How important is it to schedule an infant? I'm a first-time mom of a 5-month-old and I'm struggling with this one.
Sample schedules I've seen -- with strict nap times and lengths, etc -- seem a bit "one-size-fits-all." Admittedly, I'm a bit suspicious of any regimen that tells me what my baby needs without knowing him. "At least an hour of sleep, three times a day, is a must." But what if he is happy and functional with only 20 minutes? What if he doesn't like napping that often?
I'm not opposed to routines. We have a bedtime routine, we stick to it and it works. My baby goes to bed at roughly the same time every night, and he sleeps from about 7:30 to 6:30, with just one wake-up around 4:30 a.m. that he is showing signs of growing out of. He's a predictable sleeper, and I do credit routine and perseverance for getting us there. But we never, ever had to let him cry it out. My husband and I practiced "the pause" (Yes, I read 'Bringing up Bebe') and learned to read his sleep habits before jumping up. It worked.
I stay home with the baby and our days, admittedly, have a loose structure. He hates his crib during the day and doesn't like to nap. He gets in scattered "cat naps" in my lap after breastfeeding at roughly the same time and is a pretty happy, alert baby. I tried to put him on a schedule around three months. I couldn't get him to nap in his crib without him crying his heart out, with some serious tears, so I stopped. He was always so happy after short snoozes so I didn't dwell on the issue. I figured that I just didn't get a napper. Relatives and even his pediatrician agreed. (He's either meeting or ahead of schedule with developmental milestones).
I've also seen scheduled babies who seem so dependent on their schedules that they can't function if they miss a nap by even 10 minutes. I was afraid of that, since that doesn't seem healthy, either.
But now he's getting older and I'm second-guessing myself. I watched with horror one night recently as a mother at a CVS said no to a candy purchase, then frantically gave into her crying child when a scene broke out. It may sound like a huge leap, but I witnessed this scene and wondered, is it a slippery slope? Could this be me someday, because I don't have the backbone to let him cry in his crib? Is a basic daytime structure the beginning to a healthy mother-child relationship, with limits and healthy expectations of what happens next? But at what point am I forcing something on the child, without meeting his needs as an individual?
I'm lost. I'd love to hear your opinion on this matter and would love some recommendations for books on napping that don't assume the baby is also up all night.
And thank you.
From: Struggling with Schedule, Medford, MA
1. How important is a schedule?
I put that question to Dennis Rosen, associate medical director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children's Hospital. Here's his answer:
"A schedule is important because it allows the [baby's] internal clock to be synchronized with the external clock, which makes it easier for the child to do what's he's expected to, when he's expected to." Typically, a schedule makes parents' lives easier.
2. Does your baby need to be on a schedule? Rosen and I agree with you, your pediatrician and your family: you don't need to fix what ain't broke.
You don't have a napper because your baby is getting a lot more sleep at night than most babies do. (The typical 5-month-old needs 12 1/2 hours of sleep per 24 hours, Rosen said. That usually breaks down to 9 1/2 hours at night and, two 1½ -hour naps in the day with perhaps a brief cat nap in early evening.) What's more, said Rosen, "It seems to be working well." Your baby is happy and you are, too. Check out Rosen's blog on children's sleep issues at Psychology Today.
He added that at some point, you may no longer like him being on a loose schedule. You may want more predictability. If that happens, "Change your son's sleeping habits by reducing the amount of sleep he has at night," said Rosen, "either by putting him down later or waking him early. Then he will likely need to nap."
3. Does not having a schedule mean you're on the slippery road to being the parent who can't set limits? No.
"There's no correlation between being on a schedule and future behavior," said Rosen. "By not forcing him to nap are you setting him up to be a tyrant? No."
What you saw in CVS may reflect a parent's parenting style in general or it may be about one parent's inability to set limits in that moment. Setting limits in a public place is perhaps the most trying of all circumstances for any of us.
4. I don't know any books specifically about napping. Rosen, however, has an ebook coming on sleep: "The Harvard Medical School Guide to Successful Sleep Strategies for Kids: Helping your child sleep well and wake up with a smile!" Publisher is Harvard Health Publications and it should be available on Amazon in December.
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