Many baby sleep pundits give night time parenting advice that leaves you wondering just who the parent is. Some go so far as to say that you should never allow your baby to cry without tending to her as quickly as you can.

So, what’s the problem with that? Essentially, it’s this: when you come running immediately every time your baby so much as whimpers, you establish a pattern of allowing your baby to train you, rather than you training your baby.

Now, don’t misunderstand what we’re saying. When baby first comes home, she is going to need fairly constant attention. Newborn babies need to eat every two hours or so if you are breastfeeding, and every three or four hours if you are bottle feeding. And, as we all know baby’s only way to tell you that she’s hungry (or dirty, or sleepy, or anything else) is by crying.

So, of course, you should clue in to your baby’s signals. The vast majority of parents, after only a couple months of parenting their baby, however, can tell the difference between a hungry cry, an uncomfortable cry, and a sleepy cry. Nature has a way of tuning us in to baby’s needs. And when baby has a real need, we should by all means take care of it as soon as we can.

However, be aware that if you come running immediately every time your baby cries, your baby is going to learn that, for all intents and purposes, she’s in control. And trust us on this one, babies can and do use that knowledge once they figure it out.

This really wouldn’t present much of a problem if baby was going to stay small forever. The problem comes in with the fact that baby is going to grow up. And if you’ve set the precedent of letting her call the shots, you’re in for a real ride when it comes time to teach and train her as she grows older.

Parents should be tender with their babies and children. But, we shouldn’t be so tender that we give up being in charge. Once your baby is past the first three months, when she can start sleeping for longer periods of time without needing to waken every 2-4 hours to eat, you should start actively imposing some routine in baby’s life. Give baby a bath at the same time every night, sing her a song or two or read her a story, and lay her down, still awake but tired, to sleep. Lay her down for naps at the same times every day.

If baby doesn’t fall asleep every time right on schedule, that’s OK. But, don’t fall into the trap of passive parenting by just allowing baby to sleep and rise at any hour of the day and night. Life will be better for both of you if you set some routines.