What kind of routine should I have for my baby? Also - spoiling?
August 9, 2014 9:37 AM   Subscribe

I have a great four month old daughter. Due to a weird timing situation, both my husband and I have been home with her for the last four months, sharing duties. Also due to weird timing, we are moving around a lot. Our kid has no routine right now, and I'm started to think my mom is right that we're spoiling her. Help?

Our daughter was born in April; we moved in June to a few different temporary places when our lease ran out, and then we're moving again in a month to our (hopefully final) city, but also in temporary accommodation until we get to know the city & find a longer term place. All for a job relocation.

Yes, I am going crazy.

Anyway, we don't have any kind of routine or schedule for our daughter. Well, not entirely true -- she eats on demand (exclusively breastfed), takes naps when we can get her down when we see she's sleepy, plays on her activity mat. She's sleeping terribly, and we've started co-sleeping, which I wouldn't do if I was so desperate, in the name of sanity. I'm starting to think some kind of routine would be much better for all of us, esp, since everything else changes so much (house, bed, etc.). The only real stability she has is to enthusiastic parents around her all the time (no outside babysitters.)

So what do you do with your infant all day? I'm open to anything, and I need new ideas. How strict are you with it? How did it benefit you/your kid? Now that we're out of the fourth trimester period of "let's just keep this kid alive" I'm stumped as to what we should be doing all day, and when.

Bonus question: when we've stayed with my parents, all my mother talks about is that she's spoiled. She wants to be held a lot, and my mother says she won't go to sleep because she wants to be near us. Also, she thinks the no routine thing is also spoiling. I told her you can't spoil an infant, but now I'm second guessing myself. I feel like everything is entirely in the baby's control now, and I'm not sure that's healthy -- and it's not what we want in the long run.

Help? Book suggestions, pep talks, etc. also very welcome.
posted by heavenknows to Human Relations (34 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Lots of folks will chime in with concrete suggestions, but let me be the first to say this: your four month old baby is not spoiled. Meeting your infant's needs is not spoiling.

A routine will probably help with her sleeping. But don't feel you need to do this because you are somehow giving her too much and she needs less of you.

Babies need their parents, and it's great that she's had both of you, especially during all this disruption.
posted by bluedaisy at 9:45 AM on August 9, 2014 [53 favorites]

I agree, I don't think your infant is spoiled. All infants are 'on demand' until they aren't.

Don't worry so much. Once you're settled and can actually get a routine going, then you all can ease into it. But until then, do what works for you.

Very few infants sleep well, so a lot of parents do whatever works to keep from going batshit from sleep deprivation.

So do tummy time, and walks outdoors and play and sing and sleep when you can. Enjoy this time with your baby, it passes too quickly.

When your Mom says anything just say, "that may be," and keep doing what you're doing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:52 AM on August 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

You cannot spoil an infant. Your mother is spoiled and acting like a brat because she isn't getting all the attention. Ignore the spoiled brat and continue being a great mom to your baby.
posted by myselfasme at 9:53 AM on August 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

You cannot spoil an infant. Teaching her that you will successfully and lovingly meet her survival needs -- and right now, all her needs are survival needs -- is what will give her the confidence to be more independent, rather than anxious and clingy, in the future. (Which is not to say all anxious and clingy kids were parented wrong; some of it is just temperament. But meeting your child's needs for food, comfort, and sleep is nowhere in the neighborhood of "spoiling" her. It's good parenting.)
posted by jaguar at 9:57 AM on August 9, 2014 [17 favorites]

You can't spoil a baby.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:58 AM on August 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Congrats on lil 'heavenknows'! I also have a 4 month old baby girl so I'll be following the responses with interest. I am home with my baby all day and have had some of the same worries as you have written about...but- lately I have decided to chill out and not overthink things. I personally don't believe you can spoil a tiny baby. Maybe when they are older, but not now! My baby wasn't a good sleeper until recently. We did get the book The No Cry Sleep Solution and have started incorporating some of the author's suggestions into our evolving routine. We co-sleep, try to get the baby in bed around 9pm after a bath and we do have story time. Honestly, sometimes she goes to bed at 10 and hangs out with us while we watch a movie. I have tried to create a bit more of a routine during the day, but again- I'm pretty flexible. I took some suggestions from Lucie's list-I like her posts for no nonsense advice. Here is her post on schedules.

