May 15, 2012

Scheduling and getting your baby to sleep through the night

Grrr. I've debated and debated about posting parenting advice here, but it's one of the things that people email me most about. And when I've posted something like, "Ask any question you want! I'll answer it," a number of them have always been about parenting decisions we've made.

So I'm going to answer some of them, but I'm not going to call it "parenting advice" or "mommy tips." I'm going to call it TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT, which is exactly what you should feel free to do. Things I'll post about in this series will be things that have worked for our family, but may not work for every family. And just as I would never publicly pass judgment on your parenting choices, I ask that you not publicly pass ugly judgment on mine, although you're welcome to email me to discuss it or ask follow-up questions.

I thought I'd tackle the number-one topic I get asked about (and was most recently asked about by reader Kelly L., who hopes to start a family soon): how to get your baby on a schedule and get them to sleep through the night early on.

Kelly said, "Please do a post about modified BabyWise, schedules, etc. For that matter, you should do a series of posts for new/expectant moms."

So I'm starting today, and I won't do it on a set schedule, but I'll do it as questions are submitted or as ideas come to me. How's that?

I should start this topic off with a disclaimer that I have never successfully breastfed a child. I tried for weeks with our first three, and even with the help of lactation consultants, using nipple shields while pumping milk through them, and pumping in between formula feedings, none of the boys ever caught on. That wasn't at all frustrating.

Oh wait a minute YES IT WAS.

I preface the rest of this post with that information because I want you to know that I am NOT anti-nursing. I am pro-nursing. I believe it's the way God designed our bodies, and I tried really, really hard to do it with the boys. So hard that I made myself and all of them miserable. I had mean cases of the Baby Blues with them, because I denied myself so much sleep while trying to nurse and pump around-the-clock. If you can nurse, do it. But if you, like I, could not for one reason or another make it work, take heart. This isn't Pioneer Times. Formula is available, and while it's not breastmilk, it is an acceptable substitute. And my kids have turned out really smart. So far.

So. This is what worked for me as a formula-feeding mom, but I'll say that it was easier for me because I always knew to the ounce how much food my kids were getting. When you nurse, I'm sure it's more nerve-wracking because you don't want to feel like you're not giving them what they need when they want it. HOWEVER. I think scheduling can still work for you, and I'll explain why in a minute.

Before Nathaniel was born, I read BabyWise. Some people had told me it worked great for them; others said it was far too regimented and they either never tried it or gave it up, discouraged, after a few days. I read it and decided I'd just modify it to something I felt comfortable with, because I thought it was a sound philosophy in general.

Scheduling: My Philosophy
Hands-down, I attribute the fact that all of our babies slept through the night within eight weeks to the fact that we scheduled all of them. Here's what I think: I believe that babies are completely open to a schedule, just as older children and adults are. Once they're used to a schedule, they fuss less for food and are more flexible because they never have to wonder if it's coming. It's coming. And it's coming exactly when they've become accustomed to expecting it.

I think a baby's mind works sort of like this: If you get used to the idea that food only comes when you cry, then of course you're going to cry when you feel the first twinge of hunger. But if you know (or your body knows) that a meal is coming at 3:00 on the dot, and it's 2:46 now, you don't need to cry. You know you're going to be fed in about 14 minutes without even needing to ask. You're willing to play quietly or have your diaper changed without a big fuss, because you're secure in the fact that it's on its way.

There are a lot of people who feed on demand, and they're totally happy with it. But there are a lot of people who feed on demand simply because they don't understand how to schedule a baby without feeling "mean" about it, like they're withholding something from their greatest love just for the sake of convenience. And a lot of times those same moms are the ones who feel like they can't go to a movie or run to the store because the baby will need to be fed while they're gone, so they can't leave for more than an hour. So this is for those moms who want a chance to make a change ... everyone else who's happy doing it their own way is free to continue!

How I Scheduled

In the hospital
I always had really sleepy babies in the hospital. I had to wake them up to eat pretty much every time, but I fed them on demand if they were ever fussing for it. If they didn't fuss to eat every two hours, I'd wake them up and at least TRY to feed them that often, even if they didn't end up latching on or taking much.

Week 1
Again, I had REALLY sleepy babies during the first week. I remember with both Nathaniel and Nick, I'd have to try really, really hard to wake them up to eat during the day. They needed to eat at least once every three hours, but if I'd let them sleep, they'd easily go five hours without eating. But do you know what that means? If you let them do that during the day, they'll make up for it overnight! (Meaning, they'll want to eat more and sleep less overnight.) I'd say Week 1 should be an every two hours schedule for some babies (like Nathaniel and Nick), but some babies will be happy on a three-hour schedule (like Jake and Amelia). Do whatever works for your family and your child. If you have a husband who gets up at 6 a.m. for work anyway, you might go with a 6-8-10-12-2-4-6 schedule so that he can give that first bottle of the morning while you sleep.

Week 2
My babies started to wake up a little more in their second week. We were always well into a solid 12-3-6-9 schedule by then, and Jake and Amelia did great with it. I don't recall either of them ever really wanting to eat off-schedule. Nathaniel and Nick, however (and especially Nathaniel), often wanted to eat around the two-and-a-half hour mark at that age. I held them off for that final 30 minutes by cuddling and soothing. I would NEVER encourage you to just leave the baby crying on a mat or something while you checked email. When I say "hold them off," I mean hold them, kiss them, walk them around the room, comfort them. I was warming a bottle while I did this so that I could feed them as soon as it was time. (And remember, it doesn't have to be 12-3-6-9 ... it can be 2-5-8-11 or 1-4-7-10, whatever works best with your family's activities and normal wake-sleep times, especially if you have older kids to consider.)

