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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Babies Aren't Machines; Throw the Schedule Out the Window

One of my biggest problems with blogging is that many bloggers work for organizations that pass themselves off as news. They call their pieces articles. These are not articles. They're commentary at best (and this includes my own work. Unless I'm citing pediatricians and other experts and fully exploring and representing both sides of an issue, which I don't think I've ever done, this is not news. This is opinion.)**

So that when an "article" comes down the pipe on about putting small infants on a schedule and cites one pediatrician and a whole lot of anecdotal evidence, I get a bit miffed.

Sue Buchelt tells me that parents are supposed to start working toward getting their infants on a schedule as soon as they leave the hospital. Her methods include stuffing the baby as full as he can get so that he goes at least 3.5 hours between feedings (both breastfed and formula fed) and letting the infant cry it out if he wakes up before it's time.

But it's okay. She knows. Her pediatrician told her. Plus, she has four kids. A singleton and triplets, and it worked for them, so obviously she's an expert on everyone else's kids' needs, as well.

She suggests this schedule and says her singleton was on it and sleeping through the night at six weeks. Her triplets? By three months.

6:30 am feeding
nap after feeding (in bed)
10:00 am feeding
1:30 pm feeding
nap after feeding (in bed)
5:00 pm feeding
8:30 pm feeding

That right there looks more like a dream to me, and not the kind I'm getting while I let my children scream in bed for twenty minutes after they wake up (we'll get to that piece of advice in a moment). And if Buchelt was able to pull it off, more power to her. But what about you? What if your baby gets hungry in between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m.? What if he gets tired after his 10 a.m. feeding? What if he won't go down for a nap after his 6:30 a.m.?

Babies, especially very young infants, are not made to fit into your sleep schedule. If you expect to regiment them like this, you are probably in for major disappointment. You're setting yourself up for failure. Babies aren't meant to be scheduled so young. They're all so different. They get hungry at different times for different reasons. Feed them. They are tired early? Put them to sleep. They wake up crying? For God's sake, go to them.

Babies are not machines. They may not be able to express their feelings, but that doesn't mean they don't feel. There's not a damn thing they understand in the world that they just came into, and parents are supposed to leave them hungry because it's not 1 p.m. yet? Parents are supposed to let their infants fend for themselves in the dark, in a room alone, because they've woken up before the allotted time?

The baby isn't crying to annoy you. She's not crying to interrupt your sleep pattern. It's not about you at all. Your baby is crying because she's wet, or she's hungry, or she's scared. She's only just weeks old. She doesn't even know how to smile yet, let alone manipulate you to get some more mommy-time out of the deal. There's plenty of time for that when the children are three, like mine. It does not start in the first months of life. No. In the first months of life, they cry because they need you. Buchelt would abandon them because her pediatrician told her to?

She says, "You need to be okay with letting your baby cry for 15-20 minutes. Which can be pure torture, but if you are the type of person that needs to pick your baby up every time you hear a peep, this will never work for you."

There is a big difference between uninterrupted wailing for 20 minutes and "a peep," and to be quite honest, even if you are the type to check on the baby at every peep, it's okay. It's your baby. It's okay for you to be worried about him and check whenever you want to. You'll soon get to know your own child, provided you listen to your own intuition and your infant's cues, and you'll soon know when the child is resettling and when he actually needs something, be it a diaper change or just some reassurance that you are still there.

Because twenty minutes of listening to crying is hard on an adult, certainly. But how long do you think that twenty minutes is to the infant who is waiting for someone to come? The baby doesn't stop crying because she's magically become satisfied on her own. She doesn't stop crying because her little mind-game didn't work. There is no mind-game. The baby stopped crying because she gave up hope. So, in two months' time, if you've managed to train your child like this, you may very well be sleeping through the night. But you're doing so at the expense of your infant's trust. She needs you. Why not go check on her instead of "putting a pillow over your head"?

Now, if you're one of the unlucky parents who have a lively one who's not ready to give up after 20 minutes, Buchelt advises you go ahead and check on him. But make sure you don't treat him like a human being.