As for what we do all day- I have moved into the phase of learning how to take my baby out into the world more. We are trying to get used to all of the sights and sounds of the city, as well as being in the stroller for longer periods, and how to go into shops and restaurants.

I have taken to ignoring all advice that doesn't ring true with my own mama's instinct. What works for one baby won't for another- you can trust yourself.
posted by catrae at 9:59 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can't spoil an infant. Somewhere between six and twelve months she will probably figure out she can misbehave on purpose to get your attention (throwing food is popular) and THEN you can start to worry about spoiling (which at that age is basically rewarding deliberate misbehavior).

This is a hard age with a first infant because you're no longer in panic mode but there just isn't much to DO with them but sit and stare at each other. It's easier with a second baby because you just strap them on and follow your first kid around, and this is hugely entertaining for the baby. What I did was, start making weekday schedules for ME, just so I'd have SOMETHING to give structure to my day ... generally just one thing I'd do in the morning with the baby, but it made me less desperate about filling the WHOLE DAY. So something like, Mondays we go to the library. Tuesdays I pull out my old guitar and practice it for half an hour. Wednesdays we go for a low-impact hike in the woods. Thursdays we go to a museum (ideally a free one). Fridays we grocery shop. The baby found all of these things hugely and equally entertaining, and knowing we were taking a 10 a.m. outing every day helped establish a schedule so things weren't quite so chaotic.

Also at this age, when you read to them, they just like to hear your voice, so you can read any darn thing you want. At bedtime I'd read children's books, but in the afternoon we'd snuggle up on the couch and I'd read things like Shakespeare's plays out loud, or poetry, or a good read-aloud novel that *I* was interested in. It's good for them to hear lots of words, and it doesn't matter a whole lot which words they are.

It is good to have routine and structure, but with babies it will be more an ideal you try to get near than a STRICT ROUTINE you always adhere to. As soon as you get it settled she'll have a growth spurt and throw it all into chaos. So, yeah, start trying to establish your routine, be flexible, make sure you weigh your needs as well as the baby's and make things convenient and tolerable for yourself. Babies need happy moms who have a chance to do some self-care!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:00 AM on August 9, 2014 [20 favorites]

Routines are for older infants. Right now you're doing exactly what you should be doing.

Next time your mom makes a remark about spoiling your baby, stop the conversation, look her dead in the eye, and tell her that what she's saying is rude and that grandmas who make such comments aren't being very grandmotherly.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:18 AM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

Your mother is being particularly unkind given that you have moved a lot in the first few months of your baby's life. That you've had to do that just sucks so many kinds of suck that I am hard-pressed to find adequate words to express it. The suck, it is massive.

You're doing a great job and you're second guessing yourself because you're new at this, you're being driven slowly insane from sleep deprivation, you're hormones are still all over the place and you're moving every five seconds.

A few things:

- I'm not a proponent of co-sleeping. It doesn't make sense to me and the way my family lives. HOWEVER, of course you're co-sleeping right now because you're moving around all the time. The only constant for your baby in this situation is YOU and you need to be functional. Moving and changing jobs are two of the most draining things I can imagine. Taking care of all of you by maximizing sleep only makes sense. Keep doing this until you're settled in a permanent place. You're baby's too young for sleep training anyway.

- Don't listen to your mother. She's from a different generation. Our parents - and my husband and I are older parents, both 40 plus - chided us constantly for enforcing nap time strictly while on vacation. We got it constantly - spoiling him, bending your routine for his "pleasure", now he thinks he's in charge, all good-naturedly, of course, but it still grated. Anyway, now they marvel at what a happy, even-tempered, good-natured toddler we have. Well, it's because he's not walking around exhausted all the time and he knows when nap-time and bedtime are every day. That's just one example of how our methods differed from our folks and we're seeing the benefits of sticking to our guns.

- Right now, your job is to keep yourself and your baby safe, fed and rested. That's it. If I were you, I'd put my baby in a carrier and get out of the house everyday after the first feeding/nap. Get a coffee and go sit on a bench somewhere, in a mall, in a library, in a cafe, in the park. Get fresh air. EVERY DAY.

- Put baby in a bouncy seat and shower every day. EVERY DAY.

