Q: I have a baby that's due in just another few weeks and in my reading these past few months I have come across conflicting advice on feeding and sleeping patterns for babies. Some very credible sources advise feeding on demand and cuddling them when they want it. Others (such as yourself) say that the baby needs to have a routine and they should be fed and put to sleep according to a schedule. How do I know who to listen to? Is there a balance between the two ways? I'm confused! Kris
A: Your question is one parents ask me every single day, it was the key reason why I nearly 10 years ago started specializing in babies. At this time, I was expecting my first child and the conflicting information was a minefield and still is. One book would give you one piece of advice and another the complete opposite. Surely, I thought there must be some consensus as millions of babies are born every year. I started researching about babies and all the information I present to parents about caring for babies is from the fields of pediatrics and psychology.
As a parent and psychologist, I researched with an open mind and knew what I as a parent wanted for my baby but was unsure of the strategies I would need to get me there. For example, I knew I wanted to have a baby that slept well and was happy because as a psychologist I knew about the importance of sleep on brain development and other physical development.
At this point, I would have read about 100 + books on this topic, and worked with hundreds of parents. I have seen parents who have loved and stuck to very strict routines and parents who have had just about no routine. My recommendation to you and other parents based on all this knowledge and experience is to have a routine, just as you do for your day. It does not have to be strict and to the minute. In fact a flexible routine is the way to go. You need to learn about what your baby needs and wants, how often to expect your baby will need to be fed, how much sleep is really necessary and how to avoid the pitfalls that parents unwittingly fall into through lack of information. There are quite a few of them! You need to learn about sleeping cues, signs of tiredness and how to watch and see what your baby is telling you.
The type of routine I recommend to parents is really, not a timed routine but a set of expectations or parameters that I encourage parents to aim for. It is worthwhile to find out what is average for feeding and sleep and to look for signs from your baby to help you make decisions everyday. I certainly give parents a routine for the first weeks till they get to know their baby and can see their baby saying to them when they are tired and need to go to sleep.
To give you an example lets look at feeding. It is normal for babies during the day to feed every 3 - 4 hours, some babies even longer. Most babies that are well fed and healthy feed 4 hourly quite naturally. If your baby is demanding feeds every hour or two or even less, then I would be looking at a range of other factors that are involved. For instance if you feed every hour or so then your baby is only really having a snack instead of a meal and this will lead to your baby only sleeping for a short time and then waking after one sleep cycle and demanding a feed again. This leads to overtiredness for your baby and this leads to a range of other problems. Therefore, if you know this information you do not have to set your timer for 3 ½ hours and wake your baby at that time to feed but rather know what to expect and let your baby wake naturally at the end of their sleep and feed them when they are ready. As an informed parent, if your baby then wakes after 20 minutes of sleep crying then you will know that hunger is not the problem. Often parents do not know what their baby wants and everyone around them says to ‘feed the baby’.
You certainly need to inform yourself. The American Pediatrics Association wrote one of the best books I have ever read and they objectively analyzed all the different methods for managing newborn babies and looked at the outcomes for babies and parents. The method I am recommending to you was overall taking into account all different methods - the middle of the road and had the best outcomes for both babies and parents.
I also advise parents when trying to sift through the mountains of advice from neighbours, friends and family to take a good look at the person giving the advice and their family and how much they enjoy being a parent and if you like what you see then they would be worth listening to. If not, well, hmmm stick to your instincts.