I started my son on a schedule when he was one month old. He seemed to skip the sleepy newborn stage—rarely napping during the day and crying for hours on end. He nursed every two hours, for 45 minutes at a time, and sometimes he’d even cry when he was nursing. After a month, I felt like I was losing my mind. Something had to change. If my son was going to be upset all day, I needed to isolate the reasons so that we could work on resolving the issues. To me, the answer was simple: we needed a schedule. This way, I could focus completely on nursing or napping when the time came because I’d be able to determine if he was truly hungry or actually tired.
I purchased a couple books: On Becoming Babywise and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, and I started reading. I also researched common baby schedules online. Surprisingly, I found out that putting babies on a schedule is controversial. Seriously? I had no idea. Since I want what’s best for my child, I asked my pediatrician for his opinion on baby schedules. He said it’s very possible to put a baby on a schedule, and I should aim to nurse every three hours, starting at the same time each day. So that’s what I did. Here’s what I discovered.
Not all babies need to nurse on demand. Some babies may actually nurse better on a schedule. My son falls into the latter category for two reasons: 1) atypical hunger cues and 2) my oversupply. Rooting, crying, and squirming are on the list of typical hunger cues. Rooting makes sense. Crying and squirming—while hunger cues—may also indicate a different need.
Because my son was regularly crying and squirming, I often put him to the breast. The more I put him to the breast, the more my supply increased. The more my supply increased, the more he choked and unlatched. Also, I had so much milk that my son was frequently snacking on foremilk instead of hindmilk. This problem was pronounced when his poop changed from yellow to green. Some green poop is fine. But in my son’s case, it was related to his inability to empty one breast before starting on the next.
When we moved from nursing every two hours to every three hours, nursing became so much easier. My supply regulated, causing less of an overactive letdown, which made it easier for my son to nurse. He was more willing to nurse because he was actually hungry and now able to calmly empty each breast. Nursing transformed from a stressful, painful experience into a peaceful, bonding time with my son.
Moving my son to a three hour nursing schedule brought to light the more serious issue causing crying: my son’s inability to nap. He was born curious and alert. Since he was so interested in looking around, he was often overstimulated and unable to fall asleep. After careful observation, I identified two areas in need of change: 1) I needed to put him down for naps sooner and 2) I needed to create a calming nap time routine.
Once he was awake for an hour and a half, before he seemed sleepy, I’d take him to his bedroom, turn on the sound machine, sing him a song, and bounce him to sleep. At the start, I had to bounce him for nearly a half hour before he would nap. Gradually, he adjusted to the routine and would doze off after a few minutes. He was taking nearly five naps a day—which seems insane—but the schedule was working because he was napping. He was also crying less because he was rested. Had I relied on my son to fall asleep when he needed to, this cycle of overtired crying would have continued. Taking charge of the schedule allowed my son to learn to nap. It also allowed me to sneak in a nap myself every now and then.
My son is now seven months old, and he is an incredibly healthy and happy boy. He nurses well, naps twice a day, and sleeps through the night. He’s still on a schedule, but it’s more flexible than it was during the fourth trimester. What I’ve learned from this experience is that it’s not only possible to put a baby on a schedule, but it can also be very helpful. There are definitely calm babies who nurse and nap well from day one. These babies truly may not need need a schedule early on. If your baby is more spirited, starting him or her on a schedule may provide a welcome change. Who knows, it might even lead to an extra nap or two for you.