Aubrey Cichelli's life revolves around her nine-month-old son's schedule. "I avoid running errands or making doctor's appointments near Jackson's naptimes or mealtimes," explains the mom from Salt Lake City. That's not all: Aubrey and her husband often skip the first half of their Sunday church service because it interferes with their son's morning nap. "We miss things occasionally," she says. "But, at the same time, his schedule keeps me sane."
While Aubrey may seem a bit more extreme than most moms, experts agree that having a regular routine can be good for your child. "Babies thrive on consistency, and they like knowing what comes next," says Michael Wasserman, M.D., a pediatrician at the Ochsner Clinic Foundation, in New Orleans. And being able to predict when your little one will be hungry or need a nap can be good for you too. "If the day follows a pattern, Mom knows when she'll have time to squeeze in a shower or even just open the mail," says Parents adviser Mark Widome, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Pennsylvania State University, in Hershey. "This can help her feel less stressed and more in control of her day."
That said, schedules aren't for everybody. "It all depends on your parenting style and your baby's temperament," Dr. Widome says. "Some babies naturally eat and sleep at the same times each day; others will resist a set routine." While parents of multiples often find they must synchronize their babies' days for efficiency's sake, moms and dads with older kids may discover that a rigid plan doesn't work for them. "Remember, a schedule is just a rough guideline," Dr. Wasserman says. "The key is to be flexible and find what works best for your family."
You may be eager to get your newborn started on a schedule, but unfortunately, you can't. "For the first six weeks to two months, infants need to be fed on demand because their stomachs are so small," Dr. Widome explains. "In addition, their sleep doesn't follow any predictable pattern—they just doze off several times a day."
Still, while you can't impose a schedule early on, you can take steps that'll make it easier to implement one down the road. Begin by doing activities—eating, playing, resting—in the same order throughout the day. And while bedtime may be late—from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m.—it's never too early for a soothing routine. Try a warm bath, massage, and lullaby before putting your baby to bed.
Once your baby is 2 or 3 months old, he'll eat less often and sleep for longer stretches. This is the perfect time to watch for any patterns that emerge. Here's what to expect.