Parenting | Schedule | Schedule Versus Demand
Schedule Versus Demand
Before I had my son I knew I would follow some sort of schedule. If you are not a schedule person, prepare yourself because in some ways a schedule is inevitable once there’s a baby in the family. This article discusses the following topics:
Some Schedule Is Inevitable
Although I love schedules, surprisingly, my daily schedule is not very strict since my schedule evolves each day to best meet both my and my baby’s needs. Most books promote a schedule for babies since the routine helps calm babies because it helps them know what to expect.
Even if you aren’t a “schedule” type person in a way a baby forces you to get into some sort of schedule whether you like it or not. Sleep, eat, activity, bathroom, sleep, eat, bathroom, activity, the order may switch around but basically they eat, sleep, and do some sort of activity which generally is simply going to the bathroom. Obviously there are a lot of wonderful moments that occur in those early weeks but in addition to those moments basically for the first month or so the baby eats, sleeps, and goes to the bathroom.
E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You)
Before I had my son I read about the E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, You) schedule describe in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg. In general the E.A.S.Y schedule is somewhere in the middle between “On Demand” and a strict “Schedule” which is why it appealed to me. The principal behind the eating and then activity and then sleeping is so babies don’t associate sleep with eating. Realistically, this may not always work. In a way it did work very well for us until later when we encountered problems with the “Eat” stage we had feed my son after he was sleeping (please refer to the “Feeding Tricks” article for more information on tips we did to help my son eat easier since he suffered from reflux) rather than the more common problem which is to let the baby fall asleep while breastfeeding or bottle feeding.
An example of the E.A.S.Y. schedule for a baby from birth to 3 months as documented in the book (Hogg 42):
Eating: 25 to 40 minutes on breast or bottle; a normal baby can go 2 ½ to 2 hours to the next feed.
Activity: 45 minutes (includes diapering, dressing, and, once a day, a nice bath)
Sleep: 15 minutes to fall asleep; naps of half an hour to an hour; will go for progressively longer periods through the night after the first two or three weeks
You: An hour or more for you when the baby is asleep; this time is extended as baby gets older, takes less time to eat, plays independently, and takes longer naps.
I would highly recommend this book as I thought it was an enjoyable and informative book to read especially before you have your baby. I think some of Hogg’s ideas were definitely instilled on me. Refer to the“Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” article for more information on the book.
A Routine Can Promote Sleep
As discussed in HEALTHY SLEEP HABITS, HAPPY CHILD BY Marc, Weissbluth, M.D. “bedtime routines help all children calm down before falling asleep…”(75). Some of the routines Dr. Weissbluth recommends on page 75 of the book are the following:
Before sleep times, reduce the amount of stimulation: less noise, dimmer lights, less handling, playing and activity
Bedroom should be quiet, dark (use room-darkening shades), and warm, but not too warm
Massage after bath with sooth, gentle motions
Dress for sleep
Swaddle if it comforts and relaxes your baby, sue a warm blanket from the clothes dryer
Lullaby, quite singling or humming – be consistent
Favorite words, sounds, or phrases be consistent
May put down drowsy but awake, but do not deliberately awaken before sleeping. This often fails for colicky babies and all six-weeks-olds in the evening
Do not rush in at the first sound your baby makes
This was another book that I would recommend reading before you have your baby.
Document – Refer to Template
No matter whether you follow a schedule or not, I would recommend documenting your normal day. Refer to this template to document a schedule for a baby 0-6 months and this template for a baby 6+ months. The templates I created are helpful as the following information is documented:
- Date and Age of child
- List of Activities – this can be your to do list or things you want to do with the baby.
- Breast/ Bottle section to record the time of the day when the baby ate, amount (whether in ounces or how long on breast), and notes related to these feedings (such as what side for breastfeeding or how easily baby drank).
- Diaper – to record the number of wet or soiled diapers. Once you establish a consistent routine you may only need to record the unusual types such as the consistency of the stool. We did this to monitor the severity of my son’s constipation.
- Meals – generally solid food, such as baby cereal is introduced when the child is between 4 – 6 months. This section helps to monitor the amount of food and the different foods introduced. Generally, most doctors recommend waiting three days to a week between introducing new foods. This helps you determine if your child is allergic to any food types. You can add in the notes section whether the baby liked the food or how well the baby ate.
- Snacks – such as juice or extra food given in between meals
- Supplements – such as “Vitamins and Minerals” (generally babies that exclusively breastfeed need to take a vitamin D supplement.) I also introduced other things to “Boost Immune System” such as “Probiotics,” and healthy “Oils” including fish oil and flax oil when my baby was older than 6 months old.
- Sleep – to record night time sleep and naps. You can also record the number of nightwakings.
- Additional Notes – anything else you want to document about the day such as the baby’s temperament. This may help identify things such as the fact the baby is the happiest after having a bowel movement or maybe you’ll find that certain foods contribute to your baby’s mood. It is also important to document when certain events occur such as vaccinations, schedule changes (starting care by outside caregiver), illness, or other changes. Then if you notice other changes in subsequent recordings you may be able to determine the possible reason for the change and how long it took for the baby to return to her normal schedule.
