Many baby experts—including the author of the widely lauded Baby Wise book—advocate a parent-led schedule for caring for a baby. With a parent-led schedule, you (the parent) set the daily agenda: you determine when baby eats, plays, and sleeps (usually in that order). Parents who operate on this kind of schedule aren’t fond of deviation. Many say that timing things (down to the minute) and being consistent helps baby learn to regulate her internal clock and gives her the structure she needs to thrive.
Children (babies included) love routine. Creating a schedule is beneficial to both baby and mom — but listening to baby’s cues is imperative. You have to be willing to be flexible. Otherwise, you are going to go crazy. Baby is not a robot; baby is a human. And every human is unique and different. It stands to reason that one solution might not work for every baby, every time.
How does Eat, Play, Sleep work?
Whether baby is breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, she must get a full feeding (a full tummy) every time. Experts say this helps baby establish her metabolism (or internal clock), which should help her more quickly understand when it is time to eat, be awake, and go to sleep. Sounds great, right? But many breastfeeding newborns tend to cluster feed, especially in the evenings. Advocates of the Eat, Play, Sleep method suggest baby should get about thirty minutes of feeding time at the breast — and say mom should do whatever is necessary (tickling baby’s feet, increasing stimulation) to keep baby awake for the full feeding. They say this helps baby to sleep more soundly ultimately.
Although it’s tempting to put a “milk drunk” baby straight down for a nap after feeding, many baby experts say this does not teach baby to fall asleep on her own without the assistance of the breast or bottle. They advocate keeping babies awake for feedings, except the one right before bedtime and any middle-of-the-night feedings. This awake time after a feeding should be used for play: this could look like tummy-time, a lively bout in an exersaucer, or even reading books and singing (lively) songs with mommy and daddy. Once baby shows signs of being tired, you can put her down for a nap. The activity and exercise should help baby sleep longer and more soundly. Don’t wait until baby is overtired! This could actually work against you. Keeping baby on a schedule should help you to better learn and identify baby’s cues.
Establishing a regular feeding and waking schedule can help baby to recognize when it’s time to nap. She will begin even to expect (and desire) it. Create a soothing environment for baby to sleep — baby should sleep in her own safe space, preferably in a dark, quiet room (a white-noise sound machine or soft lullabies are perfectly acceptable and often quite helpful, especially in the beginning when baby is missing all of the familiar sounds inside mommy’s belly). Dress baby in something comfortable, and make sure the room is at a comfortable temperature. Try swaddling baby or placing her in a sleep sack. Ideally, baby should nap for at least an hour at a time. If baby is going through a “nap transition,” this might look more like 30 minutes. Sometimes baby will sleep less and eat more when she is experiencing a growth spurt. Teething is beastly and can also interrupt baby sleep patterns, but we won’t even go there (now). As baby becomes older, her naps will become shorter and less frequent. But hopefully, by then, she is (mostly) sleeping through the night!
Is an Eat, Play, Sleep schedule right for your baby?
Many breastfeeding moms say that it’s a whole lot easier (and less stressful) to Eat, Sleep, Play — because breastfeeding obviously lulls baby to sleep. The baby experts say this can be a hard habit to break because babies will expect to eat before bed every night. But for some moms, forcing baby to do something she just doesn’t want to do seems nonsensical. They complain about feeling like a failure, and become extremely frustrated when they can’t make their little ones conform to an Eat, Play, Sleep schedule. They say, why not do what feels most natural?
We believe every mom has to decide what is best for her baby based on her baby’s specific needs. Stop worrying about being “the perfect mom” — this is a big fat lie created by Hollywood and the media — and instead, concern yourself with being the best mother you can be. Because you rock, mama. And eventually, that baby will learn to sleep, one way or another.