- Put your baby in the bouncy seat and eat lunch a proper lunch EVERY DAY. Keep boiled eggs, avocado, cheese slices, deli meats, yogurts and fresh fruit - things you can put a lunch together with relatively easily - on hand.

- Sleep when your baby sleeps.

- As much as you can, be among the living. You'll start to notice other moms like yourself everywhere. Introduce yourself to someone. Make a coffee date.

- If you want to, have a mini-routine like activity mat in the morning, bouncy seat at lunch, lie in bed with toys in the afternoon. IF YOU WANT TO. The kid's not going to remember. Truly. I would make a habit of tummy time every day. That's really the only "must" I can recommend.

That's it. That's your "routine" right now. Tending to yourself and your baby.

Good luck. It's going to be okay and even your mom will settle down once she stops being jealous that you have a new baby. These things happen. She loves you and you're going to feel so much more confident soon. Just enjoy this time with your kid; it goes like lightning, it really does.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 10:28 AM on August 9, 2014 [16 favorites]

What you have is not a spoiling situation. You have a sleep situation for you. Anyone local who is giving you grief can put the baby in a stroller for an hour and give you a nap.

This script helped me: Mum, I know you want to be helpful. But we are the parents in 2014 and we have to make our own decisions and mistakes. What I most want from your is not advice, but support. When I do want advice I'll ask, but right now I just need you to listen and bring me oat bars.

My kids were both closer to 6 months when a 2-3-4 schedule for naps started helping (first nap 2 hrs after waking, 2nd 3 hrs after, bedtime 4 hrs after). My first was a terrible sleeper and my second was much better. Neither is spoiled. At 3 and 9 yrs of age they sleep well. I personally found that around 15 months was when a regular eating and sleeping routine was the killer app, though. Before then it was just something that helped sometimes.

I know it feels like the baby is running the show and it will Never End and you will be on Party Mamas in 16 years with baby shrieking about the limousine not being fancy enough but...I promise there will be times ahead where you do set the bedtime and the teeth are brushed and the lights go out.

I found baby wearing at that age helped me a lot...my high-touch-need kids were on my chest, while I was walking around bookstores and galleries and paths and malls, sometimes in a haze. Hang in there.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:29 AM on August 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Totally agree with all that's been said up thread. You're not spoiling your munchkin, you're doing a great job. Advice from a stay at home dad with an 11 month old? Babies are energetic and they need exercise to get that energy out. Our baby at 4 months got into a bouncer like this and started sleeping through the night. She still loves it.
posted by merocet at 10:34 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

A routine might make YOU feel better, which in turn might make childcare less stressful. So in that regard, a routine can be great for the whole family. Unfortunately, babies develop routines on their own time/pace/schedule/development stage. Try something, see if it sticks for now, and know that any "routine" that works now will be useless in a month, and something that doesn't work now could be the best thing ever in a month or 6 weeks.

Good luck. Stay strong! You can get through this!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:36 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think the question of "spoiling" the baby is a little bit of a red herring here. As everyone has said, it's impossible to spoil a tiny infant and you're absolutely not spoiling your baby in any wider moral sense.

With that said, it's entirely possible for even a young baby to need and do better with structure-- a relatively stable schedule of eating, sleeping, playing, etc. There are (reportedly) infants who need no structure, but the fact that you feel like your baby is sleeping poorly suggests that it would be worth at least trying a more stable routine to see if it improves matters. We are naturally creatures of routine (biological clocks, for instance, actually set themselves partly off our regular mealtimes), so this could well be just as much in the baby's best interests as yours.

Implementing structure will likely involve some gentle departures from baby's immediate wishes-- distracting her to hold off on a feed for 20 minutes, playing with her a bit extra here and there until the nap schedule is worked out, etc. But it needn't be any sort of coercive regime. Lots of people recommend an eat-play-sleep type routine for that age, where the baby wakes up, has a meal, plays until tired, is put back down-- and I've also had a lot of luck with the 2-3-4-hour system for timing daytime sleep/wake patterns (baby's awake for 2 hours-- then morning nap, 3 hours-- then afternoon nap, 4 hours-- then bedtime). Your baby's mileage may vary, but it's worthwhile trying to at least figure out what a good routine might be.
posted by Bardolph at 10:52 AM on August 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

The link above didn't work - it should be this article from mcsweeney's "HELLO STRANGER ON THE STREET, COULD YOU PLEASE TELL ME HOW TO TAKE CARE OF MY BABY?"
posted by catrae at 11:11 AM on August 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

You can't spoil your baby, but my pediatrician said that at about 4 months you can start doing cry it out sleep training at night if you wish. I have a 5 month old daughter (Babies are awesome!) and I've definitely noticed that she's started being more manipulative to get attention.

