Now, don't get your Pampers in a bunch, the title of this is a joke. But I have noticed that so many people tend to say to me, "Oh you're so lucky that you have such an easy/good/happy baby!" And I want to go, "Um, thanks, but we've worked our butts off to help her get to this point. There's nothing lucky about it except maybe that she wasn't colicky." Granted, she was a healthy, full-term baby which is definitely a blessing, but she wasn't easy at all from the beginning. The important thing is that we started from the beginning to set up for the future. I believe in patterns and schedules and helping encourage a routine for the baby so that they know what to expect. I've seen her thrive in this system and have talked to so many other mothers who have experienced the same thing with their babies who are very different than Isis. In the end, though, every baby is different. I personally think that means altering the specifics of your routine or schedule to fit your baby, but either way it's important for every mother to decide what works best for them and follow that. I thought I'd post what we've done, just as an example. A perspective.
1. Don't set up bad habits!
In other words, start the way you mean to continue. Babywise talks about the eat, wake, sleep cycle which actually works fabulously whether you do a schedule or not. The majority of the moms I've talked to followed this pattern whether or not they were scheduling. I'm nursing Isis, so by doing this, the baby learns not to nurse to sleep - which helps your schedule later. It also keeps them from snacking at the breast. Which leads to...
2. Work for full feedings!
I don't know if this is an issue with formula feedings, but especially with nursing, it's important to make sure that the baby is getting full feedings each time they eat. This way they get the calorie-rich hindmilk and they empty your breast to stimulate more milk production. This means making sure the baby doesn't fall asleep while eating (cold washcloths, taking her clothes off & just rubbing her feet & arms worked for us), and making sure there is enough time between her feedings. If they get the rich hindmilk, they can go longer. Isis went about 2.5 hours between feedings in the very beginning. Then she started stretching it as she would sleep more. Normally, if she would nurse after 1.5-2 hours, she would only eat for a couple minutes and then stop, so she would only get the foremilk. She did have a growth spurt at around 3 weeks where she would eat full feedings every 1.5 hours or so around the clock. So just because you're trying to do a pattern doesn't mean you just starve the baby or don't feed them if they clearly need it. I just didn't nurse for comfort. If she wasn't swallowing, then I would take her off. I used cuddling & holding & things like that for comfort.
3. Clearly differentiate night & day
Babies don't know the difference between night and day at first. In the beginning, Isis would wake up at 2am and want to be up for hours in the middle of the night! At first, I was having a really hard time with the baby blues and the middle of the night was so rough for me. So I would turn the tv on when she had these long awake times in the middle of the night. It made me feel less lonely and just more comforted. But after about 2 weeks of craziness like that, we started really trying to differentiate night and day and it made a huge difference! We kept all the lights off except for a little night light so that I could see to feed her & change her diaper. I wouldn't talk to her or make eye contact at night so that she knew something was different. After feeding her, I would rock her a little bit and put her back down. In the morning, I made sure to open the drapes and the blinds so that the sun would come in, I made a point of changing her into her clothes for the day and turning the lights on so it was bright. I talked to her in a bright, cheery voice & played with her so she knew it was day time.
4. Baby in Crib in their own room
This one is definitely arguable. For Isis, we found after about 2-3 weeks that it wasn't working with her sleeping in a bassinet in our room. She was waking us up with every little noise and then we were waking her up with all our noises. So we put her in her crib in her room about week 3. With her monitor, we could still hear everything we needed to and we found that she slept so much better in there! Even the first night, it was crazy! She went from waking up every 2 hours or so to waking up every 3-4 hours. So if your baby is in your room and they aren't sleeping too well, try putting them in their own room. With the next baby, I plan on putting them to sleep in their crib from day 1 for night time and naps.
5. White Noise
This is something we found helped tremendously! In her room, we have an air purifier fan that blows, a white noise machine that we keep on the heartbeat noise, and a cold air humidifier. Turning these on is all a part of our bedtime routine with her. They dull the noises from outside of her room, give her something consistent, keep her room moist for her stuffy noise and clean air for possible allergies! I think the white noise really helped her be able to sleep more soundly.
6. Put baby to sleep drowsy, but awake
I started this right before she was 6 weeks old. Most things I've read recommend doing this around 6 weeks. This was also when we established a consistent bedtime routine & bedtime (see #7). This actually took a few days for Isis to get used to (see Sleep Training posts), but once she got it, she got it. So now we take her in the bathroom & start doing the bath and she knows what's coming next. You can tell she knows what to expect because one night something was different and it threw her off. The point of doing this is to make sure the baby can fall asleep on their own without being rocked or swung or anything like that. This may mean you'll have to do some cry-it-out methods. What worked for us was going in after 5-10 minutes based on whether she was just fussy or really upset, and patting her, kissing her and calming her down without picking her up and getting back out of the room within 1 minute. I found that when we started doing this, her middle-of-the-night feedings changed as well. She would wake up, cry, we would come in, change her diaper, I would feed her, then I would put her back down & she hasn't cried in the middle of the night after going back down for the past 7 weeks! She still cries the first time we put her down for bed, but I think some of that has to do with my routine & I'm going to try something different tonight and see how it works (see #12).
7. Bedtime Routine
We started this at 6 weeks. We established a routine - a short routine - nurse, bath, turn on white noise stuff, sing a song, say a prayer, put down. It all takes an hour including nursing, but from bath to bed it's only 30 minutes. This lets the baby know that it's bedtime. Studies show that at 6 weeks, babies have 24 hours of long-term memory. Therefore, starting 24-hour consistent routines at this point makes a lot of sense. The baby should remember night-to-night what happened from 24 hours before. So they start to know bedtime comes after this routine. We found that she quickly started doing her longest stretch of sleep after this routine. She would go 4-5 hours after the bedtime & then wake up, then 3-4 hours, then wake up. Now (10+ weeks) she goes about 6-8 hours after the routine, then 3-4.