- Milestone Today – to record something special the baby did for the day. Again, you think you’ll remember the exact day and time but then a week from then you wonder was it last week or two weeks ago your baby delighted you with the first smile? A month later you really aren’t sure. Not that if you don’t document every single thing you baby does means it doesn’t make it as special but it is fun to look back and read about the year of miracle milestones. You could later create a special journal or book to give your baby when she grows up.
I think it is very important to document for several reasons: it helps establish the baby’s routine: when does the baby tend to sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom. This will enable you to determine what is “normal” for your baby and thus if something changes you can analyze to find out what changed and or if something is wrong with your baby. Is the baby sick, teething, upset?
If you don't have time to document on a daily basis you may want to get something like the itzbeen, which will help you keep track of when your baby last ate, slept, or had her diaper changed. The itzbeen, is a device you can wear and you simply click the button for feeding when you feed your baby and the device will count up in time so you know when you last fed your baby. I still highly recommend documenting when you have time so you have a reference if you feel your baby starts acting out of character. I also understand that realistically it may be hard for you to document daily.
You may think you’ll remember and that you don't need to document; I know I thought I would remember everything. I thought I would remember exactly how much my son had to drink for the day but then at the end of the day you aren’t quite sure. Going back to my notes was very helpful especially when my son stopped eating. I started to doubt did he really eat six ounces every two hours because now he wouldn’t eat more than three ounces at a time. Looking back at my notes, I could confirm, yes he was eating six to eight ounces; so something changed. Refer to “Feeding Tricks” and “Reflux” for more information.
Provide Guidance for Caregivers
Establishing a schedule or baby’s routine and then documenting it allows you to provide guidance to other caregivers when they care for your baby. My baby definitely appears to like routine and stick to a standard schedule. As discussed, I do not stick to a strict schedule but we do follow some sort of schedule everyday. Thus, when I’ve had family members take care of my baby, I provided them with examples of my baby’s typical schedule and this helped my baby be happy and in turn made it a more enjoyable experience for the caregivers.
My baby has always done really well when being cared for by others. I think his good behavior has a lot to do with his personality but also because the caregivers try to follow his “typical” schedule and thus it helps make him feel secure even though he is being cared for by others. I don’t expect the caregivers to follow his schedule exactly it is more meant to provide guidance. At the very least, it is nice to let the caregivers know when the baby last ate, slept, had a dirty diaper, and the amount of food, including amount of milk (breast milk/ formula the baby normally drinks and how often) and when the baby usually goes down for a nap and how long he usually sleeps.
Family Schedule Helps Organization
Being a family is a full time job and requires the effort and dedication you would give to an outside job. For me, being organized at work helped me be more efficient at my job and so being organized at home helps my family run more smoothly. For example at my previous job we would have weekly status meetings; well now days with the crazy schedules of everyone in the family I think it is a good idea to have weekly family meetings.
My husband I try to do this especially if he is going to have a busy week. We usually try to pick certain nights that he can try to come home in time to put our son to bed. I’d rather him work later some nights so he is able to be home to spend some time with our son on other nights.
Later, once your kids get involved in extracurricular activities this will help keep everyone on the same page. You can make sure everyone sits down and discusses the schedule say (like on Sunday evenings) to make sure all events for that week are updated and you coordinate with your spouse what events you and your spouse are attending.
Schedule Helps with Issues - Acid Reflux
Having a schedule really helped with dealing with my son’s acid reflux. Since my son would only eat a couple ounces at a time, starting around 4 months and continuing until he was almost a year; when he was six months and was technically suppose to eat around 30 ounces well you can do the math he required around 10 bottles a day in order to eat the “norm” amount. If you are fortunate to have a baby that takes 6 – 8 ounces at a time you then only need to worry about 4 to 5 bottles a day which is much more manageable at this age.
In addition, because of the acid reflux we had to wait to give him his first bottle until about 15 – 20 minutes after he took his medicine in the morning which was generally the only bottle he really wanted since he was hungry after sleeping at night. We also had to space out his meal time at least an hour before (doctor recommended two hours but realistically that was impossible with the number of bottle feedings we had to do) or an hour after the bottle to ensure his stomach was not too full. I generally always first tried to give him a bottle because he would eat baby food after a bottle but he would definitely not drink a bottle after eating baby food. If my son only took an ounce of the bottle I would not always wait the full time (i.e. an hour) before trying baby food. If he took a couple ounces then I would try to wait at least 30 minutes but depending on what time it was I would adjust or I’d never have enough time to try to get him to eat baby food and also get close to the 30 ounces a day.