During the day we do the eat play sleep cycle. At night we've started doing a form of cry it out. I'll feed her on demand anytime except between the hours of 1 am and 5 am. If she cries during those 4 hours she gets soothed (not picked up) and then we leave. It's helped me feel like a human again after four months of waking up every 2 hours.

I would also echo the do what you want sentiment. Whatever your hobbies and interests are figure out how to make it happen with the baby. There will be plenty of time for story hours and play dates when baby is older.
posted by MadMadam at 11:18 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You can't spoil a baby, you know this. You can help her help herself, though.

I also have a four month old daughter and she eats whenever she wants and sleeps whenever she wants. What I do know, though, is what she sounds like when she's tired and what she sounds like when she's hungry. When she's tired, she might not WANT to nap, but she definitely NEEDS to nap. Which means I will put her down in her swing (which, btw, I am sad to report is a necessary item in this house: I dread the day she'll outgrow it. If you can get one despite all the moving I highly, highly recommend it), she cries for a couple of minutes, and then falls asleep. I don't pick her up, I don't soothe her, I don't fuss at her. She's tired, she needs to sleep. I am pretty firm on this and it makes her a much much happier baby overall. It doesn't happen at the same times every day but it does happen. No naps = hellion by bed time. At 4 months they will start forming habits, so you want to at least encourage good ones.

If you figure out what to do with a baby this young all day please let me know, because my brain is currently dribbling out of my ears. Our (my) favorite thing to do is long walks in the stroller, though it's a little tricky during the day because of the heat. It gets me outside, baby looks at stuff and is entertained (or falls asleep), and I'm doing something other than wiggling a toy in front of her face for her to grab, which I'm sure you know gets old real, real fast.

It'll be easier soon once our kids get to be slightly more interactive. I'm sorry I can't help with the night time sleep, our kid is a champ. She wakes up once or twice but snacks and puts herself right back to sleep. There is no soothing at night, just food, a snuggle, and then back in the crib. She's always been great at it though, so I can't say if it's because we "taught" her to self-soothe or if that's just her personality.
posted by lydhre at 11:52 AM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Sleep when your baby sleeps. "

And clean when your baby cleans!

Words I lived by.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:23 PM on August 9, 2014 [18 favorites]

I purposely stayed away from routines with my kids-they just went along with whatever I was doing and when they were sleepy I put them to bed (other than them having a nighttime bedtime I aimed at.)

Routines are helpful, and make life easier (I know that NOW once my kids are ADULTS) but under the circumstances you describe, having a baby that goes with the flow is a feature, not a bug.

Tell your mom she had her turn. It's yours now. Parent YOUR way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:44 PM on August 9, 2014

My second was a high-need, hold-me-always baby. Until she could walk around a year. And then she was off like a shot. I think that early time helped her. It was what she needed to feel good. My mother tried to give me some yaya about spoiling my babies and I told her it was less stressful to me to hold them a lot and let them sleep on me rather than endure the crying of a distressed baby as who obviously just wants to be held.

You do start to feel like a parasite host or the milk barn so I would also on headphones and watch a DVD or take a walk and look at things. #2 was a real screamer so sometimes my arms were consoling her but my brain was watching Deadwood or Gilmore Girls for sanity. Having young children alternates between blissful, stressful, and mind-numbingly boring. I like babies, but it gets better. #2 is currently not screaming, she is serenading me with her violin, and she did a bang up job cleaning her room this morning.
posted by Lardmitten at 1:05 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only real stability she has is to enthusiastic parents around her all the time (no outside babysitters.)

That is the best kind of stability. Build from that: set up your own routine, something that will work best for you. See if it works for the whole family, adjust from there. Family being the three of you, and not your mother.
posted by RainyJay at 1:23 PM on August 9, 2014

Waaaay back when (3 years ago or so..) I was in your same situation - my easy-going nurse-on-demand-baby seemed like she needed a bit more ... somethine... to sleep better, but I wasn't sure what. I ended up using the schedule, but not the methods, set out in Healthy Sleep HAbits, Healthy Child and they made all of the difference. Learning to give her the situation where she could sleep just as she was getting sleepy was a game changer for me. Get it from the library and just give it a quick read. IT is big, but you can skip everything but the chapter with the schedule for babies in that age group.

