I don't remember exactly when I made up my good-night song for my infant son, Charlie. But I'll never forget how well it worked: As soon as I sang the first few notes, he popped his thumb into his mouth and dropped his head onto my shoulder in preparation for a snooze. From that day forward, naptime, once a struggle, became a breeze. From morning to evening -- and every hour in between -- babies crave consistency. "Knowing what to expect and when is very comforting to them," says Marilyn Heins, MD, a pediatrician in Tucson and author of ParenTips.
Routines can be equally empowering for new moms, whose days have a tendency to spin out of control. Once your baby is on a schedule, it's easier to tackle your endless list of tasks -- and maybe even find a free moment for yourself. Although you can start carving out a regimen as soon as your newborn comes home from the hospital, it takes an infant at least a few weeks to get used to napping, eating, and playing at the same hours every day. Read on to give your baby the predictability he needs.
Having trouble getting your child to eat at the right times? Creating a comfortable environment may solve the problem. Look for a quiet, dimly lit spot, and breast- or bottle-feed in the same chair or rocker every time. "If you're consistent, your baby will pick up on the cues and be less likely to fuss," says Stephen Muething, MD, clinical director of general pediatrics at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
With two active preschool daughters, Colleen Scariano, of Indianapolis, has a tough time finding a calm location to nurse 7-month-old Luke. But it's well worth the effort. "Feedings go a lot better when I can minimize the noise and commotion around us," says Scariano.
They'll also go more smoothly if you feed your baby at regular intervals (usually spaced by at least 2 1/2 hours), so she starts to sense when it's time to eat. If your child starts crying an hour after a full meal, avoid using your breast or a bottle to soothe her. Eventually she'll learn to trust that when she's hungry, she'll get fed.
Once your baby is on solids (at around 4 to 6 months), you can set up new rituals to trigger the food connection. As she prepares a meal for her 6-month-old daughter, Naomi, Margaret Littman straps her into a high chair and puts a plastic bowl and spoon on the tray. "It helps her figure out that a meal is coming soon," says the mother of two from Portland, Oregon. "Plus, giving her something to play with buys me a few minutes to get her food ready."