Putting My Baby On a Routine Was the Best Decision I’ve Made for My Family

I was clueless when I was pregnant with my first child. Three years later, I still feel clueless, but the decision to put my children on a routine has been one of the best parenting decisions I’ve made for our family.

My childhood best friend lives in Houston, and we were having dinner one night when we were both pregnant with our first children. She mentioned that she was reading a book by a British nanny named Gina Ford about putting your baby on a schedule. I remember saying, “Shouldn’t your baby be eating when hungry and sleeping when tired?”

In theory, yes, of course your baby should be eating when he/she is hungry and sleeping when he/she is tired. But what happens when you want to get things done? What happens when you are shuttling around your older children to various activities? What happens when you want some sort of normalcy to each day as you navigate the uncharted waters of new motherhood? Those questions led me to look into schedules and routines, and our decision to establish—and stick to—a strict routine with our children has saved my sanity.

Let’s go back to the beginning. There are two schools of thought when it comes to putting babies on an eating and sleeping routine: baby-led or parent-led. Baby-led (or child-led) is when your baby dictates how your day will go. You use your baby’s natural hunger and sleeping cues to decide what to do. Parent-led is when you, the parent, dictates how your day will go. You have set windows of time in which your baby eats and sleeps. Neither is wrong; your baby’s needs are still being met under each philosophy. It is just a personal preference and what works for your family. After I learned about these basic parenting philosophies, and knowing how Type A I am, I decided that I would implement a parent-led routine for my first-born.

Parent-led routines get a bad rap. When I recently asked a girlfriend who is pregnant with her first-born if she planned to put her baby on a routine, she replied, “Well, of course I am going to feed him when he’s hungry.” The misunderstanding that you wait to feed your baby at a certain time comes from a philosophy that began in the 1920s called “clock feeding.” In short, a baby was to be fed every four hours on the dot. If the baby got hungry before those four hours, that was too bad; the mother would let the baby cry until it was time to eat. Now, I cannot imagine a newborn waiting every four hours to eat. Currently, my six-month-old eats every three-and-a-half hours. But clock feeding was the popular method at the time.

In the 1940s and 1950s, a new philosophy emerged, in which the child would lead with what he/she wanted or needed and the parent would be directed by the child (e.g., a baby-led routine). Since then, the two methods have become modernized.

I chose to go with the parenting-led approach based on the fact that I personally enjoy having my own days scheduled. As a stay-at-home mom, I didn’t want to play the guessing game all day as to what to do with my baby. Also, many of the parent-led approaches claim to help your baby sleep through the night sooner, which would’ve been an added bonus (spoiler alert: it didn’t exactly work out that way with my second baby). I did have concerns about what to do when my baby was hungry before the designated eating time, but every book I read about the parent-led approach suggests feeding your baby when he/she is showing cues, even if that happens outside of the eating window. In my own routine, this translates to feeding both of my children when they show me their hunger cues.

After researching much about the parent-led approach, I decided to read the book my friend recommended, The New Contented Little Baby Book by Gina Ford. As this method is supposedly used by Kate Middleton (the Duchess of Cambridge), I think that any routine good enough for a future monarch is good enough for my peasant child. In our house we affectionately call this method the “Royalty Routine.” It is incredibly strict, and you are given specific times in which you feed your baby and put him/her down for naps. This method worked well for my first-born, as he was our only child. In the beginning, I fed him on demand (as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics), but once it was established by my pediatrician that he was gaining weight and growing consistently, I gave the parent-led method a shot.

To be completely honest, it was incredibly difficult. I remember crying outside my son’s bedroom door while trying to get him to nap in the early days of the routine. He would scream, likely because he was over-tired, and I questioned everything I read about in the book. I would call my husband every nap time and tell him that I thought we’d made a mistake and that I wanted to burn the book. Eventually we both got the hang of things, and our son became a champion on the routine. The negative I found with a strict routine is that I was frankly afraid to leave the house. I would make and cancel plans because I was so worried that my son wouldn’t sleep at night if I got him off his routine. We became homebodies, which ended up taking a toll on my sanity.

Although I was able to implement a strict routine with my first child, I realize it is not for everyone. He had (and still has) a strict 7:00 P.M. bedtime that I know wouldn’t work for many mothers, especially working moms. For me, I had to figure out something to help make the days go more smoothly so I wasn’t wondering what to do with him all day.

When I was pregnant with my second, I brushed up on the Royalty Routine and decided that it wouldn’t work with being a mom to an older sibling. My oldest had activities he had to get to, and I couldn’t put his life on hold so that my youngest could nap at home.

I researched more about other, less-strict routines and decided to use the popular Babywise method. With this method, you establish an eat/play/sleep structure for your day. I found that this worked very well for our second child in the beginning while I was just surviving being a mom of two. After my second child got the hang of Babywise, I transitioned him to the Royalty Routine, and we have been practicing it ever since. My first was a champion sleeper, and I credit it to the Royalty Routine, but my second is still figuring it out. Nighttime sleep is a work in progress for him, but I love that his day is routine and I can plan our outings around his sleeping schedule.

There are lots of amazing resources online and in print to help you decide what is right for your family. I suggest that whatever you choose, you find a supportive community to help you through it because there will be days when you want to throw in the towel. Facebook groups have been my saving grace as I am figuring it all out. Talk to friends and family to see what they do, and then see if that would work for you.

Whatever method you choose is up to you. In the end, know that you are doing your best, and really, that is all that matters.

Julianne is not originally from San Antonio. She grew up in Midland, Texas where the air smells like oil and everyone fights for the shady parking spot. She moved to San Antonio as a newlywed in Fall of 2012 and has been in love with the city ever since. She is married to the love of her life, Dave, and has two wonderful boys, Luke (March 2016) and Miller (December 2018). She is the CEO of the Reeves household and is a proud Aggie from the class of 2008. She spends her free time in the kitchen or at her sewing machine.