Jessica Stebbins, MS, Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern
Discovery Institute, P.A. Rockledge, FL
Serving Brevard County
Should you put your baby on a schedule for when they will be eating, sleeping, and playing? This is one of those topics that “baby experts” have strong opinions on and typically they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Some say it is best to have baby on a strict schedule, and others say feed baby on demand. I believe the best answer is actually not either of the extremes, but is somewhere in the middle.
If you think about it, the majority of people function best on a schedule. We go to bed around the same time, eat around the same time, and do many other things at the same time each day. It helps us to stay organized and lends some predictability to our day. Keeping a flexible schedule for your baby will do the same thing for him/her.
No matter which type of schedule you put baby on, it is important to remember to be flexible. Although it is helpful for baby to be on a schedule, there are always variations in the way our day unfolds. For instance, your baby will not always take the same length nap, and there may be reasons for your baby to be more or less hungry. We cannot force anyone, let alone a baby, to eat or sleep when they are not tired or hungry (or even sometimes when they are). Trying to do so will only frustrate you. More importantly, however, is making sure your baby gets enough food and sleep based on their individual needs for brain and overall growth.
Mental Health Benefits
You should learn your child’s cues for hunger and fatigue and respond to them appropriately. If your child is acting hungry and it is not time for them to eat based on your schedule, still try to feed him/her. Babies go through growth spurts and you do not want to make your baby uncomfortable. As for the mental health benefits of listening to your baby’s cues, it can help your baby build self-confidence. As you accurately respond to your baby’s cues, you will increase your baby’s level of trust in you to take care of those needs and trust in him/herself in order to communicate what those needs are. Feeding your baby when they are hungry has also been shown to reduce stress. Although we are not aware of these early lessons we learn while babies, they help shape who we become as adults.
If you are in the Brevard County area and are looking for a counselor, please contact me. I would be happy to talk to you about the services I offer and would look forward to working with you.