1 Month
By 1 month of age, my babies had dropped the second overnight bottle (3 a.m.), so I was staying up late to feed them a midnight or 1 a.m. bottle (a great chance to catch up on TV shows I'd recorded or to write a blog post), and then was able to get several hours of sleep in a row before they woke up at 6 a.m. for a morning bottle. Moms who like to go to bed early could certainly go to bed after the 9 p.m. bottle and get up again at midnight before going to bed for the rest of the night, but that just isn't my style. I'm a night owl, anyway, so staying up later worked for me.

2 Months
At 2 months, we were able to move the last feeding of the night up to 11 p.m., and the babies would still sleep until morning. That's always such a magical turning point! With Amelia, by 2 months she had already dropped another bottle on her own. Super baby.

3 Months
You'll see on the charts below that Jake and Amelia, while on similar sleeping schedules at each age, were taking in drastically different amounts of formula. For example, at 3 months, Jake was taking 40 ounces a day, and Amelia was taking 30. Of course, he was 17 pounds and she was about 13 pounds, so that made sense. But my point is, I didn't do anything different with them ... I set their schedule, but they determined how much formula they took at each feeding, and each of them got whatever they needed. Jake was over 100th percentile in weight, whereas Amelia has always been 50th to 75th percentile. At this age, Jake slept 10 hours overnight, and Amelia slept nine.

4 Months
Jake was taking so much formula and weighed so much that our pediatrician recommended that we start some solids with him at 4 months. So our sumo baby was taking 32 ounces of formula a day plus solids at that point. Amelia, on the other hand, took 35 ounces of formula at 4 months and took no solids, as our ped didn't want us to start her on them until 6 months. Again, two different feeding philosophies for them at that age, but their sleep patterns were almost identical. Scheduling, I tell you!

6 Months
By 6 months with all four kids, we were happily on a blend of formula and solids, and the babies were sleeping for 11 to 12 hours overnight. Jake was eating four times a day on the 9-1-5-9 schedule, while Amelia was eating five times a day on the 9-12-3-6-9 schedule. And at 7 months, she still is. I think she'll be fine if I decide to transition her to 9-1-5-9 soon; I'm not sure why I haven't done it yet. Nathaniel and Nick were both on 9-1-5-9 at this age, too.

Modify for Nursing Babies
If you're nursing, I'd still recommend scheduling, but your feedings just may be more frequent than if you're bottle-feeding at the beginning, depending on your milk supply. In other words, if you need to feed them every hour or 90 minutes because your milk hasn't come in yet, or you have low supply, then do it. But don't feed them every 45. Wait the extra 15 or 30 minutes, cuddling and soothing while you wait so they know you're there. If you feed every 45 minutes, you'll be feeding around-the-clock and you'll never, ever get rest. And that is MISERABLE.

Pediatricians and non-scheduling moms might tell you that babies won't sleep through the night until they're at least 13 pounds because prior to that, they don't have the fat stores to keep hunger at bay for that long. I've not found that to be completely true, although I understand the logic.

Here's a recap of how it panned out for Jake:

And how it worked with Amelia:

I never trusted my memory to tell me what time my kids ate. With the first three, I used a little notebook that I kept with me all the time, and I recorded all their feedings (amounts and times) religiously. That was because if they ate at 3:07, I'd feed them again at 6:07. If they ate at 3:22, I'd want to hold them off until 6:22, not feed them again at 6:00 on the dot just because we were on a 12-3-6-9 schedule. Feeding them that 22 minutes early by accident would be contrary to the scheduling concept, you know? If I'd known about PoppySeed Paper at the time, I would have used their Feeding Pads (which they have for singlets as well as twins). So cute!

With Amelia, I had an iPhone and downloaded the Total Baby app. It allows you to track feedings times and amounts, wet and poopy diapers, and (if you're nursing) which breast you started on last time. Very handy.

I feel like this was all over the map, and I'm not sure I did a good job of explaining it. But I did the best I could without writing an actual book! Feel free to ask follow-up questions about any of it.

If you have a question for Take It or Leave It, send an email with that in the subject line to stainsofgrass (at) yahoo (dot) com.


Grape News said...

I did something very similar-- my own version of baby wise. I loved it. I am a very schedule oriented person. Now that my don is 9 he is a very schedule oriented person - which can be good and bad. Good cuz it just makes life easier if he knows what's coming and what's expected of him. Bad cuz he freaks out a little when schedule changes. He's getting better but needs to learn to be flexible too

Rachel said...

Wow! Way to go mom! I've breastfed all of mine, thankfully. Christopher and Andrew got more formula though. Andrew because I went back to school full time and Christopher because I couldn't pump enough to keep up with his feeding tube at three months old. All of our kids have slept through the night very early on- by 6 weeks. I consider sleeping through the night as only waking once to nurse. Dad gets up, pops them in bed with us, and when they're done eating he pops them back in their bed. It totally works for us. I'm ten years older now and am thinking that a good solid schedule might be worth a try just so we can make sure we get enough sleep. Thanks for sharing.

stollison said...

Parenting seems SO easy.

Jami said...

I don't think I could have survived without a schedule. It took me 6 months, thank you ear infections, before I could get a nap and bedtime sleep schedule. In the end, it is so worth it. My brother in law stopped by last week right around bedtime and had my kids so wound up, running around and screaming. The second he walked out the door, they sat on the couch and read books and went right to bed. They just know when it's time.

Kelly and Chad said...

Wow!! I just now saw did I miss this?!! Thanks so much....what a great resource!

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