"Do not talk to your baby, and do not make eye contact. No, you’re not being mean, your just letting them know that it’s bed time, not play time."

Yes, you are being mean. You're baby is mere weeks old. He doesn't know bed time versus play time. He only knows that he needed something, he was scared and crying for 20 minutes, and no one came to his aid. He only knows that now that someone finally arrived, she's not there to comfort him.

Then Buchelt comes out with this gem.

"Now offer them some distilled/nursery water for 5-10 minutes. My daughter never drank out of a bottle, so she outright refused the bottle and 2 out of 3 of the triplets drank the water, but either way, it just another way to stall their feeding time."

Everything I've heard says not to give infants water. Ever. But barring that, why on Earth would you want to delay a feeding? If your seven-pound child is hungry, she probably needs to eat, and she probably needs to eat now. Filling her with water to trick her little body into thinking it's full does no favors for anyone. She's hungry because she needs nutrients. This is biological. You'd deny your infant her biological needs because you know better than her body? I don't know, it just seems off to me.

But, guys, if you don't think Buchelt's method will work, she's got irrefutable evidence. It not only worked for her, it also worked for her sister, who has four kids. That's eight children this method has worked for! Oh, and don't forget the other triplet mom for whom it worked. That's eleven children who responded to being bullied into a schedule. With those kinds of numbers in support of this method, I'm surprised everyone isn't doing it.

The point of this post is that mothers give birth to babies, not machines. Babies don't cry to piss their mothers off. There is, at that age, a very good reason for them to be crying. It's the parents' job to figure it out. If you can do that, you'll be sleeping again a lot sooner than those who spend their nights staring at the clock, waiting for their 20 minutes of screaming to be up so they can  go check on their hungry, wet, scared child.

Buchelt's article:

**Just to be clear, I understood that this piece was a blog.

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  1. I hate the "it works" justification. Yes, following this method may very well end with your newborn sticking to a strict schedule and not eating that much, but that's not why I'm opposed. I'm opposed because that's not how newborns operate, and it's cruel. Since when is it ok to take a Machiavellian approach to caring for a baby right out of the hospital?

  2. If you are not the type that can't handle having your schedule interrupted by a child, you shouldn't have kids. If kids are that much of an inconvenience that you can't be bothered to get up with them in the morning or feed them when they're hungry or change their wet pants, you'd be better off childfree.

  3. Sorry, I meant if you ARE the type....

  4. Please get YOUR facts straight. Patch blogs are not Patch news articles. She's doing the same thing you are on a different platform.

  5. You're right. My first paragraphs are not clear. Patch blogs are not their news, and I did not mean to imply that they were. What I meant by that is that once someone writes something and publishes on the internet, it carries more weight than it sometimes ought, and I wanted to remind people that there are many things on the internet (including my own pieces) that are simply opinion.

  6. wow. I can't believe this sort of advice is on the internet in any sort of official capacity - even as an opinion blog - considering the mayo clinic and AAP both do not condone scheduling babies that young OR giving water to newborns. Disconcerting that this is being passed on as sage advice when it's definitely not main-stream and borderline dangerous. :-/

  7. I read that post to my husband and his first question was "is she training dogs? or raising a human to grow up? 'don't look them in the eye' is something they tell you not to do to dogs!"

    Having just had my baby, I can't imagine just ignoring her cries to eat, or withholding her food, all I want to do is snuggle and cuddle her all day long.

  8. Amen and amen! It breaks my mama heart to think about these poor helpless beings having all this negative intent heaped on their tiny selves, screaming away in confusion and fear and hunger, all because some idiot decided that children are responsible for keeping our lives convenient.

    This is the reality of what babies are like. If you don't like it, don't have children (which is something I rarely say ;)).

  9. I'm right with you. My son was feeding every hour when he was first born (longer at night between feeds). I can't imagine ignoring him for 2 hours just because 3-4 hourly feeds is considered "normal". He's a small boy and just needs to feed often. It's stretched out to 2 1/2 hours now :)

    I don't like listening to him cry, I'd much rather try and sort out the problem, or at least give him a hug!



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