On Chronicles of a Babywise Mom, Valerie is having readers share their Babywise success stories this week, either through their own blogs or hers. I would definitely consider Isabelle to be a Babywise success story, and since I know Babywise is pretty controversial, I thought I would share our story so that you can see a more positive view of infant scheduling.
Introduction to Babywise
Babywise was one of the first books I read when I found out I was pregnant. In fact, we weren't telling anyone that we were pregnant yet, so we stealthily snuck into the bookstore to purchase it. It's impossible to not run into someone we know at the bookstore, so we chatted with friends we ran into, pretended to be very interested in the biographies, and then snatched our copy of Babywise and darted to the checkout line. I had a number of friends who used Babywise and loved it (and an equal number who advised tossing it immediately), so I was very interested in finding out what all the fuss was about.
If you're not familiar with Babywise, here's the basic premise of their schedule. Feed your child every 2-4 hours. After feeding, keep your child awake for a while, which can vary, depending on the age of a child. A one month old will rarely be awake for an entire hour--sometimes you're just aiming for 15 minutes of awake time, especially in those early weeks. Then you may put your child down for a nap, and the cycle starts over again. But you must put your child into their bed while they are still awake. The whole goal of Babywise is for your child to be a self-soother who doesn't need any sort of sleep prop, be it a pacifier, sleeping with mom and dad, or being patted, held, or rocked to sleep. This is definitely over-simplifying it, so read the book if you really want to follow it! Tracy Hogg, in Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, my other favorite scheduling book, simplifies it further. It's basically EASY: Eat, Awake, Sleep, You!
Babywise in Real Life
Unless you're really interested in scheduling, skip to the bottom of this post! Here are the nitty gritty details of establishing an infant schedule. It has taken days to put this information together, because there are so many details that seem essential to give you a complete picture of scheduling a baby.
I somewhat began applying this immediately after we came home from the hospital, but my baby was a sleeper baby. She did not want to stay awake for a feeding. I took the advice in Babywise for the first 2 weeks at home: Don't look at the clocks! Feed the baby when needed and concentrate on full feedings, even if it means repeatedly waking up the baby to finish eating. Otherwise, my child would snack all day and a schedule would be nearly impossible. During those first two weeks, we also had to troubleshoot some incredibly difficult breastfeeding issues, so that was our primary concern. We also made sure that we let her soothe herself to sleep. Damian became the master swaddler, so we would swaddle her and put her down in her bassinet, and she'd quickly go to sleep on her own. One of the basic principles of both Babywise and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer is "begin as you mean to go." Don't start something at 2 weeks old that you're not willing to continue at 2 years old. A sweet, cuddly baby is very nice sleeping next to you in bed, but a kicking toddler who grabs your face probably isn't so pleasant.
Isabelle slept through the night twice during her first two weeks of life, but after that, I started setting my alarm clock so that I could wake her up for feedings. We were (rightly) concerned about weight gain issues because of the nursing problems, so we couldn't let her sleep.
After the first two weeks, we stuck closely to the Babywise plan. Babywise suggests two possible approaches. You can choose your child's wake-up time every day, so that it's always the same, or you can start the EASY cycle as soon as the baby wakes up for the day, whether that's 6:30 or 8:00. For the early days, we chose the more relaxed plan over a strict schedule. I fed her every 2-4 hours and followed the EASY plan. She didn't eat at the exact same time every day. But at three weeks, she started sleeping through the night again! And this time, since the doctor was pleased that she was gaining weight sufficiently, we followed the advice of every mom out there: Never wake a sleeping baby!
I was concerned that I wasn't on a super strict schedule yet, so when a fellow Babywise friend called to check up on us (and bring us a meal!), I asked her opinion. She said that obviously, what were doing worked. If I felt the need to adjust to a firmer schedule, then do it, but that I was still applying the principles and they were clearly working.
I decided that I wanted the comfort of a set schedule, so that I could, for example, plan to meet a friend for lunch at 11:30 next week and know that it wouldn't interfere with nursing or naptime. I looked through my records of Isabelle's nursing schedule for the past week and noticed a pattern. Yes, I'm a nerd who diligently wrote down nursing times! New moms are so sleep deprived that they often don't remember when they fed their child last. In fact, the bag the hospital gave me included a place to record nursing times and the length of time spent per side. So I looked through my records and noticed that Isabelle was eating at roughly the same times every day and was sleeping from midnight to 5 or 6 in the morning every night. It seemed we were on a schedule without realizing it, but it was an Isabelle dictated schedule. I then began following this schedule closely, because I loved the predictability of knowing when she would eat again.
At this point, having a newborn became so easy. Yes, I just said that. It was amazing how wonderful you feel when you're getting 6 hours of straight sleep, instead of being broken up in 2 hour increments throughout the night. And knowing when she would need to eat enabled me to do important things (like take a shower!) because I knew how long she would sleep. I had no fear that she would start screaming while I was in the shower because I knew her routine. I should probably mention that she remained a slow eater and a sleepy eater, so it would often take 1 - 1 1/2 hours to feed her. Can you imagine?? I became very adept at nursing and reading at the same time. It was very hard to cook dinner though, because she either needed to eat when I should've been cooking, or I would cook dinner and not eat because it was time to nurse again. Fortunately, we were blessed with meals from church, meals from other friends, and freezer meals that my mom and I had prepared ahead of time. Isabelle was 8 weeks old before I ever cooked dinner for us.
