Why “Eat, Play, Sleep” Doesn’t Work For Me (and our kids)

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.

montana 467 (800x800)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“)

This entry was posted in Ellie, Mark, nursing, parenting and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Why “Eat, Play, Sleep” Doesn’t Work For Me (and our kids)

  1. Mom says:

    Wise words, Laura!

  2. Sepideh Miller says:

    We did a Sleep, Eat, Play, Eat, Sleep, Eat schedule. Having a routine was good, but I am finding myself more resistant to routine as we approach the age of the helicopter parents who shuffle kids from school to after school activities, and children no longer have unstructured play time.

    • Laura says:

      Today, we were eating almost every hour it seems! 🙂 And I’m totally with you on the unstructured play time. It’s so important for kids development and I feel like it’s frowned upon – as if it’s lazy parenting or something, when it’s totally not! 😦

  3. Eliz. K says:

    I love this. My Little One loves to nurse to sleep (and bf’ed offffften as a littler baby, and started out and still only sleeps for 45 minute naps– so good to hear a similar story!). He goes right to sleep after our nap/bedtime routines (“nibble and a nap!”), and it works beautifully for us. SO many people discourage this type of parenting, and I’m glad to have worked it out for ourselves; it’s also nice to hear support every once in a while!

    Question that I have been dying to ask you for a while: Did you/how did you night-wean Ellie? Did you make changes or did she decide? My Litttle Guy sleeps with us a lot of the time still, but at 14 months I’m beginning to think about some small changes… (he is up pretty often at night, usually) Any thoughts? (If you have time!)

    • Laura says:

      Thanks Elizabeth! I feel like it’s this shameful secret or something (ooh, your baby nurses to sleep too? Shh, don’t tell anyone!) and so I figured it would be good to put the word out that it’s OK! 🙂 About night weaning, I’ve been writing some other sleep posts in my head so maybe I’ll just do a mini-sleep series, including how we night-weaned Ellie (three times before it finally stuck!).

    • Ann says:

      As a mom who nursed babies on demand about 2o years ago (wow) this is how we did it… when the babies were old enough to drink from a cup (about 8-9 months, maybe?), mid-night nursing stopped. If they woke up, Daddy picked them up, offered milk in a cup (in case they were genuinely hungry), cuddled them a bit and put them back to bed (the crib, not our bed, at that point). This will not work if Mom picks them up, though, because they will want to nurse! Every baby is different but this strategy worked well for us.

  4. Joy says:

    Very wise post. I agree wholeheartedly! I love a good schedule, so the “eat, play, sleep” schedule is what I implemented with Oliver. It worked for us, but I also had more “first time mom” stress than I would’ve liked to. By the time Sullivan came along, I chilled out and thought, “by golly, if I want to rock my baby to sleep, I’m going to!” 🙂 We still did mostly an “eat, play, sleep” schedule, but much looser than with my first baby. I completely agree that you have to go with your own personal convictions and desires and do what works for you! Snuggling your baby (or in my current case, your 5-year-old) to sleep is one of the most wonderful things in the world. 🙂

    • Laura says:

      Thanks Joy! Yes, I know every mama/baby pair has to find their own rhythm. (As in the same mama with different babies will be different, just like you wrote!) I think there’s a certain amount of freedom that we have to allow ourselves as parents – to do what works for our kids and for us, regardless of what the books tell us (or what other people say is the best way). So nice to hear from you! 🙂

  5. Pingback: The Four-Month Change – It’s Not You, It’s Your Baby’s Brain | Salmon and Souvlaki

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