What are combination schedules?

Combination schedules are a mix between parent-led and baby-led routines.

With this approach, you set a timetable for when your baby will eat, sleep, play, and so on, and you generally stick to a similar routine every day (unlike with some baby-led schedules). But you have more flexibility than with a strictly parent-led schedule, and you look more to your baby's cues when deciding what to do next.

A nap can be pushed back if your baby doesn't seem tired yet, and lunch can be postponed if a trip to the store takes longer than expected.

What's the thinking behind combination schedules?

Experts who advocate this approach say that combination schedules provide the consistency that babies and parents need without the hassle of a more rigid, timed-to-the-minute routine.

One well-known supporter of this parenting style is "Supernanny" Jo Frost, who stresses the importance of routines but isn't "a stickler for 'must sleep at the same time in the same place every day."

In her book Jo Frost's Confident Baby Care, she offers general schedules for every three months of your baby's first year. "Setting firm ground is about creating healthy routines of waking, sleeping, and stimulating play, as well as dealing effectively with crying," she writes.

Frost recommends starting a feeding routine when your baby is about 4 weeks old by moving from feeding strictly on demand to feedings every two to four hours. But Frost says to use your observations of your baby's habits to create the timing, and she cautions that illness, teething, growth spurts, and travel may disrupt your routine or derail it completely.

"Do the best you can and reestablish as soon as possible," she writes.

How to establish a combination schedule

Often, parents who opt for a schedule that's both baby-led and parent-led look to many sources for inspiration. Books, parenting classes, your baby's doctor, family and friends, and moms and dads in your BabyCenter birth club can all help you figure out a routine that works for you and your baby. You can also check out our sample schedules for babies of all ages.

Pediatrician Marc Weissbluth's Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child is one book that has helped many parents develop a combination routine. He provides general schedules to help foster healthy sleep patterns, but mostly focuses on the parents' role in helping their baby develop the self-soothing skills needed to sleep well. The idea is that when your baby's well rested, the remainder of the day — eating, playing, and so on — will fall into place.

Weissbluth's method is all about timing and learning how to recognize your baby's signals that he's ready for rest. In the book, he teaches parents how to spot these sleep signals and "catch the rising wave of sleepiness before the child crashes into an overtired state." Weissbluth acknowledges this isn't a perfect science, so letting your baby skip an afternoon nap or soothing him to sleep by any means necessary is okay as long as it's not happening all the time.

The techniques of "baby whisperer" Tracy Hogg, who died in 2004, also provide a middle-ground approach. Her popular baby-care book, Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, encourages parents to keep a consistent routine, but not one that has to be exactly the same every day. Hogg's E.A.S.Y. method — having your baby Eat, do an Activity, then Sleep (always in that order) — was designed to create a content, happy baby and a nice chunk of time for You.