And, obviously, you are not and cannot spoil her. Anticipating and reacting to her needs are what you are supposed to be doing. Do what feels right for you and your little family and just nod and smile at any other's 'helpful' advice.
posted by munichmaiden at 1:53 PM on August 9, 2014

We did everything on demand until four months. I agree that "spoiling" is a remnant of a different generation.

Start tracking when she sleeps (there are apps) and after a few weeks you'll be able to see a few standard time periods when she generally sleeps for naps. Then just start putting her down at those times.

Four months is also when we introduced our bedtime routine. At 6 we'd do dinner, then bath, book, and bed. We've done this really consistently and I think it made a big difference.

I personally think that getting your child on a good sleep schedule is the most important thing you can do right now. Teach her to lay down sleepy and then drift off on her own now and she'll always have that to go back to despite disruptions like teething, attachment periods, sickness, etc.
posted by betsybetsy at 2:12 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, okay, you can't spoil a baby, but at 4 months you can introduce a routine that will give her and you some much-needed structure and sanity! By "routine" I don't mean "eat at this exact time OR ELSE," I mean a loose structure to the day so that the baby knows what is coming next. I SWEAR by The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems for learning about routines. If you don't want to buy it you can probably google for her EASY routine, which is eat-activity-sleep-you time, repeated in intervals of probably 3 or 4 hours for your little one. So you would do these 3-hour EASY blocks throughout the day, and your baby would come to expect that after eating time comes a little play time, and after play time comes sleeping time, etc. There is more nuance to it, but as you can see, it's not a schedule so much as a loose routine that will give your days a structure.

I also sleep-trained at 12 weeks using a modified version of Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. (A word of warning, the book is written in a very confusing way and in my sleep-deprived stupor I kept thinking that I was stupid. Nope, it's just full of disjointed and repetitive passages). You may want to wait to do night training until you're settled into your new place, since moving and new beds can disrupt previous training, but maybe start reading some resources to be prepared for when you want to sleep train! Co-sleeping can be right for people, but it sounds like it was more a choice of last resort for you, so you might want to be ready to get the baby in her own bed asap once you're settled. :)
posted by Bella Sebastian at 3:15 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You're doing everything right. Your mom is needlessly making you second-guess your perfectly lovely and instinctual parenting choices, and that's a bummer.

"She wants to be held a lot, and my mother says she won't go to sleep because she wants to be near us."

SHE'S AN INFANT. This is precisely what infants need!

As everyone has said above, you can't spoil a baby, and the things you're doing now that your mom objects to (holding your baby, exclusively breastfeeding [go you!], feeding her on demand, etc.) are just what your baby needs right now. She's likely in the four-month sleep regression, and that's a hard time for all of you. You're doing great!
posted by meggan at 4:29 PM on August 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I also sleep trained my baby when she was 4 months old - just adding that to the chorus because I get the impression that most people don't do this, but I see that this question has brought many other early sleep trainers out of the woodwork.

I did NOT sleep train her at that age because I thought she was spoiled, though! That sounds like hogwash to me. The reason that many babies aren't ready for sleep training at 4 months is because they are too young to really learn anything. They are really just blobs of human who need your support in every way. If a baby is too young to learn it is obviously too young to be spoiled, that concept is a higher level concept that a baby that age cannot grasp. Yes, babies realize that when they cry, people come and help them with what they need, but that has nothing to do with spoiling. That is how mini-humans who have no other means of communicating can tell us that they need something from us.

Only other thing I wanted to say - you didn't mention exactly what sleeping terribly means. If she's waking up every 30 mins, I think you have a pretty legit issue to work on addressing. But I want to make sure you realize that for most babies, waking up about every 2 hours is normal and isn't 'sleeping terribly'. There is a scientific reason that they wake up that frequently - "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" goes over it, but basically they just wake up every time they complete a sleep cycle (go through all the stages of sleep) because they have not developed the ability to string together sleep cycles like adults can. Babies typically either develop this skill eventually at some point along the way if they never get sleep trained, or develop when they get sleep trained if they do get sleep trained.

good luck! You're doing a great job! Keep it up and let the comments from your mom roll off your back. Nothing you're doing at age 4 months is anything that you need to worry about continuing in 'the long run' except being there for your child and loving the heck out of them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:31 PM on August 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Babies are all different, and so are parents. Your mother may sincerely believe her advice is very valuable, but she's not you, and she doesn't know your baby the way you do.

