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Routines are comforting by Paula Spencer


Child-development specialists tend to agree that babies thrive best on a routine. "Routines are comforting. They're a stabilizing force in the life of even a young infant," explains Will Wilkoff, M.D., a pediatrician

"He learns to expect pretty much the same things to happen at about the same time in the same place and with the same people." This regularity helps a baby to feel more secure, he says, and to gradually adjust his own body rhythms to predictable patterns for sleeping, eating, and activity  -- which over time makes everyone's life easier. The first year of life is full of so many new experiences, being able to count on certain occurrences day in and day out is incredibly consoling for your baby.

But what kind of routine is best? The answer is less "by the book" than you might think  -- and that should come as welcome news no matter what your parenting style. Good routines are as diverse as families are, and how you follow one is less important than that you simply do. Even so, most parents fall into one of three general camps. Read on to see which one suits you best and how you can tailor it to your needs and those of your baby.

The structured routine

Some experts tout a fairly specific program. One popular example is the late "baby whisperer" Tracy Hogg's E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your time) plan, in which parents pace their baby through regular cycles of these events, repeating roughly every three hours. Like Hogg's plan, structured routines tend to feature sample schedules and suggested timetables. The controversial guide On Becoming Babywise, by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, M.D., takes structure a step further, recommending feeding by the clock.

benefits: What to do is all laid out there for you, which some moms may find less stressful than a blank slate.

drawbacks: Reality tends not to fit neatly into a chart on the printed page, causing frustration for some parents and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you breastfeed when your baby shows signs of hunger, not when the clock tells you to. "A lot of new parents are looking for a framework," says Laura Jana, M.D., coauthor of the AAP's Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. "But then they take that framework to be an ideal that has to work the same way every time. That's not very real."

At the other end of the spectrum are routines in which the parents follow the baby's cues. One philosophy of parenting, called "attachment parenting," for example, features breastfeeding on demand (your baby's demand, that is), wearing your baby in a sling, and lying down with your baby to sleep when he seems tired. William Sears, M.D., author of The Attachment Parenting Book and The Baby Book (and also a Babytalk contributing editor), emphasizes responding to a baby's cues to shape her day rather than following rigid schedules.

benefits: It's fairly easy for many parents to do. Many babies love and respond well to all the extra attention and closeness.

drawbacks: Not all babies fall into good routines on their own, and some need a guiding structure from their parents. Some parents find this approach overly restrictive to their day or incompatible with the demands of work or older siblings.

The structured routine

Some experts tout a fairly specific program. One popular example is the late "baby whisperer" Tracy Hogg's E.A.S.Y. (Eat, Activity, Sleep, Your time) plan, in which parents pace their baby through regular cycles of these events, repeating roughly every three hours. Like Hogg's plan, structured routines tend to feature sample schedules and suggested timetables. The controversial guide On Becoming Babywise, by Gary Ezzo and Robert Bucknam, M.D., takes structure a step further, recommending feeding by the clock.

benefits: What to do is all laid out there for you, which some moms may find less stressful than a blank slate.

drawbacks: Reality tends not to fit neatly into a chart on the printed page, causing frustration for some parents and children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you breastfeed when your baby shows signs of hunger, not when the clock tells you to. "A lot of new parents are looking for a framework," says Laura Jana, M.D., coauthor of the AAP's Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. "But then they take that framework to be an ideal that has to work the same way every time. That's not very real."

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