Babies are creatures of habit — and that's good. While predictability can be a death knell for some relationships (dinner and a movie again?), knowing what and when something will happen actually helps forge those priceless parent-child bonds while making life easier all around. “Babies develop a sense of safety and trust when they have good, solid routines,” says Karen Ruskin, author of The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices. “It helps them thrive.” Those feelings of love and security will stick with your child for years.
Even if you take a “go with the flow” approach to your day, establishing a rhythm to the daily activities of eating, sleeping and even bathing can go a long way toward creating a calmer household for everyone (even Fido!).
Satisfaction is Served
Your baby will be happier and more relaxed if he learns early on that when he's hungry, you feed him. And if you're breastfeeding, your milk supply will be more consistent if you stick to a regular routine. “It's supply and demand,” says Colette M. Acker, executive director at the Breastfeeding Resource Center in Abington, Pennsylvania. “If the baby takes milk out, the body will replenish it.”
When baby is ready for solids, include him in the family meal. A recent study in Pediatrics says kids who regularly sit down with their parents at mealtimes are less likely to be overweight and more likely to eat a diet rich in nutrients. There's no reason to wait, says child nutrition expert Jill Castle R.D., owner of Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills in Nashville, Tennessee. “Pull up her highchair, and give her a spot at the table as soon as you begin spoon feeding,” she says. “A lot of learning goes on at family meals.”
Your Best Bet
As soon as your baby shows signs of hunger (rooting, fussing), sit in a cozy spot with a nursing pillow (great for bottle feeding too) and soft music playing. “If your baby is easily distracted when nursing, you might try going into a quiet room with the lights low,” says Jim Sears M.D., co-author of The Baby Book. “The baby can predict, ‘Oh, we're moving to a dim room — it's time to eat now.’”
When nursing or bottle feeding, watch for baby's cues he's full, such as nibbling rather than long, drawn-out sucking or looking super relaxed, says Christine Wood M.D., a pediatrician in Encinitas, California. “Honor these cues during infancy to help baby learn self-regulation,” Dr. Wood says. Down the road, “this could help prevent obesity.”
Don't freak out if your baby doesn't eat every three hours. “A routine isn't the same as a schedule,” says Dr. Sears. “You want to strive for consistency, for a pattern in what you do rather than stick to a rigid timetable.” It's OK to free yourself from the rigidity of feedings every day at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., but follow the same patterns at each feeding so baby knows what comes next. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding on demand, especially during the first few weeks of baby's life when you're establishing your milk supply.