Should You Put Your Baby on a Schedule?

We have a guest post from Heather Gaither from The Essential Infant Resource for Mothers. Check out her website, it has a lot of great tips for moms.

To schedule? Or to say the-heck-with-everything and shoot for “free spirit”. That is the question.

If you’re a label making, sock-organizing Martha Stewart Mum, the answer is obvious. If you’re a hemp-wearing, all-natural, cloth diapering Mama, the answer is obvious.

But what if you’re neither? What if you’re a Target-shopping, non-ironing, regular ‘ole mom? How do you know if putting your baby on a schedule is the right thing for you?

Ta da! Here I am, ready to list out the pros and count out the cons. By the end of this article, you’ll either be one step further from chaos, or one step closer to being guilt-free.

How do I know the pros? Because I’ve scheduled. How do I know the cons? Because I’ve scheduled. In fact, sometimes I’ve NOT scheduled – and for good reasons.

So there’ll be no teeny-tiny nuggets of truth buried under mountains of “shoulds” or “good intentions”. Only the honest facts. There are good reasons to schedule your baby, and there are equally good reasons NOT to. Your job will be determine which reasons fit your family best.

Why do people choose the schedule their babies? (Also known as…the PROS)

  1. A consistent schedule can help your infant sleep through the night at an earlier age. In my own family, those babies who were scheduled started sleeping 8 hours around the 6-8 week mark.
  2. A consistent schedule can help you understand your babies non-verbals, eliminating guess work. Is it 1:30 and he’s fussy? Isn’t that nap time?
  3. Not only can scheduling help your baby, but it will be heavenly to know that every afternoon at 1:00 YOU can get a nap in, and every morning at 10 is a safe time to get groceries.

Why do people choose NOT to schedule their babies? (Also known as…the CONS)

  1. It’s very difficult to keep a tight schedule for your baby if you are working outside the home or if you have older children involved in many activities.
  2. Highly-structured babies usually have a harder time being flexible. Forget napping in the car seat during dance lessons. Too much noise, too many distractions.
  3. Some mothers say that by not scheduling, they feel they are more in tune to deciphering their baby’s non-verbal cues, allowing them to understand needs away from the clock.

Consider this the Cliff’s Notes to baby scheduling. You can read the whole baby sleep schedule manifesto for more specifics on how to schedule or how to NOT schedule (and still have your sanity).

Baby Yoga

One of the questions I was frequently asked as a new mom was, “Are you doing baby yoga?” In my pre-mom life, I had taken a few yoga classes, but never with much success. Dark rooms with strangers and lit candles, rolling around and trying not to make any strange noises …

Anyway, despite my preconceptions, I did what many new moms do. I went shopping. I ended up with a video titled “Baby and Toddler Yoga” but there were dozens of titles to choose from.

I got home, laid my 10-week-old on the carpet and pressed play. And though it said yoga on the DVD, whatever we started doing didn’t resemble any yoga I’d done. It was more like rolling around on the floor with my baby. I was told to gently fold my baby’s legs at the knees. Then I was told to gently open her arms.

I was, for all intents and purposes, simply playing with my baby on the floor. And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe she didn’t need to start stretching her tiny little muscles yet.

So I asked around, and what I heard most often was the “the point” of baby yoga is simple bonding. Doing yoga with your baby is a way to slow down and pay attention to the individual moments.

Proponents also claim that baby yoga can help with colic, aid in digestion, and help babies sleep well, though this researcher was unable to find any studies to back up these claims.

If your baby is struggling with digestion, here is the suggested pose: Lay your baby on his back. Bend both of his legs so that his knees come comfortably close to his chest. Then slowly move his bent legs in small circles. Do five circles, and then reverse direction and do five more. My daughter found this pose incredibly annoying, but then again, she wasn’t having any problems with digestion.

Baby yoga is certainly easy to do. You don’t have to be good at yoga. You don’t have to be strong or flexible. You don’t need any props. It is an inexpensive (possibly free) activity to do with your new little one.

Maybe baby yoga is really about the mothers. Maybe this is just something healthy that we moms can safely do with our babies within arms reach. Proponents suggest that doing yoga with your baby can calm anxiety and raise your spirits, which could be a lifesaver for a mom struggling with the baby blues or postpartum depression.

Many of us don’t pay enough attention to recovering from the birth experience. Many of us are back to full-time work in six weeks or less. Maybe we should take the time to put in a baby yoga DVD, listen to some soft music, watch our babies breathe, and roll around on the carpet for a while.

Does My Baby Need a Pacifier?

Pediatrician and parenting expert author Dr. William Sears says that if your baby really wants a pacifier, “use it, don’t abuse it, and quickly try to lose it.”

Pacifiers can sure be useful. Not that I would know personally. I remember draped over the crib weeping, praying to God that my daughter would just keep the binky in her mouth for a half hour. But she didn’t. Ever. Because she had decided that I was the pacifier. I’ve heard that some mothers have better luck.

