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MD MAMA

Do babies need schedules? Well, yes and no.

Excerpted from MD Mama blog on Boston.com.

It’s a question I’m often asked by parents in my practice: Does my baby need to be on a schedule?

And as with so much in medicine and parenting, the answer is a resounding . . . maybe.

Continue reading below

Babies do have and need schedules of sorts. They need to eat regularly (usually around every two to four hours, depending on whether they are breast- or formula-fed) and sleep (around 16-18 hours a day). In between and around those, they need diaper changes. And when they are awake and alert, it’s good to interact with them — and get in some tummy time.

But do all those things need to happen at the same time every day? Probably not, with some caveats.

There are definitely upsides to schedules — they give a certain order and predictability to life and can make it easier to plan your day. And there are some babies — and some parents — who really do need that predictability; they get very cranky without it.

There are downsides, though. I’ve seen families become slaves to schedules. They miss out on things they might like to do, and people they might like to see, because they need to be home for a feeding or a nap time. It can leave parents feeling constrained and isolated. And when something happens that throws the schedule off — an appointment that runs late or an unexpected plumbing problem — it can be very stressful.

Total chaos isn’t good for anyone, and being a slave to a schedule isn’t either. Somewhere in the middle is best. Where you fall in that middle is going to depend on your particular family situation, as well as your baby’s personality (and yours).

I do think that it’s good to build some routine into your day. It’s helpful to you, and having some predictable routines is good for kids mentally and physically. Personally, I like the idea of morning and nighttime routines.

In the morning, it’s good to build in some snuggling, breakfast, and getting-dressed-and-organized routines; having a good start to the day will make it easier for going to child care or when your child starts school. And at night, I love family dinner, a bath with some play time, and some more snuggling (with books, once baby is 6 months old or so) with a consistent bedtime. That also sets the stage for healthy habits as your child grows — and builds in rituals of togetherness.

But in between, I vote for flexibility. Yes, you need to be sure your baby eats and sleeps enough. But give yourself some wiggle room. Don’t turn down an invitation or give up a chance for something you’d love to do because it would get in the way of a nap or meal. It’s good for your baby to learn to nap in a stroller or sling — and meals can be portable. If you’re happy, baby is likely to be happy — and especially in that second half of the first year, babies often really enjoy seeing and doing new things.

The thing is, the best moments in life are often unscheduled. It all goes by so fast. Enjoy it.

Dr. Claire McCarthy is a pediatrician and medical communications editor at Boston Children’s Hospital. Read more from her blog at boston.com/lifestyle/health/mdmama.
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