An Uncomplicated Life Blog: Scheduling vs. "On Demand" With An Infant

Monday, January 14, 2019

Scheduling vs. "On Demand" With An Infant

As a mom of four, I've done both methods for feedings and naps. The more experienced I get, the more my opinions on the effectiveness of these methods change!

I have parented ALL the different ways. All of them, I swear. Before I had kids, I thought that "on demand" everything was the way to go. It made sense to me - just watch for your baby's cues to lead the way. It was utterly miserable! I swung the pendulum the other way and started to schedule. Low and behold, my first baby started sleeping! When I had a second, he slept through the night by 9 weeks old. I thought, "Yes! This scheduling is the answer! Anyone who doesn't do this is nuts!" But then my second child and I lost our breastfeeding relationship because his feeds were too scheduled. With the birth of my twins, and the utter chaos two infants plus two toddlers brings, I had to navigate the schedule vs on demand debacle fast in order to bring some peace and calm into my family. I've found the answer for us in the great scheduling vs. on demand debate!

Are infants better off on a schedule or on demand, when they dictate how their days go? A mom of four children shares her experience with both methods

First, some more details on the background of my parenting style that has led me to my conclusion. Henry (my first baby) was 100% on demand for the first 9-10 months of his life. That means he didn't have set feeding times, didn't have set nap times, and had no bedtime routine. And like I mentioned, it was miserable! He'd want to nurse every hour and a half, around the clock. That was something I just wasn't prepared for as a first time mom. Some nights he'd go to bed at 10pm after taking a cat nap in our arms on the couch as we watched TV. Nearly every day I cried because he wouldn't nap and I couldn't get anything done around the house or for myself.  It was HARD.

At 9-10 months we moved into our current home and started putting him to bed at a consistent time, both for naps and for nighttime sleep. That led to him sleeping through the night consistently. I quickly learned, hey - consistent sleep makes me a happy person! Even if I had to leave something early to make the nap happen, or schedule my appointments around nap time, it was worth it. To this day, we have super early dinners when we eat out in order to be home for a consistent 7pm bedtime!

I was sold on the schedule. My second son was born, and we got him on a schedule immediately! By 9 weeks, he was sleeping 12 hours at night. "Yes!" I thought. "Schedule schedule schedule. This is amazing. Why don't all people schedule? If you're complaining about being tired, put your kid on a dang schedule!" And while it was great, something not so great happened. Breastfeeding got all kinds of off. The easiest way to schedule Otto's feedings was to pump bottles for him. That way I could regulate how much he was getting and how often. So I'd pump during the day, and try to nurse him at night... But he developed bottle preference. When you're not latching a baby to your breast, to have to pump consistently and often to maintain a supply because a baby is better at extracting the milk than a pump. I became a slave to my breast pump and hated it (pumping moms, my hat is off to you!) So at just over 7 months, I let breastfeeding go, even though I had hoped to make it a year.

When we found out we were having twins, everyone said the same thing: The key to twins is getting them on the same schedule! "Don't worry, I'm already a schedule fan!" I'd reply. I lined up a night nurse who is also a sleep trainer to help us get the boys on track as fast as possible. Again, I knew I'd breastfeed but didn't make a goal for how long. I'd never nursed two babies before! I just wanted to try it, and to get my kids on the same page ASAP.

The night nurse laid out a schedule for us to adhere to. It was roughly the same one she gave us for Otto - the same one we had to tweak a little to fit our family needs. We tweaked hers too, to fit the needs of our day and meet our capabilities. Even so... I found myself constantly stressed out that one baby was perfectly on schedule and the other wasn't. I found myself annoyed that I had to wake them from naps to keep them on the schedule. I was angry at being told when I could and couldn't (or shouldn't) nurse the babies, and to definitely NOT let them comfort nurse. Comfort nursing ruins schedules, I was told. The schedule that I loved so much with Henry and Otto was becoming my biggest source of stress.

After 6 or 7 weeks of trying to get the boys on this schedule, and constantly being frazzled at their lack of ability to get on it (or rather, to get on it at the same time/together) I thought, you know what? This schedule is doing me more harm than good! I'm spending an entire "nap time" trying to get one baby down, and by the time he sleeps it's time to wake them both up again. Then they're crabby from lack of sleep and I'm crabby because I've not gotten anything done. My whole day is consumed by this stupid schedule enforcing that's just not working for the boys, and it's certainly not working for me!