If you too are being used as a human pacifier, complete with the cracks and the bleeding, a pacifier might pacify you as well as your baby. Pacifiers also come in handy in those social situations where you really need baby to be quiet: the small family wedding, the graveside service, the red-eye flight, or the play you desperately want to see on the night you can’t find a babysitter. Pacifiers can also be a lifesaver when baby can’t get to mom. If mommy has to go to work, or wants to go get a massage, dad or grandma will probably want baby to have a pacifier!

Some pediatricians recommend not introducing the pacifier until baby is well established in his nursing routines. Even well-engineered pacifiers don’t feel the same as a human nipple, and if a baby is having trouble latching on, then a binky might only confuse him. But if you have a healthy, thriving, nursing baby who just needs a little bit more sucking than you wish to provide, you won’t hurt anything by investing $3 in a plastic pacifier.

The problem with pacifiers is that it is easy to overuse them, and too much use can lead to problems. A 1999 study found that binky babies tended to wean earlier than non-binky babies. (Some parents will find this to be good news. Some will not.) One study found that babies who used binkies were more likely to get ear infections. Babies who use pacifiers for too long (as in years) can develop an overbite. And prolonged pacifier use (as well as prolonged thumb sucking) can make baby’s teeth crooked.

Some pediatricians recommend allowing baby to suck a thumb or fingers instead of a pacifier. Some dentists and orthodontists disagree. The jury is still out on thumb vs. binky. But be warned, it’s more difficult to abolish the thumb habit than it is the binky habit. You can’t just throw her thumb out the window.

Acupuncture is for Babies Too?!

When I first told my friends that I was taking my baby girl to an acupuncturist, they looked like they wanted to have me arrested for child abuse. I think they pictured me pinning my baby down while some sadist filled her with pins. As if.

My daughter was born with horrific eczema, not an uncommon affliction for babies today. We were at the pediatrician’s office constantly, as painful eczema flare-ups turned into staff infections. My baby couldn’t sleep and I had to keep socks on her hands because she would scratch herself until she bled. It was a nightmare.

We tried expensive lotions, oils, and creams. We tried steroids. We tried bathing her and not bathing her. We emptied our home of all perfumes and fragrances. I stopped eating all forms of sugar and dairy. Nothing seemed to help.

So an acupuncturist didn’t seem all that crazy to me. Even though I had never been to one myself, I sought out a lovely licensed acupuncturist named Cristi. A mother herself, she assured me that she would not stab my daughter with anything. She also assured me that acupuncture is an effective treatment for eczema. Though my science-trained brain couldn’t comprehend how this was possible, I was in no position to dismiss it.

Cristi never used a needle on my daughter. Instead, she practiced “needleless acupuncture” using two tools, the taishi and the teishin, to stimulate points along my daughter’s body’s meridians. Cristi also prescribed us an incredibly affordable herbal treatment.

I won’t tell you that my daughter was cured after a single treatment. I won’t even tell you that acupuncture singlehandedly cured my daughter of her eczema. But I am confident that it helped. It certainly helped her to sleep better on the nights after her treatments. And what really amazed me was how much my daughter enjoyed her treatments. She was a miserable, itchy, squirmy 6-month-old, yet when Cristi got out her tools, she would sit up or lie down on the table and hold perfectly still. And at home, when I would bath her in the herbal treatments, she would coo and smile as if to say, “Whatever this is mom, keep doing it!”

Recent research supports that acupuncture is a viable treatment for many ailments for people of all ages. Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota actually has a pediatric acupuncture center. Doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital captured images of babies’ brains during acupuncture and found patterns activated by acupuncture that looked much like patterns seen while the babies were at rest. This suggests that acupuncture is at least a way to relieve pain.

Signing Approximations

Approximations are the signing equivalents of baby talk. Your baby is communicating and you understand him or her, although the sign is not technically correct and may be unrecognizable to other signing adults. Signs are rather complex movements to a baby, and it is likely that your baby will not use them correctly at first. For example, the sign Dad might just be a hand waving somewhere near baby’s head. You and baby know that this gesture refers to Dad, even though the sign is not correct.

It is important to encourage any signing efforts while also reinforcing correct usage. So, when my daughter signs Dad with her arm waving near her head, we encourage her by saying “Yes, Dad.” While we verbally encourage her, however, we demonstrate the correct usage (hand spread, thumb tapping on forehead). This way, she has a positive experience with signing while also continuing to learn the proper usage of signs.

This method, by the way, can also be applied to verbal language development. When children learn to speak, they also use approximations. While their baby talk might be cute, it is important to help them learn correct pronunciation to avoid speech problems. When a toddler exclaims “Look at the LELLOW dog, Mommy,” you can respond with “Yes, I see the YELLOW dog!”

Encourage effort while reinforcing correct usage.