When your baby is brand new, setting a schedule is one of the last things on your mind. You're completely occupied with meeting the infant's needs, and rightly so. The way we treat babies in those first few weeks of life can have a profound impact on their later development. So we respond to each and every cry or grunt or grimace, and baby learns that the world is a fairly trustworthy and orderly place. The little one also learns that his or her needs are important and there are adults ready to meet them.
Somewhere along the way, though, your infant needs to learn to become one of the family. Those two a.m. feedings simply cannot last forever! Slowly, you must take steps to conform baby's schedule to that of the rest of the family. It won't happen overnight by flipping a switch, of course, but it does need to happen. If you allow it, your little one will become a toddler, then a preschooler, and finally a strong-willed child who will control every aspect of your family life. It's not pleasant to be around children who are in this state! It's not healthy for the child and it's not healthy for the family. However, it takes work and patience to teach baby that there is such a thing as a schedule. Hang in there! The benefits are well-worth the effort.
The tiniest infants have absolutely no control over when they do what they do. They get hungry and cry and then we feed them. They get wet and uncomfortable and we change them. They get sleepy and they drop off to slumber land no matter what is going on around them. As you get to know your little one, though, you will start to pick up patterns. Maybe she wants to be fed every three hours. Maybe he falls asleep right after a meal. Watch for these patterns and try to keep to them. They are the beginnings of a schedule for your little one.
After the first few weeks, your baby should be pretty predictable. That is, you should be able to know roughly when the little one will want to eat and sleep. Respect that schedule. If the baby seems to sleep a lot in the early afternoon, try to be home or somewhere else where the little one can truly rest. If baby wants to eat at four p.m., try to make sure you're in a position to feed on time. The schedule is reinforced in this way, and will become ever more predictable.
At a few months of age, all of that sleeping and eating that they do will kind of consolidate into defined meals and naps. This is when you want to begin to conform baby's schedule to that of the family. It will be much easier to take care of your baby if you do. You can gradually shift those meals and naptimes by moving them up or back by five or ten minutes every few days. Put baby to bed for naps and bedtime on a schedule, and pretty soon the little one will be sleepy at the appropriate times. Offer food on a schedule, and it won't be long before your baby will be more than willing to eat at the times you've chosen.
As the months fly by, you will be better able to plan your family's commitments with respect to your baby's needs. You won't be caught in the trap of having a child who makes a lot of demands on your time and routine or who is capricious in habits. A steady routine will create a calmer, more smooth family life for you and for everyone else. In addition, your little one will learn important lessons about living with other people. This is the foundation for later learning about empathy, sharing, and consideration of others. These are all very important things for kids to learn, and the foundation for this process happens in infancy.