If it bothers you when your mom tells you she thinks you should do things differently, it might work to say, "Partner and I have discussed it and we have decided that it's best to do ______. I know you have a different opinion." Then say a tactful version of "I'm not going to debate it with you" or, "Let's talk about something else." After that if she says it again, say nothing in reply. Change the subject or remain benignly silent.

It might feel like you're "training" you mother. Actually you'll be deciding what you want for yourself -- to make your own decisions and not keep revisiting the reasoning process -- and asking for what you want. You need to train yourself to do that; it usually doesn't come naturally.
posted by wryly at 5:49 PM on August 9, 2014

Yeah your mother is nuts to talk about spoiling.

Babies start getting into a routine between 4-6 months. (But they'll change it up on you pretty fast, too)

This is not just for you, but for them - they need sleep to be regular and predictable. Don't freak out about it, though - like someone said above, a good way to start is just by logging their sleep.

At a minimum, they should show signs of differentiating day from night at 4 months. If this is not happening, you can help by keeping the night-time wakings "business only", no chitchat - just feed, re-settle etc in silence and as little light as possible. You can probably stop worrying about changing diapers during the night around now, too. A "bedtime" should be emerging and it should be moving fairly early, eg 7pm or even 6pm.

Babies become stronger and more alert from around 4 months. They start to consciously appreciate your company, and therefore express their displeasure at being left alone. A well-rested baby will usually begin (begin!) to become more predictable after 4 months. An overtired baby will become really difficult for a while... eg wake at the drop of a pin, etc.

To avoid the "overtired" situation, please, please, please... LEARN THE BABY'S TIRED SIGNS. Ask other people to help you, if you can't see it yourself.

Also, LEARN THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A COMPLAINING CRY AND A DISTRESSED CRY. It absolutely does not hurt the baby to let her or him whimper and whinge for a while until they fall asleep. I never fully "got" this until I sat with a paediatrician friend listening to my 2nd baby complain-cry.

- Stay away from Elizabeth Pantley, she's a guilt-inducing nightmare. Ditto the Sears family - although I believe they at least have a few useful things to say.

- Do read "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child". If you find it too long and ponderous, there is a short e-book called "Sleep Consult" by the same author & his son, and it's much more user-friendly.
posted by 8k at 4:46 AM on August 10, 2014

It absolutely does not hurt the baby to let her or him whimper and whinge for a while until they fall asleep.

Yeahhhhh, babies vary on this one. For mine the 'complaining cry' means 'you have approximately 12 seconds to come and get me or this will get very loud indeed', and whimpering until she falls asleep is just not something she does.

OP, I agree with what pretty much everyone else has said about 4-month-olds not being spoilable and routines being more useful for you than for them at this age.

Possibly useful also: my own approach with my baby was shaped a lot by reading historical baby advice manuals for work before she was born. The actual advice changes hugely over the centuries, and the things the advice is centred around changes hugely too (if you go back a while nobody cares about sleep, but something like 'hardening' babies to cold is a Really Big Thing), but there is a general tone of 'stop thinking you are coping okay with your baby because you're doing everything wrong and you're secretly ruining it! Listen as I, the voice of authority with a book to sell, instruct you how to parent instead', which lasts right up until today. And people are influenced by this advice, like your mother's comment about spoiling by holding too much (late 1800s authors then Truby King in the 1920s).

So my basic principle is: if the baby doesn't have a problem, and I don't have a problem, then there is no problem and I'll steer clear of advice telling me that there is. (The exception is for issues of safety and health - when to start solids, where to sleep - when you can look back to the actual published research evidence anyway.)