The last medicine given had to be at least an hour after eating his last meal but at least 15 minutes before his bedtime bottle. We usually gave this medicine right before his bath. Ideally his final baby food meal should be two hours before he goes to sleep as well. The doctor also wanted us to give him a snack of juice or a treat but I never found time for that, there was barely enough time to get him to drink 20 – 25 ounces even though we were hoping for 30 ounces; we never really reached that mark. I started doing snacks when my son was closer to 16 months eating very well and didn’t require as many bottles. It was also easier once we were able to eliminate giving the medicine at night as it was one less thing to schedule into the day.
My Family Schedule
I was fortunate since I was at home with my son I had the flexibility to slightly modify his schedule each day. Thus, our schedule would depend on when he woke up in the morning. For many months (until my son was around 16 months) my son was tired usually about two hours after waking. Thus, he would take his first nap two hours after getting up in the morning say 10AM and generally sleep one to two hours. I usually liked to do outings after I fed him after the morning nap but before the afternoon nap. I always tried to be home in time to put him down for an afternoon nap because if he fell asleep in the car then he usually would not take a good afternoon nap.
Then about three hours after getting up from his morning nap he would go down for an afternoon nap and sleep one to two hours (we stopped the afternoon nap around 13 months.) I generally didn’t like to put him down for an afternoon nap after 4PM as ideally we like to do bedtime around 7PM.
Our flexible schedule allowed us to do lots of outings in the early months. We did everything from going to jazz concerts in the park to National baseball games to movies on the National mall when my son was one month to three months old. He may have went to bed late these nights in his crib but we always tried to get him back on schedule the next night and his sleep was not disturbed.
I admit that as my son got older sometimes it was harder to do the same type of outings as when he was little. You would think it would be easier once they get older but at the toddler phase it is harder to go places that requires them to stay in one place. They do not understand why they can’t go over to the other table at dinner and talk to everyone. To this extent it is easier taking a “baby” out that you can easily wear using a “Baby Wearing” product or keep snug in the carrier seat. In addition, due to my son’s eating issues once he was over 4 months he ate best at home. We always had to take this into consideration with outings. This didn’t mean we never left the house but we did try to limit the outings. On the outings we would take bottles and sometimes we could get him to drink an ounce or two to keep him satisfied until we got home to feed him.
Our son generally went to sleep between 7PM – 9PM. Until my son was closer to 16 months, many nights my son probably went to sleep closer to 8PM or 9PM. If our son had his preference I think his body definitely prefers bedtime at 7PM which means bath needs to start around 6:30PM. Realistically the 7PM bedtime usually doesn’t always work since it’s hard for Daddy to always get home by 6:30PM to start bath time. Thus, we’ve always kept a range of bedtime (meaning in crib sleeping) from 7PM to 9PM. Although, around 16 months, we really tried to stick to the 7PM to 8PM (at the latest) bedtime since it was evident that much later and he would get too exhausted before bed.
If our son was very tired then I would put him down before Erik got home but we did think it was important for Erik to have bonding time so if that means keeping our son up an extra 30 minutes that’s what we usually did. Especially, since our son was sleeping well with the bedtime range. If your baby doesn’t sleep well unless he goes to sleep earlier then maybe you may have to consider putting the baby down even if the spouse isn’t home in time.
Do What Is Best for Your Family
My motto with everything is whatever works best for your family. If you choose to have a very precise schedule such as last meal at 5:30PM, bath at 6:00PM, bedtime at 6:30PM every day no matter what or you choose to not have a set schedule and see where the day takes you in the end I would think the kid from each family still eats, baths, and sleeps to some extent and I would expect both kids have the opportunity to grow up happy and healthy. We chose to follow a middle ground, not a strict schedule but definitely a similar schedule every day.
Also, if documenting your baby’s schedule causes you more stress then don’t document every day. I do think you should try to document to some extent, but find what works best for you. If your baby seems to be acting “normally” you may not need to document at all. For me, I started documenting when my son was born and then it tailored off and then it picked up again once my son started experiencing issues such as constipation and then not wanting to eat. Once my son was eating well again and I had introduced him to most of the foods we eat, I noticed that I didn’t document as much anymore. I still tried to occasionally at least write some brief notes such as “eating extremely well this week…will eat whatever I give him…had at least one bowel movement a day.” I also try to document when an event occurred like vaccinations, an illness, or teething to make sure I monitored if I noticed any changes related to those events. With my daughter I found I had little time to document and I tended to rely on the itzbeen on a daily basis to make sure she was eating and sleeping consistently. I would then document when unusual events occurred like when she was sick and periodically update her normal schedule such as how long she would sleep at night and how well she was eating.
Overall, I wish you luck and happiness in caring for your precious baby.
Hogg, Tracy and Melinda Blau. Secrets of the Baby Whisperer: How to Calm, Connect, and
Communicate with Your Baby. New York: Ballantine, 2001.
Weissbluth, Marc M.D. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child: A Step-By-Step Program for a Good Night’s
Sleep. New York: Ballantine, 2003.
Last updated: November 2009; January 2011