Knox punching Theodore in the face... Just like I wanted to punch our schedule in the face

Right then I decided to try something different. Instead of being on a strict schedule, I decided to go more with the flow. If one baby slept and the other was awake, the awake one would be out in the living room with me. I stopped waking sleeping babies up and let them sleep until they woke naturally. If one baby was fussy, he'd get an extra nursing session in, even if it wasn't the full three hours between feedings (three hours minimum, as dictated by the schedule!) I breathed a big sigh of relief since I no longer had to spend all my time frantically getting two individual babies on the exact same schedule.

You know what happened? I kid you not, my babies got on a better schedule! Not the one given to us by the night nurse/sleep trainer, but their own schedule. Heck, I don't even like that word anymore - they got on their own daily flow, their own consistent rhythm. One that includes both morning and afternoon naps, and works with preschool pick up and drop off.

Things aren't perfect yet. "Unscheduling" didn't magically fix all the ways that they're still young babies. They're still hard to put down for bedtime. Sometimes we can spend hours upon hours rocking them to sleep, trying to get them to calm down for bed. But, we've gotten in a groove with them during the day, and that's half the battle! Some days one baby gets several more nursing sessions than the other, too. I don't know - I've stopped paying attention to numbers, ounces, minutes spent on the breast and just picked up whoever was fussing to nurse. It's much easier this way!

So what's my take on the best way to raise babies/toddlers after having four children? I think a STRUCTURED day is essential, but a strict schedule is nonsense. The only thing we're strict about is a 7pm bedtime (that, if you read the above paragraph, is still a work in progress with the twins). Other than that, we follow a certain structure, with lots of room for deviations from the structure.

In my experience, I've found that if you've got one child, a schedule is easy to implement. If you're bottle feeding (breast milk or formula) a schedule is much easier to implement. But the more kids you have and the longer you want to breast feed them, the less a strict schedule makes sense. With twins, a hardcore schedule is just laughable because you've got two separate humans you're attempting to get on the same page, usually at a very young age. The schedule itself can become more stressful than dealing with the infants!

Don't be like me and let scheduling your infant(s) stress you out. Don't let it be the dictator of your day. Lighten up a little bit and allow room for deviations. Kicking our strict schedule to the curb was one of the best things I've done as a parent to twins so far. One of my babies is easier and the other more needy. I let the needy one be needy! He's just an infant. Adapting a more flexible mindset and letting my twins develop their own personalities has really helped in transitioning to life with four kids.


  1. Great insight! Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have 4 kiddos too! And with 3 of them the schedule thing was amazing. But like you, came our little one and with the 3 older kids schedules, there is no way to have him do the same thing at the same time every day. Poor baby boy has to go with the flow. You had a night nurse?? I am so jealous. Thanks for the reminder that just because I had to switch it up, doesn't mean anything "failed".

  3. What great insight. I am such a schedule based person that it is hard to grasp the concept of being more flexible. It seems through that the more flexible you can be, the easier the parenting process becomes! I'm not a mother yet, but I will keep this in mind for when it comes time.

  4. I just started hitting a wall with my LO schedule. He is starting to only want to nap 1x per day which is severely stressing me out. I just need to adapt to him, not the other way around. It's tough that, as parents, we need to change so much for our kids, especially after you establish a groove. Hats off to all the struggling mamas out there! Thanks for sharing your experience!

  5. Some great advice! We are expecting number 2 in June and I'm concerned how the toddler is going to adapt to not being the center of attention anymore

  6. It is all about balance and doing what works for you and your babies! I am glad you fell into a routine that works!

  7. This is so interesting! We're not going to have children for at least a couple of years, but I appreciate the insight and am happy you found a routine that works for you and your babies!

  8. Thanks for sharing your journey! I have four children, as well (mostly grown now), and the biggest thing I can say is -- every child and every family is different! I had two co-sleepers and two girls who would never in a million years want to sleep in your bed. I had three kiddos who functioned best without a schedule, and one who really thrived on it. It's all about following what works for you, baby, and your family in the phase of life you are in.

  9. This is such a great post!! I am still trying to go with the flow, even with my kids being older. All 3 of my kids are so different and trying to fit them into a cookie-cutter schedule drove me crazy ;)

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