When Your Baby Isn’t on a Schedule

Thumbsuckers get a bad rep! I found thumbsucking to be a great sleep cue for our baby-led routine.

Thumbsuckers get a bad rep! I found thumbsucking to be a great sleep cue for our baby-led routine.

There are apps and bracelets and books and all sorts of things devoted to helping you get your baby on a schedule. For some moms this is a goal before baby is even born, and to other moms, it’s a constant stressor in their life. Will baby ever sleep through the night? Will life ever seem normal? Will I be chasing this kid around, at the mercy of their whims and moods forever if we aren’t scheduled?

At first, baby’s habits will be all over the map. Everything is “on demand,” and it should be.  There will be no patterns or predictability.  You have to sleep when you can, eat when you can and pee when you can. But after a while, you’ll notice that baby may start waking up, being hungry, or needing a diaper change around the same time each day. Or, you may notice that baby is happy hanging out with you for a certain amount of time and then has had it—repeatedly. Baby-led scheduling generally emerges as a pattern based on cycles.

For example, my first baby woke around 4am each morning, then we’d sleep in until 8ish, then she’d nurse and hang out with me until 10ish, then wake around noonish. That was our morning. When I tried putting my second baby down for a nap at 10am each day, some days it took, and some days it was full-on protest. Then I figured out that her patterns were more cyclical. She could be awake for about two hours, and then she needed a nap. So I watched the clock less and her cues more.

What you do in baby-led scheduling is take these cues and reinforce them by being proactive and anticipating them. So, even if baby #2 seemed totally fine and happy, if she had been up for two hours I would nurse her and put her down for a nap instead of waiting for fatigue cues. It’s great because you usually know what’s coming, and eventually you can plan your day based on these patterns that baby has set for you. It also cuts down on crying since the flow baby has established helps narrow down the why of their cry. Since you know the routine, you are one step ahead.

With baby #3, I kept intending to observe her schedule, but it’s never happened. She’s 9 months old and we still feed on demand and nap when it occurs to me that it might be time or she falls asleep nursing. It hasn’t been stressful for me, and most importantly, she’s a great nurser. And for me, if nursing is going well I am not bothered by anything else.

Baby–led scheduling can be really helpful if you’re planning to return to work, or have other kids you need schedule around. Otherwise, just relax. When other moms start talking about when their baby does what or asking what your schedule is, don’t worry. As long as you and baby are making it work for you, that’s all that matters.

Erin Burt is a breastfeeding, baby wearing, cloth-diapering mom of three. She lives and writes in Fort Worth, Texas. 

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