3 Strategies for Better Baby Sleep

How a Scheduled Approach Works

Sarah copied Ford's weekly routines for feeding, napping, and bedtime, and pinned them to the refrigerator in her Montclair, New Jersey, home. The routines began with a consistent 7 a.m. wake-up for Joe's first feeding. In the beginning, the schedules reflected a timetable of eating about every three hours. For example, at 2 to 4 weeks old, baby gets fed at 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m., 6:15 p.m. (what is known as a cluster feeding), and 10:30 p.m. Baby's naptimes are 8:30/9 a.m. to 10 a.m., 12 p.m. to 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. As time progresses, the feeding and naptimes are slightly different, based on the baby's age and development at each given week.

Of course, Joe's a child, not a robot. Sometimes he would wake and cry before his scheduled feeding. On these occasions, Sarah reasoned that he had not gotten enough food during the previous feeding, and she would feed him a little earlier than the schedule suggested. But she'd also make extra-sure he was satisfied at the next meal.

This was more difficult than it sounds. If Joe fell asleep mid-feeding, she'd have to wake him up to finish. "At first, it wasn't easy to keep him awake at mealtimes," she admits. But she soon realized that this practice was worth it; Joe did indeed begin to last longer between feedings.

The schedules also called for a strict 7 p.m. bedtime in the baby's own room. This wasn't always easy to implement, either, and Sarah found herself seeking advice outside of Ford's book. "Some nights Joe would have gas," she says. "Then we'd use methods from [Harvey Karp's] The Happiest Baby on the Block, like rocking him and making 'shh' sounds." She also swaddled him for the first four months -- another popular tip for encouraging sleep.

But it was the routine, Sarah says, that made her baby such a good sleeper. Once she made sure she was feeding him enough at each meal, "Joe was rarely hungry or overtired." And after putting him down at 7 p.m., Sarah and Giles had their evenings free for each other.

"People have said to me that I'm lucky and that my baby is easy," she says. "But my sister didn't schedule her first baby and then scheduled the second. The first was a nightmare to put to sleep, while the second quickly learned to sleep by herself. My sister is like a different person now!"

Laid-Back Parents Can Be Schedulers, Too!

Not all schedulers are type A sorts, either. Anna and Dave Marsh, of Ontario, Canada, challenge that idea. "In many ways, I'm an organized person," Anna says. She has to be when it comes to feeding and homeschooling their four children. "But I'm also quite laid back," she says. "We're never bound to a schedule in any area of life."

Ironically, she says this flexibility is what made her a perfect candidate for the scheduling techniques based on those in the book Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. Anna agrees with the book's main idea: By imposing a rhythmic structure to eating and sleeping, a parent can help regulate the baby's sleep patterns. So during the first eight weeks, Anna followed the book's three-hour eat/wake/sleep routine. In later weeks, she made the suggested adjustments to the patterns (like dropping certain night feedings) to encourage longer stretches of nighttime sleep.

But Anna wasn't a slave to the schedule, either -- a mistake that causes many would-be schedulers to give up (and leads detractors to label the practice as dangerous). For example, she wasn't afraid to stray from the routine if baby was crying from hunger. She also eschewed the suggestion made by certain scheduling experts to start the day at the same time each morning. And she ignored advice to make the baby sleep in his own room. Each of her babies slept in a Moses basket on the floor of her and Dave's room.

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