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Scheduling Savvy

It's hard to imagine when you're in the midst of new-baby chaos, but a routine can be critical for your baby  -- and for you. The predictability of a schedule helps your child make sense of her new world and feel safe, explains Paula Zeanah, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at Tulane University School of Medicine, in New Orleans. It's best not to start one in the first few weeks of your baby's life, when she needs to be fed on demand and her sleeping is erratic. But by 3 months, most babies should be ready for some level of routine. Here are some tips for getting started:

Begin with eating and sleeping. At 3 months, your baby will generally be able to wait three to four hours between feedings and stay awake for longer periods. This is the ideal age to start establishing regular times to wake up, eat, nap, and go to bed, says Zeanah. You'll also want to build in parts of the day for reading, playing, or other activities, such as taking a walk or going to the store. End each day with the same quiet bedtime rituals  -- a bath, book, or lullaby  -- to help your baby wind down for a good night's sleep.

Follow your baby's cues. By the time you start a routine with your baby, she'll already have some predictable times when she's sleepy, playful, or hungry. She'll probably also have preferences  -- things that make her alert or calm her down. Build these into the routine. If a bath revs your baby up, for example, it's probably best not to give her one before bedtime.

Keep at it. Some children will easily fall into a routine, while others will have more difficulty. If your baby is having trouble getting on a schedule, modify things slowly, suggests Zeanah. If she resists naptime, just let her relax in her crib even if she doesn't sleep. Then at least she'll get rest.

The key, says Zeanah, is to keep a consistent schedule so your baby will know what will happen next. If you can, try to keep the routine going when you go on vacation. "Your baby will feel less anxious  -- and so will you  -- when the daily routine is the same, even if the surrounding isn't," explains Zeanah.

Plan time for yourself. Use the new predictability of your day to take a few minutes for yourself. Read a book, take a bath, or just put your feet up.