I thought since my last article on the subject was philosophical, I’d include some practicals here for those who wonder what a schedule-fed routine looks like. My favorite book on the subject is The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg, so my routine looks a lot like the kind she proposes. It was slightly different for each baby, depending on what came naturally for them in the eating department.
Incidentally, I always fed my newborns early and often. In the first couple weeks, there is no need to try and do anything unnatural for a newborn. If they take an hour to eat, spend an hour. If they want to eat again when they wake up, feed them again. You can’t really get good cues from a newborn, and their little rhythms are all messed up anyway, so just do whatever you want. The only newborn that I implemented a routine with right away (on the fifth day) was my third baby because he had a great eating/sleeping rhythm already but it was backwards. He wanted to sleep eight hours during the day (like 12-8pm) and feed every one to two at night. THAT wasn’t going to work! So I put him on a schedule and woke up him every two to three hours during the day, and after three days, he switched his days and nights. It was fabulous.
So do whatever you want for the first couple weeks. And you can go up to two months without any set routine if you want to hang back and watch/wait to see if your baby has a natural rhythm of their own that they will fall into.
By around the two-month mark, though, if things are still as unstructured as they were when you came home from the hospital, it is good to try and straighten things out. See if your baby has any sleeping patterns at all, first, and work around those. For example, if you get up early and your baby tends to fall asleep again around 9 or 10am, then set a nap time and figure out whether you need to feed before or after that (i.e. if your baby wakes up after only an hour, he probably needs to be fed before the nap; he should be able to do at least an hour and a half). Some babies who get up really early no matter what (5 or 6am) need a good feeding in the morning and then will go back to bed happily if you just put them back instead of getting you and him up just because you’re awake. He might not sleep, but he’ll quickly learn to be in his crib, happy. So I would feed again whenever you really wanted to get up (whether that is 7, 8, or 9am) until he or she successfully got up at that time without the earlier feeding (that could take quite awhile if it is too late.) Experiment!
In the early months, like 2-4months, it is the best time to get your baby on a routine. If you miss this window, all is not lost but it will get harder the longer you wait. By eight or nine months, you might be meeting some strong resistance. At 2-4 months, it takes some forthright effort to set a pace, but they are really moldable at this time and you won’t psychologically damage them at this point. They don’t know what to expect from you and are therefore not bitter or rejected when you don’t provide it. They cry for a reason–because they need something–but they probably don’t know what. You are the mom, you know what they need. And when their little needs line up with their wants, you will get a very happy baby.
When I bottle-fed our first baby (after breastfeeding three months, it didn’t work out for us), I had him on a four hour routine. I think he woke up at 5am (back to bed), then we fed again at 9am, 1, 5, and 9pm (bedtime after this). But formula-feeding is very clock-based because you can measure the amount and it really fills up the baby. My first son would cry almost on the dot, 5 minutes before the fourth hour. And we followed this schedule until about 8 or 10months old when he started being able to skip the 5am feeding. Then we moved to a 8am, 12pm, 4pm, 8pm schedule (with bedtime afterwards). This was the most easy feeding schedule any of my kids had, because of the formula. And he napped the last two hours of each segment, so 11am-1pm, 3-5pm, and 6-7pm when he was very young. And then 10-noon, 2-4pm (or 3-5pm) when he was an older baby. He ate about 28-32 oz. a day from 4-11mos.
My second and third babies were very similar to each other. They had no problems sleeping through the night or taking naps, in contrast to my first. They actually asked for their naps at 10am when they started talking (“Beddy?”). So their eating schedules (breastfeeding this time) revolved around this nap for a long time. After two months of age they would eat, predictably, every 3-4hrs during the day and then cluster feed in the evening. So their schedules were something like feedings at 6 or 7am, 9 or 10am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 8pm, 10pm. But they also nursed quickly after the first six weeks, so feeding them only took about 10min. If they had taken a long time, I might have adjusted so I wasn’t feeding them so often. Eventually when they were older, like 8 to 9 months, and also eating food, they were on a pretty steady routine, like 7am, 10am, 1pm, 4, 7, 10pm. I always needed six feedings to keep my milk up. So I put them to bed late, and they napped throughout the day, like 10-12, 2-4, 6-7. Once I decided to put them to bed earlier, the weaning began and they eventually got on formula and food four times a day.
My fourth baby (was and is) a little more feisty. And I’m a little too loose! I am a pushover in my later days =) She is eight months old now and still not sleeping through the night too well, which is a sign that she needs more stabilization… more rigid schedule. I feed her and put her down for a nap on rotation still, but the number of times is too varied from day to day. Plus, my milk supply is not doing as well as it should. And she likes to eat more often than my other boys did. (If I tried to nurse my boys before their allotted time, they would refuse to suck; she cries to nurse as often as possible). So my goal, for the next four months, is to get her on a similar schedule as the boys’ had above, but closer to the one they had when they were infants as opposed to older babies. Once she can do that, she’ll be a year old and I’ll wean her, putting her on the regular four times a day plan with a little formula in her milk.
I hope these little blurbs have been helpful to someone. Creating a routine for your baby is an art, as you take into account your needs and theirs. I usually adjust the routines every three months or so as they grow and their food intake changes. And I hope you got the idea that it is almost impossible to talk about food apart from sleep. The two are very closely tied together. Their ability to sleep reveals the adequacy of their eating schedule, and you always want to work with/around their nap needs. (About three a day for the young months, two a day for the older ones).
Again, I would consult The Baby Whisperer for some more nuanced talk about the subject. I have a review on Amazon about Babywise, which is also a helpful book. But the controversy surrounding it and the non-narrative way they format it prevents me from recommending it per se. If you are one of those people who can glean some facts from a book without getting fearful or zealous about the whole thing, then it’s an ok guide. If not, stick with Tracy Hogg.
The standard AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) book you get from the doctor is not that great. I don’t recommend Dr. Sears or the attachment-parenting camp either. It makes you feel like you’re going to damage your child if you don’t rearrange your entire life around their emotions.