If your baby's lack of firm routine doesn't bother you and doesn't bother your baby, then it matters not a jot that it bothers your mother. If you want a routine, and you want to read about setting one up, find an author whose philosophy you basically agree with anyway and see what they suggest in line with what you're doing already.
posted by Catseye at 8:01 AM on August 10, 2014

One thing that may help with a baby that wants to be held all the time is baby wearing (slings, ergo, mei tai, bjorn (if you must)). It allows the baby to be close to you, but also gives you your hands free to do whatever you need to do. It did wonders for my first who was a "hold me all the time! give me all the attention!" baby. As far as the sleeping, yes, it's terrible at this age. We loved the Sleep Lady's book, and it does have suggestions starting at this age for ways to set up a good sleeping pattern for later, when patterns are actually possible and good things (in a couple months). But you are doing what is right. Other things just might mean getting out for your sake (walks, trips to stores, the zoo, whatever), but honestly, this age kid is just boring, they want to sleep and eat and get a some attention, but the don't DO much. Soon life will get more interesting and you'll be doing more stuff with your baby, but not really until closer to 8 months old (maybe 6).
posted by katers890 at 11:33 AM on August 10, 2014

My 0.02c: Twice I listened to grandmothers' advice against my better judgement. Both times their advice turned out to be massively wrong, even though they successfully raised 5 kids altogether.

So feel free to do some research and ask the internet *and* your pediatrician, but then do whatever YOU think is right and whatever helps YOUR baby thrive.

(Also, yeah, you can't spoil a 4mo baby.)
posted by gakiko at 12:14 PM on August 10, 2014

You can't spoil a 4-month old, but you CAN start creating sleep associations that may not be working for you. 4 months is right around when you can start sleep training. I strongly suggest picking up a copy of the Ferber book and reading it from cover to cover. YMMV, but I pored over that book for my son's first year, and now he is a great sleeper. We did CIO at 4.5 months and he cried 20 mins the first night, 5 mins the next, then not at all.

Napping is developmental; despite what all the sleep books tell you, it is uncommon for infants to nap for long stretches or even nap at all in their cribs as opposed to being held. I about drove myself crazy reading those books that claimed he should be taking 2 hour long naps!

What did help with napping was Ferberizing at night - once he got the hang of going to bed in his crib, he could nap there too. It also helped a LOT to read about baby sleep in Ferber and other books and learn that babies have a defined sleepy/wake cycle that you can observe as they grow older. The morning nap tends to form first, and is around 2 hours after they wake up. The second nap might be a bit tougher, and happens maybe 2-3 hours after waking from the first nap. If you really tune into your baby, you'll figure it out!
posted by yarly at 2:31 PM on August 10, 2014

nthing all the comments that you can't spoil a 4 month old.

Very briefly, the one routine that I reckon is most important (and that we found was very important for our two kids) is a clear, solid, consistent sleep routine.

That sleep routine might be different from person to person, couple to couple, child to child. But having a sleep routine in place is vital - not only now when kiddo is young, but also as kiddo gets older.

Establish set times for sleep and naps. These don't have to be absolutely rigid or "to the minute", but they should be along the lines of: "It is X O Clock, its about bed time/nap time".

Of course,the lead in to sleep should be consistent too - again, something that may differ from child to child.

We established good sleep routines and sleep patterns with our two kids pretty early on and, within reason, tried to stick to them. Sometimes you will deviate ( and of course what worked for one child didn't always work for the second!) but at least having and establishing these patterns and routines helps.

Find a routine that works for you and your child - our two had afternoon naps, that may not work for you. And once you've found it, try to stick to it and really set it in place as routine.
posted by chris88 at 8:08 PM on August 10, 2014

I highly recommend the website troublesome tots For all sleep related issues - it saved us!

And as others have assured you, your baby is not spoiled!
posted by blue_bicycle at 9:57 PM on August 14, 2014

Like everyone else says, she's not spoiled. My 7 month old has a bedtime routine, but it emerged organically. When she was 4 months, we did not have a routine, so I think it will just come. Our routine is that she eats some solid food, has a bath (because she's so sticky from the food..) gets changed and ready for bed, has a bottle and is put down. She gets very very angry if we do things in the wrong order, and it's good because it lets her know it's time for bed, and she should go to sleep for the night, not just a nap. You guys should do what works for you, but I thought it would be helpful to know that at 4 months she was still in the nebulous deal-with-needs-as-they-arrive stage, and the routine came naturally soon after. She still does not have a daytime routine, just naps as needed. We have not had problems with this and she is usually a fairly good sleeper.
posted by annie o at 6:28 AM on August 26, 2014

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