You've just had your baby. You're beaming. You're excited. You're enjoying life. Nurses are fulfilling your every request, making sure you're getting plenty of rest after the marathon you just ran. Then, you're discharged from the hospital and excited to go home and start your lives together. But wait, what about the nurses? How will you ever sleep?
This is how: PUT YOUR BABY ON A SCHEDULE. (If you're a die-hard feed-your-baby-on-demand mama who thinks any type of schedule is insane, then you'll need to keep a very open-mind as you read. If anything, hopefully you'll get a few ideas that align with your beliefs to help you get more rest!) Why do babies need a schedule?
Although mammals of other species are also dependent on caregivers, human babies are the only babies born relatively helpless. They can't walk or even hold their head up on the day they are born like other mammals can. That being said, it would be completely absurd for us to think our babies should be making their own decisions. Human babies start their lives by doing three things over and over: sleeping, eating, and dirtying their diaper. If they cry, they are probably tired, hungry, or need a diaper change.
But how do you know what they need? Let me make it super easy on you. Put your baby on a schedule. By doing this, you will always know what the next step is. Even better, your baby will always know what to expect, and a baby that knows what comes next is a happy baby. A note on the phrase: "put your baby on a schedule." I do NOT mean the type of schedule that has your baby doing the same thing every day at the same time. For instance, I do not mean that your baby should only eat at 9 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m., and 9 p.m. However, your baby should have a predictable, FLEXIBLE, schedule that always goes in this order: eat, awake time, and sleep. Repeat, over and over and over and over.
I call the "eat, awake time, and sleep" order a "cycle." Remember that because I'll refer to it quite a bit. So, why this order specifically? A baby can not take in a full meal if they are tired. Think about that. Does your baby fall asleep easily after eating, but then takes the shortest nap known to man, and you have no idea how that happened? And what? They are hungry again?! HOW?!?! They didn't get a full meal because they wanted to sleep. The order is very important. The timing of each cycle is also very important. Lots of mamas take their baby's crying cues to always mean that they are hungry. However, babies only need to eat every 2.5-4 hours. So why would you feed your baby every 30 minutes? You wouldn't. It's quite possible they actually need something else other than food.
It always made me smile when a mom would see my baby get a little cranky, and say, "oh, she must be hungry." Really? There's no other reason for her cry? Because guess what, lady? She's tired. Then I'd lay down my baby, she'd fall right asleep, and I would smirk hoping everyone noticed that IIIII was right. If you feed your baby sooner than 2.5 hours between feedings, such as every hour, then your baby never takes in a full feeding, and has now become a snacker. She/he is no longer having full meals. You've taught her/him to snack all day long. This is a huge no-no when it comes to babies who are failure-to-thrive.
Medical professionals want those babies to eat full meals several times a day, versus snacking all day long. Why should it be okay for your baby who isn't failure-to-thrive? On-demand mamas: All mamas know their babies better than ANYBODY. If you think your baby is hungry, I would probably guess you're right. However, I would challenge you that if you're the type of mama that thinks every cry means your baby is hungry, then the next time your baby cries after having JUST ate, see if you can get her/him to take a nap.
This is not starving your baby, but rather, teaching yourself that your baby may have different needs for different cries. Give it a try and let me know how it goes! If you still feel like a schedule for your baby is crazy, consider these two things:
- The NICU nurses put my baby on a schedule from the day she was born. These are medical professionals. They take care of 1000s of babies. I put a lot of trust in them.
- Ask a mom of twins if she would on-demand feed her babies, and watch her laugh hysterically. Can you imagine? You'd be feeding TWO babies ALL day long. NO THANK YOU.
Lastly, having a baby on a schedule doesn't mean that you're ignoring the needs of your baby. Quite the contrary. You're not only helping your baby get enough sleep, eat enough, and communicate their wants and needs better, but you're going to rejoice when your baby sleeps between 7 and 10-weeks-old.
It's all about the eat-awake-sleep cycle.
Now go get some sleep mamas!
*Sleep is essential. We need sleep to function, to take care of our children, to keep up on every single task life throws at us, to keep our sanity. Are you getting your 8 hours or do you have a baby who is keeping you up? Let's remedy that! In the "Rested Mamas are Happy Mamas" series of our blog, sleep expert Jackie answers all of your sleep woes. Have a question or problem that needs fixing? Comment on the series, and a blog will be published just for you!*