several approaches you can take. These depend on your own philosophies and your baby’s preferences. Read through and follow whichever makes the most sense and whichever one feels intuitively right for your baby:
A baby-led schedule is framed by your baby’s current patterns, needs and wants. Rather than one created for your own convenience.
For instance, you should approach a baby-led schedule with the attitude that your baby should take three naps. Not that you’d like him or her to take one at 8 a.m., another at 1 p.m. and a third at 3 p.m. Follow your baby’s lead in determining the best times for the three naps.
Think of this as “go with the flow” routine rather than a strict schedule. Recognize that babies have individual needs and distinct personalities that don’t always fit neatly into a predetermined formula.
It definitely requires a bit of sacrifice on the parent’s part (like skipping a lunch date because your baby). Most baby-led parents accept changes in their baby’s schedule with stride, even if that means he or she sleeps in the car seat instead of at home. In fact, the lack of rigid rules makes it a more flexible option than a parent-led schedule.
A baby-led schedule requires the parents to identify their baby’s signals, it’s believed to foster a close bond.
Proponents also claim that it can create a laid-back, happy-go-lucky child by being brought up in a more adaptable environment. (Although your baby’s temperament plays a large factor in that as well.)
This might be the best approach for babies who have a very unpredictable natural schedule, rather than babies who seem to create a regular routine on their own.
On the other hand, this approach might simply be unrealistic for working parents. It requires all of your time and energy to be invested in your baby, which won’t work. Though, working parents can always hire a babysitter or nanny to follow your guidelines and help to create a baby-led schedule.
The baby-led approach is most notably associated with Dr. Benjamin Spock – one of the first pediatricians of his time to encourage “parenting on demand.”
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports Spock’s approach by declaring that baby-led feeding schedules are the healthiest approach, especially for the newborn phase.
One may also recognize this as being in sync with the “attachment parenting” philosophy made famous by Dr. William Sears. The general trademarks of attachment parenting are breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping and baby-wearing. It’s a very primal approach, which encourages a close bond and understanding between mother and baby.
Although all of these experts are known to lean toward the “parenting on demand” philosophy, they do believe that parents should have a general schedule in mind, rather than letting babies sleep whenever they feel like sleeping.
How to create a baby-led routine:
The first thing parents should do is spend time observing their baby’s habits and Understanding his or her individual signals. If you’re going to follow your baby’s lead, then there has to be a kind of intuitive synchrony to help you recognize the “hungry” and “tired” cues.
While you absolutely don’t have to adhere to the baby wearing, co-sleeping and exclusive on-demand breastfeeding. The two do seem to go hand-in-hand. The closeness (not just emotionally, but physically) helps the parent better understand his or her baby.
When it comes to feeding, baby-led routine says that breastfeeding should be around the clock and on demand. This helps establish healthy milk supply and provide babies with high-fat calories. Usually mom and baby will fall into a routine, which, of course, your baby will initiate.
Advice for the Parents
Follow a routine that your baby dictates, but keep in mind how much your baby should be eating at every age.
As far as sleeping schedules, baby-led parents are advised to follow their baby’s lead on when he/she is naturally tired. Although, understand that babies of certain ages should be getting specific amounts of sleep.
Instead of rigid sleep training, parents should get to know when their baby needs to sleep. Also, gently guide him or her with rocking, singing, shushing, feeding or whatever methods work best.
Dr. Sears and other baby-led supporters aren’t as concerned with “sleeping through the night” as they are with establishing healthy sleep habits. Keep in mind that this means your baby might still wake up one or two times a night throughout the first year. But this has more to do with your baby’s natural temperament than bad habits.
Parent-led schedules tend to be more specific and consistent, which is believed to help regulate baby’s internal clock. The general thought process behind this approach is the parent has to provide the structure and the baby will adhere to it.
Proponents say that a strict schedule helps babies to always know what to expect, leading to happy babies who generally sleep through the night at an earlier age.
And unlike the baby-led approach, the parent-led experts believe on-demand feeding can lead to inexperienced parents constantly offering food for comfort instead of addressing other possible reasons for crying.
Instead, parents should rely on – yes, hunger cues – but also a predetermined schedule and common sense.
It also helps parents to always know what their baby needs, just by looking at the clock. These schedules also help parents define a predictable daily routine and provide reassurance that their baby is getting enough sleep and nutrition.
Parent-led experts feel that letting a baby dictate when he or she eats and sleeps might lead to unnecessary feedings and a lack of deep sleep.
On the other hand, sticking to a strict schedule can be tough on a parent, especially if there are older siblings to tend to as well. Other possible downsides to this method include:
Consistency is the key to parent-led schedules, often with rules that are vigorously adhered to. For instance, say there’s a special event scheduled during baby’s naptime. Instead of winging it and hoping their baby sleeps in the car or in a stroller, parents following a parent-led schedule would stay home to make sure their baby sleeps in his or her crib.
The same goes for bedtime, which often causes parents to rush home from whatever is going on in order to stick to the same routine at the same time.
Another complaint of parent-led schedules is that, although children feel safe and secure in their daily routine, any unexpected divergence (like a family vacation, unexpected traffic or starting daycare) can be hard for these babies to adjust to.
It’s also important that a strict schedule doesn’t skew parents’ instincts on their baby’s individual needs – like if he or she is sick or going through a developmental growth spurt. Sometimes babies need a little extra sleep, food or attention – which should never be withheld for the sake of a schedule.
How to create a parent-led schedule:
The parent-led philosophy encourages parents to start scheduling as soon as possible. (Keep in mind that the AAP advises against scheduling a newborn’s feedings, encouraging parents to feed on demand.)
It is advised to stick to the age-appropriate schedules. According to her, any inconsistencies can throw off your baby’s learning process. Parents should establish a feeding pattern first, then a wake-up schedule and then a nap schedule.
The most important aspect of the parent-led schedule is consistency, which requires parents to constantly stick to the exact schedule. So basically it’s up to you to come up with a reasonable schedule and stick to it every day.
Combination of Baby Schedules
For parents who don’t feel completely comfortable with either the baby-led or parent-led approach, a combination baby schedule borrows ideas from both.
A combination schedule follows a general everyday routine (like a parent-led schedule does). However, relies more heavily on baby cues, such as with a baby-led schedule. Being like a flexible parent-led schedule or a more consistent baby-led schedule.
For example, We outline a plan that is consistent but not in a minute-for-minute type of way. We also recommend starting a two-to-four-hour feeding schedule at four weeks, as opposed to strictly feeding on demand. However, Frost advises parents to follow their baby’s lead in determining the timing.
In a similar combination approach, every day consists of the following routine: eating, then activities and then sleeping (known as the E.A.S.Y method), but to not worry if they’re at the same time every day.
This approach gives babies the reassurance and comfort of a predictable schedule and helps them to be adaptable if plans slightly change. This is a convenient approach for parents of older children as well, seeing that it’s not always realistic to stick around the house for every nap.
One possible limitation to combination schedule is lack of consistency can be confusing to both your baby and yourself. While flexibility is a good thing. It’s important to try and get your baby’s routine back on track when minor changes come up.
Besides reading the aforementioned books, a combination schedule often comes natural to parents who are having a hard time enforcing their strict parent-led schedule or those who realize their baby needs more structure than their baby-led approach.