Q&A: 6-month-old baby not on any kind of routine

Update: Apology for harsh tone here.

"Wits end" writes:

"My almost 6 month old does nothing but cry all day. He stays at home with dad is not on any kind of schedule and cries for any and everything. Unless he is being held or fed for the most part he is crying. He has a floor gym, swing and various other noisy, light up toys to occupy his time but they do not seem to help. Any suggestions on how to get him on a schedule at this age? BTW he sleeps only about 6-8 hours a night."

How can I say this nicely?

There is no problem with your baby. You and your husband are the problem.

A baby this age desperately needs a routine (not necessarily a schedule) to regulate himself and feel secure, and get the sleep he needs. Some babies are strong-willed enough that they practically force a routine on the adults around them (dropping off to sleep in the high chair if it's past bedtime, for example), but most just go with the adult flow around them. So it's up to the adults to figure out what's best for the child and make a routine and stick to it.

At this age it's completely natural for a baby to want to be held a lot, and to cry when he isn't. This idea that a 6-month-old is supposed to be able to entertain himself comes from someplace deep in the toy manufacturers' pockets, and is just plain false. Babies this age need constant human interaction.

Your baby sounds sad and lonely. It sounds like he's desperately tired from not getting enough sleep, and sad from not getting enough interaction or structure. You and your husband need to establish a routine that gives him what he needs.

Here are my suggestions:

1. Establish a regular bedtime, with a consistent routine leading up to it. Bath, pajamas, read a book or two, sing a song, then rock or nurse or bottle or however he goes to sleep.

2. Establish a regular naptime. At this age he'll probably be ready to go down for his first nap around 2 hours after he wakes up in the morning. Then his second nap should be about 3 hours from when he wakes up from the second one. His bedtime will probably be around 4 hours after he wakes up from the second nap.

3. The feedings can fit in around the sleeping. He'll probably want to eat every time he wakes up, and maybe once or twice in between the longer stretches.

4. Fitting in around these naps, your husband should be interacting with him. It will probably help a ton if your husband started carrying him around in a Bjorn or body carrier of some manly type while he did stuff around the house,. The body contact with your husband will make your son not feel lonely, and will help his brain grow. Babies who are carried around cry tons less than babies who aren't. We're designed biologically to be carried around by our parents until we start crawling, so we feel bad physically when we aren't.

5. When he's not carrying him around, have him sit with your son in his lap. Even if he's doing nothing but watching TV or surfing the internet, he needs to be in contact with the baby.

6. Make sure they go outside at least once every day. It's tough to be on your own inside with a baby all day, so it'll do your husband good to get out and about in the bigger world and talk to some adults with the baby. It would be even better if he could meet some other at-home parents and join some kind of weekly playgroup or something that woudl ahve other babies to look at for your son and other adults to talk to for your husband.

7. Stop buying toys. If toys could raise our children, we could all just get robot nannies and drop them off at birth and pick them up at college graduation! Your son doesn't need any toys. He needs you. He needs interaction and warmth and touch and smiles from your husband during the day. And he needs consistency and a routine he can count on, even if part of it is that every day at 11 am they watch "The Price is Right" together.

It sounds like your husband may be having some problems being at home with your son if he's unable to get him on a routine. Is it possible that your husband is depressed? There are estimates that as many at 25% of new fathers suffer from postpartum depression. If your husband is depressed, it's affecting his ability to parent your son, and you're already seeing the effects in your son's behavior. If your husband is depressed, he needs help. Please talk to his doctor to see what you can do for him.