Build the routine
Babies know how to let you know when they're hungry, tired, need attention, or need some quiet time -- even if it's only by squalling at the top of their lungs.
Your job is to figure out when your baby tends to want to eat, sleep, or play, then attend to his needs before he realizes he's hungry, tired, or bored.
If you're seeing obvious cues -- the aforementioned squall, say -- you're reacting instead of reinforcing a routine.
A good way to get in touch with your baby's body clock is to keep a journal, where you can note when he starts fussing to nurse or shows signs of sleepiness, as well as what times of the day he's most alert. Then you can begin to anticipate his needs in advance and build a daily schedule from there. If you notice that he starts clamoring for food at 11:00 in the morning, for instance, you can start preparing to nurse him a little before that.
Gena Flynn of Ann Arbor, Michigan, noticed her son Jacob would start rubbing his eyes at around 8:30 every night. By the time he was 7 months old, she'd developed a regular bedtime routine around it. "Every night, I run the bath, read him a book, feed him his bottle, then he's off to bed," she says. She begins at about 7:30 p.m., so by 8:30 he's already curled up with his favorite stuffed toy and ready to be tucked in.What's the most important part of the schedule? It depends on your baby and your situation. A regular bedtime is the Holy Grail for most moms, because it's often the hardest routine to establish (and the one they most desperately want to put in place). But if your baby isn't eating well or gaining weight, you'll want to make mealtimes your priority. If you have to get him ready for an early commute to daycare, the morning ritual is the one you'll need to focus on.
One routine will often build on another. Mimi Thomas, a Beltsville, Maryland, mom of three, started by establishing a sleep routine for her first baby. She wanted to have her in bed by 8:30 p.m., so she built her schedule backward based on that: dinner needed to be at around 6:30 p.m., which meant naps should be taken by 3 p.m., which put lunch at about 12:30 p.m.