A fairly common piece of parenting advice for new moms (particularly when their babies are newborns), is that their babies should be on an “Eat, Play, Sleep” schedule. They should nurse, then have awake time, then fall asleep on their own, and then nurse when they wake up and start the cycle all over again. The idea is that this way, the baby won’t learn to associate nursing with sleeping and therefore, nap times and bedtimes will be easier.
For some babies and some mamas, I know this works just fine. For my babies and me, however, it’s never been even remotely possible. Both Ellie and Mark nursed about every two hours when they were infants. They also took fairly short naps (Ellie – about 30 minutes at a time, Mark – closer to 45 at a time). Sometimes they wanted to be awake for just an hour before going back to sleep, sometimes closer to two hours. Every day their sleeping and eating needs were changing. With Ellie, I tried (albeit halfheartedly) to stick to that schedule but it just never lined up. Sometimes Mark would do a schedule something like, “eat, play, eat, sleep, eat, play, eat, sleep” etc. I would have gone CRAZY trying to keep to the “Eat, Play, Sleep” schedule.
At 7 1/2 months, usually Mark nurses to sleep but sometimes we just rock if he doesn’t want to nurse. Other times, he prefers to be worn to sleep. If we’re out and about, he falls asleep on me in the Ergo. We roll with how our day is going and do what works at the time. On Wednesday, he took three naps – one in the car, one in the Ergo at our fun outing, and one (finally!) on the bed after nursing to sleep. For us, every day is different and I’m OK with that.
napping on the go at Crystal Park in Montana, July 2013
I know for other mamas, a variable routine like this would be difficult and so they prefer a more predictable schedule. If this is what works best for the mama and baby, then that’s great! There’s nothing wrong with following the “Eat, Play, Sleep” schedule if it works for you and your baby. But there is also nothing wrong with nursing your baby to sleep if that works better for the two of you. Every baby/mama pair is different. Hard and fast rules such as, “Never let your baby nurse to sleep,” only serve to cause angst among the mamas for whom nursing to sleep is a wonderful and useful parenting tool. I can promise you that your baby will not be nursing to sleep when he/she goes off to college! In fact, it will stop long before that! Even Ellie, voracious committed nurser that she was, no longer nurses to sleep. We still nurse at bedtime but only for a few minutes. After that, either Nik or I just cuddle with her and she puts herself to sleep.
So, nurse your baby to sleep if that’s what your baby needs. Help your baby gently slip into sleep another way if that works better for you and your baby. Listen to your God-given mama instinct and do what your baby needs. If you have questions or need help, ask another mama who you trust but take even her advice with the caveat that you should adjust anything you do to your particular baby’s particular needs.
“Eat, Play, Sleep” or “Sleep, Eat, Play, Eat, Sleep, Eat” or “Play, Eat, Sleep” or some other combination? They’re all good!
(Another post of mine related to this – “We Trust Our Baby and Ourselves“)