Around 6 weeks we also established a consistent bedtime. This didn't mean 8:00pm on the dot every day. It was within 30 minutes of that every day. Some days 7:30, some days 8:00, some days 8:15. It just depended on when she woke up in the morning and when she ate during the day. But she naturally started moving this earlier as she also naturally started waking up at the same time everyday. So now her bedtime is always around 7:30 at the latest. Sometimes 7:15. But establishing this consistency started making night time sleep patterns more consistent. The consistent morning wake time that has happened just within the last week - at around 9 weeks old - is what has made her daytime feedings & naps all consistent times.
9. Understanding optimal wake times
I didn't understand how long babies average wake times are when Isis was first born. I just wanted to play with my baby, so I would keep her up and stuff after she ate! As a result, she would be okay for a little bit, then get hyper for a little while and would seem super happy and then all of a sudden it would just switch and she would get super fussy and cry a lot!! I couldn't figure out what I was doing wrong and why she wouldn't nap at all. Then I started reading. Honestly this group on BabyCenter made a huge difference! Particularly the posts I link below. I also read this blog and found out that on average, these are the optimal wake times for babies - meaning from the time they wake up from one nap to the time they go down for the next nap (including feedings). The optimal wake time for a 6 week old - which Isis was about this time - is 60 minutes. So I started putting her down to nap after about 45 minutes of being awake. She would fall asleep easier and wouldn't be fussy. This is when her happy demeanor really got consistent - when we figured out the wake times and the naps. Now she is 10+ weeks old and has gone to about a 90 minute wake time. I put her down to nap after about 1 to 1.25 hours of wake time. Seriously, understanding the wake times is the biggest thing that has made a difference!
More from BabyCenter message boards about sleep/wake times/naps:
Cry it Out, Optimal Wake Time
STTN, Overtired Getting baby to sleep in crib
Sleep Train without Cry It Out
How to Successfully Teach a Baby to Sleep
10. Find what works
Isis will sleep great at night in her crib, but she doesn't like napping in her crib during the day. I don't like this and I do plan on transitioning her to her crib for naps soon, but if you've been following my blog for long at all, you know that the nap training in the crib didn't work. I did, though, discover this swing that she loved! I decided to have her nap in the swing for a while and get really consistent nap times every day and then transition her to napping in the swing in her bedroom and then napping in her crib in her bedroom. I'll probably start putting her swing in her bedroom next week. So it's important to decide what's most important - for me it was consistent naps because of the wake times and good sleep patterns and establishing a good routine/schedule - so I found that a swing worked for naps and I'm doing that for now. I'm just consistent about when she goes in the swing.
11. Consistency, consistency, consistency!
Consistency is key! This is the whole point of setting up patterns and routines and schedules. Now that Isis has a consistent morning wake time and a consistent bed time, her feeding times, nap times and wake times are consistent throughout the day - and not because I'm making them consistent - she actually wants to eat at the same time each day and she gets tired & starts yawning at the same time each day. Now that I've set all this up for the past 10 weeks, she does it on her own. And as a result, she's happy and alert!! (Nothing lucky about that - we worked for it!)
12. Be prepared to make adjustments
Babies have growth spurts. Babies reach developmental milestones. Babies extend their wake times and their feeding times as their bodies grow and mature. The great thing about scheduling is that both Isis and I know what to expect throughout the day. That way, if she starts consistently waking up early & acting hungry earlier than she normally does, I can safely assume this is probably a growth spurt and I need to adjust my daily routine to meet her demand for a few days. If she's fussier than normal or seems to be doing something out of the ordinary, I can look for signs of sickness or some other discomfort. It really helps to be able to know what to look for. Scheduling doesn't mean ignoring your baby's signs and natural demands for food or attention. It just means encouraging a pattern and then making adjustments as baby starts to need them. As Isis continues to get older, I am fully prepared for adjustments to her schedule as needed to help her continue to stay the happy, "easy" baby that she is right now.
13. Be prepared for criticism
It has come from lot of different people in my experience - family/friends/strangers, but there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with the idea of following a regular routine or schedule with a baby. So just be prepared for people's opinions and stick with what works best for you and your baby. I will say that we didn't start with consistent times of a schedule until 6 weeks and even then it was just bedtime that was consistent. So I wouldn't really encourage a strict schedule of specific times until the baby is ready for it. But everyone parents differently and different things work for everyone. As I said above, this is my experience, my opinion, my perspective. Take any ideas that may work for you and leave the rest.
14. Know who you can call
There are several moms who have been the most incredible source of advice and comfort throughout these first few weeks! There are 2 people in particular who were really helpful and specific with me about different ideas with scheduling and getting Isis on a good routine. I have to give a special shout out to my friend Laurel who has dealt with several long phone calls from me with a list of questions based on what Isis was doing at the time. She was the one who also invited us over so Isis could try the magic swing! It's important that you find those people who have similar parenting strategies as you do. I found that people who followed more of an attachment parenting philosophy didn't have advice that fit very well with what we were going for. There's nothing wrong with them doing what works for their family, but scheduling works best for mine. So you need to find those people and actually call them when you need help! I felt bad the first time I called Laurel with a big list of questions, but I found her to be so helpful that now I don't feel bad at all! She seems to be happy to share her experiences and I'm happy to hear them! But lastly about child care - make sure that whoever you choose for your child care will follow your decisions for schedules or patterns for your baby. Especially at such a young age, I feel like I'm still establishing the consistency for Isis, so I'm nervous sometimes for certain people to watch her if I feel like they won't follow the routine.
That's it!! That's my list!! Feel free to share your own list of suggestions!! I'd love to hear it!