Sara Connolly, MD, FAAP, is a Board Certified Pediatrician who practices in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Some families have settled in to one while others are still sleep-deprived. You may not have found a routine that has stuck yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to get one! Dr. Sara Connolly discusses how to get into a schedule with your 11 week old, so everyone can sleep well and be happy.
Bundoo: By Week 11, it’s safe to say that many parents have settled into a routine. How important is a routine for a baby of this age? Do they find routines comforting or aren’t they really aware of routine?
Dr. Sara Connolly: Every family is different, but I find that routines are comforting to everyone after so many weeks of living moment to moment with a newborn. Right around now, feeding and awake/sleep schedules should fall into a rhythm. Some families follow the clock and some are more fluid, but you should have at least some idea of when your baby will eat or sleep next. Often, mothers are returning to work, which means being tasked with the chore of teaching someone else your child’s schedule so the weekends are not a complete surprise. Babies are aware of routines and generally find calm in their predictability. Especially important are routines for nap and bedtimes, which help cue the baby it is time to rest. If you are not aware of your infant’s routine, try keeping a log for a few days of when you feed and when they rest. There is likely a pattern in there somewhere and you can base your routine off their natural rhythm. Then you can begin to structure your day so you are home when they need to rest, avoiding an overtired baby.
How sensitive are babies at this age to their parent’s emotions and state of mind? Do they easily pick up on what Mom and Dad are feeling and mirror that?
Babies at this age begin to enjoy looking at faces. They smile when you smile and may coo when you speak to them. These interactions with familiar caregivers help babies stay relaxed and calm. Of course, if someone is rough, loud, or neglectful infants may cry or show distress. When upset, they may not feed or sleep well. If you have reached this mark and life with your baby is very difficult either due to their temperament or something going on in the home, please discuss your feelings with their physician. Postpartum depression is treatable, but doctors cannot always “tell” just by looking at you or your spouse. Similarly, some babies are generally calm, some occasionally upset, and some are very high needs. High needs babies are stressed by nearly everything, screaming often and without a clear reason. They may not sleep well, require lots of attention, and can be very frustrating to care for. Discuss any concerns with your doctor if your child fits this description.
Do you have any advice for parents of toddlers and new babies on how they can help the older child understand the new family dynamic?
Maintaining your toddler’s routine is one way to help them adjust to the changes of the new baby. Keeping sleep and meal times consistent as well as maintaining any daily rituals (e.g., morning walks, reading times, etc.) help your toddler deal with the spontaneous changes that come with having a new baby. Young toddlers just want to be included, so cuddling them while nursing is reassuring. Older toddlers and preschoolers want to be helpful, so asking them to help by handing you something, singing to the baby, etc., makes them feel needed and loved. Expect meltdowns, as their world has just been turned on edge. Allow extra time for quiet one-on-one interaction (turn the TV and cell phones off!) so they know you are present.
How much control do parents have over their baby’s eating and sleeping schedule? Do you recommend feeding and sleeping on the baby’s schedule, or trying to schedule things out?
This is the million-dollar question! By this age, you are tired. Some babies are so easy and have fallen into a clear, predictable feeding and sleeping schedule. While you may not sleep all night, they give you one 6-8 hour stretch that makes all the difference. Some are just the opposite and behave just like their newborn selves, making for tired families. Again, if you are not sure who is driving the ship, take 3-4 days and write out when the baby is eating and sleeping, and then look closely for patterns. If you are still in a feed every two hours and sleep for no more than 2 hours pattern, then it’s time for some sleep training. Make sure you address any medical issues that might be interfering such as poor weight gain or Gastroesophageal reflux and then figure out the barriers to getting your infant on a family-friendly schedule. Are you running around too much? Are there multiple caregivers who are not in sync when it comes to feeding and sleep? Are you feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious about parenting and unable to work toward a routine? Taking an honest inventory of where the family is emotionally as well as where you are having trouble can help you determine how to proceed.