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Flirting With The "R" Word

Last fall, a girlfriend of mine gave birth
to an adorable little girl. When O was about ten weeks old, my
friend emailed me in a panic: “She doesn’t have any
routine I can figure out! Should I start trying to make her stick
to a schedule? What am I going to do about her sleep
habits???” From my non-sleep-deprived position, I could
clearly see that this was all part of new babyness and nothing to
worry about; I emailed her back with an encouraging pep talk,
reminding her that O was going to grow into a routine soon enough
and nothing she was doing now would ruin that.

Then about a week ago I started to have that same panic –
it’s been over two months! When is this screaming machine
going to settle down and be predictable! What can I do! I’m
ruining her for life by not forcing a schedule! I can’t stop
talking in exclamation points! And I swear, I almost emailed this
exact same girlfriend for advice. Because it’s all about
distance: the further back you are, the easier it is for you to see
what’s going on and stay calm.

I gritted my teeth, though, and hung in
there, reminding myself that I’d already been through this
once and there was time enough to panic after Cora hit three
months. And I’m glad I did, because right as Cora hit eleven
weeks I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. So it is
with great trepidation but a hesitant confidence that I start to
approach the R word –


Yes, Cora’s beginning to demonstrate the rough outline of a
routine. And let me say here that I think there’s a big
difference between “routine” and
“schedule”. To me, “schedule” implies
forcing an artificial arrangement on your baby – breakfast is
at 7 a.m. whether she’s hungry or not – while
“routine” bespeaks a sameness to the days, even while
you let it grow as organically as possible from your baby’s
own instincts.

I’ve said several times that I believe babies get a free pass
for the first three months of life – no stressing about sleep
habits or anything else. But as Cora approaches three months, I
noticed Cora’s starting to level out a bit and seems ready
for some coaxing into a reliable daily pattern. Up to this point,
Cora’s been napping wherever she can – in the bouncy
seat, in the Bjorn, out and about in the stroller – because
there was no rhyme or reason to her needs. She’d start
screaming, then fall asleep. And I’ll confess that I’ve
been in a bit of “survivor” mode, just trying to get
through these first few months with two kids rather than keeping
one eye on the next phase of Cora’s development. Last week,
though, I decided to commit to helping her get into regular meals
and regular naps – the latter especially important, since I
think it’ll make her less grumpy once she realizes she gets
steady doses of doze time.

Of course, allowing a baby to set her own routine is easy if
she’s an only child, and has a mom who doesn’t work
outside the home; otherwise sometimes nursings are dictated by the
simple fact that this is the time when the boobs are available
before work! And Cora’s certainly not getting as much of a
chance to set her own habits as Maddie did, simply because Cora has
to adapt to an already existing family structure and routine. But I
am trying to give Cora some space to find her own best nap times,
as well as demonstrate how many nursings a day she needs.

So first, the nursing thing. I don’t follow a strict timeline
for nursing, but I don’t nurse on demand – I will not
automatically offer food when Cora starts crying: rather,
I’ll see if she’s sleepy or can be comforted by a
pacifier first. But I’ve been keeping a log of her nursings
and notice that she’s evened out to around seven nursings a
day, and that they fall at roughly the same time each day.
(Contrast this with Maddie’s 10-12 daily nursings at this age
due to reflux, and I feel like I’m only a part-time nurser!)
So I keep an eye on the clock and if a typical time for a feeding
is fast approaching and I see I’m about to get busy,
I’ll do a pre-emptive nursing a bit early. So far, this seems
to be working well and Cora appreciates it.

That’s the easy part – the nap is harder. Determining
good nap times was easy – if Cora started crying and
wasn’t hungry, I knew she needed a nap. But teaching her to
get to sleep several times a day, preferably while not strapped to
me, is harder. At the first sign of fatigue I would walk back to
Cora’s nursing chair, swaddle her, and rock her until her
eyes closed. This started out taking several minutes, but after
less than a week she’s already going down faster. Of course,
these naps are much shorter – perhaps half an hour or
forty-five minutes total – than they would be if she were in
the car seat or Bjorn, but it’s important to me to get Cora
into sleeping comfortably in her own space so I’m free during
that time to pay attention to Maddie, make meals, or, I don’t
know, just pee by myself. Right now we’ve got about four naps
built into the day, but I expect those to consolidate over the next
month or so and lengthen out.

So that’s where we are. I know at this age she’s
constantly changing and any routine we get going won’t last
for long; just yesterday she ate 11 times, making me hope
it’s just a growth spurt thing. But that’s the great
thing about having a routine versus a schedule – it’s
still got some flexibility, but gives her comfort in the sameness.
She starts to sense when after a nap we’ll have some good
interaction time, what part of the day I’ll spend less time
paying attention to her and give her more space to herself, and

And of course, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that soon this
routine includes sleeping through the night. I can dream,
can’t I?


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