It only became easier. At 2 months, Isabelle started sleeping 8-9 hours per night. At 4 months, she slept round the clock, 12-13 hours straight. I was concerned about how this would affect my milk supply, so I did what's called a dream feed. Around 10:30-11, before I went to sleep, I would nurse her as she slept and quietly put her back in her crib. At 18 months, she still sleeps for 12 hours straight.
When she got older, we started our day at the same time every day, 7:30. If she woke up at 7, I didn't get her out of her crib until 7:30. She didn't cry, but instead would babble to herself or play with her hands and feet. Now, she plays with toys in her crib until mommy comes to get her and occasionally calls out "MommyDaddyMommyDaddy!" If I don't come, she goes back to playing.
Our Biggest Sleep Problem
I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the problems we encountered when Isabelle was tiny. Overall, Isabelle was a happy and content baby who rarely cried. Except when she had gas. We did have what would be called a colicky baby from time to time. Strangely, it would only hit about one night a week. Every other night, she was fine. Those nights were very tough, and we just had to survive with a crying baby who could not sleep, except by laying on us. So one night a week, we broke every rule of Babywise. I don't know how parents deal with that every night. We were so relieved when she finally outgrew it.
We Love It!
The bottom line is that we love Babywise. As a baby, Isabelle rarely cried. She was very content, and Babywise only enhanced that. Many people feel that scheduling a baby is terrible or awful because it's simply cruel to refuse to feed a child when he or she is hungry. I agree completely. With Babywise, I usually fed her before she had a chance to realize she was hungry. I would either feed her based on the clock or feed her based on her own cues. If I noticed she was sucking on her hands, then I checked the clock and would discover that I should've started feeding her 10 minutes ago. Relatives called her the "no cry baby," and we were repeatedly complimented on how content she was.
Another reason I love Babywise is because I nursed Isabelle. Many women, even stay-at-home moms, feel the need to stop nursing early because they feel tied down. Initially, this didn't bother me because I viewed it as a short term issue. I felt that it was worth it to be tied down and give my baby the gift of a healthy start in life. But I nursed my daughter for nearly 17 months. A week and a half after weaning her, I discovered I was pregnant again. So essentially, since early 2008 until early 2012, I will be either nursing or pregnant. Wow. Now I don't see it as a short term issue!
But what I did discover with nursing Isabelle and using Babywise is that, after 17 months of nursing, I didn't feel tied down. Once I'd spent my 6 weeks or so recovering from my c-section, I was able to go where I wanted to, when I wanted to, with or without the baby, because I knew her routine. I did Ladies Night Out with MOPS, started going to the gym when Isabelle was 10 weeks old, and went about my usual routine of Bible study, MOPS, and church during the week. Grocery shopping and running errands weren't much of an issue either. I also loved blowing a hole in the theory that only a bottle fed baby sleeps through the night early, or that you must give your child rice cereal early if you want him to sleep through the night. I didn't introduce solids until Isabelle was 6 1/2 months old.
Is Babywise for you?
Only you know the answer to that. Read it and see what you think. I love having my daughter on a schedule, but we firmly believe that we are not slaves to her schedule. We'll let her stay up late when family visits so that they can have more time with her or push her nap back to 2 so that she can go shopping with her grandmother. Babywise reiterates several times that the schedule serves you--you don't serve the schedule.
But a schedule is not for everyone. Damian and I have personalities that crave peace in our home, and we both love order. We also have lots of places that we like to go, and we knew a routine for the baby would actually give us the freedom to do the things we want to do. We believed firmly that we wanted Isabelle on a schedule, did not want her sleeping in our bed, and that we didn't want it to take 30 minutes to put the baby to bed, because these things are what's best for our family. But they're not what's best for everyone. There's a lot of freedom in the various decisions a mom must make about things like scheduling or cloth diapers, and there's not a one size fits all answer. I never want to make anyone feel guilty for doing things differently than me. Just like cloth diapering and making my own baby food do not make me a better mom than someone else, scheduling doesn't make us better parents either.
If you read Babywise and feel that it's too strict for you, check out Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. It's a much gentler approach to scheduling, and suited the nurturing side of my personality much better. After reading the Baby Whisperer, I felt it was OK to rock my daughter at bedtime. It's a part of our bedtime routine. I sing three songs to her while rocking and then put her to bed completely awake. She does the rest. When people read Babywise, sometimes they feel that it's never OK to rock your baby, which is a shame. I love snuggling with my baby girl in the glider at bedtime, but it's not necessary for her to go to sleep.
The principles given in Babywise helped us get off to a smooth start and prevented me from being as frazzled and sleep-deprived as I could've been. I look foreward to applying these ideas with Baby #2, but I also know that I can't expect the same results. Few children sleep through the night at 3 weeks. But most sleep through the night at 8-13 weeks if they're on a schedule, so at least I know that at some point, sleep will come for both of us.
Did you love or hate Babywise? I'd love to hear your experiences, positive or negative, or answer any questions you have about scheduling.