The idea of having some kind of “baby schedule” may seem like a pipe dream especially if you are sitting there with your hair a hot mess and can't remember if you pooped today. Now, I won't pretend to tell you that I was good at creating a baby schedule for my babes, but I will tell you that I have learned a hell of a lot in the last few years.
Parenthood comes with a whole lot of preparation—creating a baby schedule is one of them!
Planning a daily routine for you and your baby with regular daytime/afternoon naps, feeds, activities, outings, and bedtime can help your little one sleep better and give you a better quality of mom's life! Omg, who doesn't need that?
If you don't want to lose hours of sleep and your day, read on to know more about setting up a baby schedule!
Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama. I am a labor and delivery nurse with over 16 years of high-risk OB experience. And I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6! My professional and personal experiences allowed me to labor thousands of mamas and delivered many, many babies.
Why I am here and who I am:
I am the online birth class creator and educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes. And the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society Mama Membership Community! I am passionate about your birth and motherhood journey! You can find me over on IG teaching over 240k mamas daily.
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Does my baby really need a baby schedule?
Your baby might thrive on a baby schedule, literally, children (including sweet little infants) come alive when they have routines and schedules! Will they handle not having a little baby schedule?
And now you’re stuck with the million-dollar question: To routine or not to routine? After being a mama for many years, I've learned the hard way that my lack of schedule made everyone crazy, including my littlest ones. Well, if you want to make your and your baby’s life much easier – creating a schedule that works for both of you is a total lifesaver.
Newborn Babies Have Day/Night Confusion
Did you know that newborns can't tell the difference between day and night? This day/night confusion goes on for the first 1 to 3 months. That's because they don't have fully developed circadian rhythms AKA a 24-hour period body clock yet.
The good thing it is POSSIBLE to create an easy-to-follow and realistic daytime and nighttime sleep schedule IF you commit to it.
Is it good to have babies on a schedule?
Following a flexible baby schedule can be effective in providing a sense of security and stability, which can promote overall development. After all, getting into a groove and becoming accustomed to a routine can comfort the baby.
When should I start a routine for my baby?
If you are a newborn mom with a child under the age of eight weeks, my first piece of advice is to avoid the stress of a schedule!
Experts have spoken – waiting until the baby is around three months old is recommended to start setting a newborn sleep schedule. Ilan Shapiro, MD, Chief Health Correspondent and Medical Affairs Officer at AltaMed Health Services, notes that typically, parents begin to gain an understanding of what constitutes a healthy sleeping and feeding routine for their baby around the two to three-month mark.
What should a baby's schedule be like?
Rule of thumb: Your baby’s well-being comes first!
A baby's schedule will vary depending on their age, individual needs, and family circumstances. When figuring out your baby's schedule, it is essential that you take advice from the doctor, as well as follow your instincts (moms know best!) to ascertain your baby's needs. Here are some tips you can follow in creating a foolproof baby schedule:
- Track your baby's eating, sleeping, and alert times – This can give you an understanding of their natural rhythms and enable you to pinpoint developing patterns.
- Develop a consistent bedtime routine – Keep the routine simple – for example, a warm bath, jammies, a feeding, then lights-out. It's fine if feeding lulls your baby to sleep in the early months, but by 3 or 4 months you may want to try putting them down awake so they'll learn to fall asleep on their own. If you're working a night shift, you may want to read my blog post here!
- Teach your baby the difference between night and day – It's common for babies to confuse their days and nights until they're around 3 to 4 months old, often sleeping for extended periods during the day and becoming more alert once the evening arrives. The key first step to getting into a workable routine is to help your baby learn to tell day from night.
- Make sure your schedule is flexible – Just when you feel that you've developed a routine with your baby, it might be time to change things up again. With their developmental changes, your baby's schedule will need to be adjusted accordingly.
What is the “Eat, Play, Sleep” Baby Schedule?
This is pretty simple: with an eat-play sleep schedule, your baby eats, then plays for a bit, and then goes down for a nap.
The idea behind this routine is to ensure that the baby doesn't become too reliant on eating to fall asleep and instead learns to self-soothe and develop healthy sleep habits. This routine is often recommended for infants who are around 3 to 4 months old or when they have established a general sleep pattern. It provides structure and predictability to a baby's day and can help both the baby and the parent establish a comfortable routine.
PRO MOM TIP: Don’t stress over it! If your baby's nap doesn't get longer and you feed them earlier than expected, IT’S NOT A BIG DEAL. The important thing is to avoid feeding your baby to sleep, which can create a habit that's hard to break in the future.
It's best to keep your baby's schedule as consistent as possible. After all, while you're baby is getting used to the new system, so are you, mama.
Once you have established a baby schedule successfully, the next step is to keep this in mind: YOUR BABY WILL DRIFT FROM THEIR USUAL sleep and schedule. As your baby grows, expect growth spurts and development milestones to come in the first year:
- weight gain
- sitting up, crawling, walking
- hungrier than the usual
- needing more sleep
- wake times happening several times a night
- sleep regressions (AKA the time when your baby's sleep patterns shift, wake-ups during the night, and struggle to get back to sleep) as they approach big developmental milestones
If this happens for a while, you have two options: to wait and get back on track with the baby schedule OR adjust your routine.
Learn more about safe sleep and SIDS in this blog post!
Why is an infant's sleep schedule important?
If you want to help your baby transition from the activity of the day to the calm of the night with ease, a predictable infant sleep schedule is the answer.
Research shows that babies have shorter sleep cycles of about 50-60 minutes, spending 50% of total sleep in the lighter REM stage when they are more easily aroused. Establishing a sleep routine that includes both naptime and bedtime, not only provides comfort but can also help in teaching your baby to fall asleep independently and promote uninterrupted sleep throughout the night.
Some Baby-Proof Sleep Tips I've Learned
Here are some tips I've learned that can help you start a safe and comforting sleep routine:
- Create a safe sleep space: A dark, quiet, and cool room with a comfortable temperature can promote better sleep.
- Develop a calming pre-sleep routine: Activities such as a warm bath, massage, reading a story, or listening to soft music can help calm babies and prepare them for sleep.
- Use soothing techniques: Techniques like swaddling, white noise, or gentle rocking can help soothe babies and lull them to sleep.
- Consistently respond to your baby's needs: This helps establish trust and create a sense of security, which can help them sleep better.
- LOTS AND LOTS OF CARRYING AKA BABYWEARING. Babywearing helps teach your baby to learn the difference between day and night. Learn more in our podcast episode with Cassidy from Let's Talk Babywearing!
- Establish predictable feeding schedules: Feed your baby every hour-and-a-half to two hours then put them to bed in their crib or where they usually sleep.
- Learn their sleep cues: If you see your baby yawning or droopy-eyed, take it as a go signal to tuck them into bed.
- White noise works too: White noise, along with dimming the lights 10-20 minutes before naps or bedtime, helps quiet down your baby's nervous system. It sends a message to their body that it's time to soothe, calm down, and sleep.
- Use the wake-and-sleep technique: This technique teaches your little one how to self-soothe. Let your baby fall asleep into your arms after feeding and burping them. Lay them down in their crib or bassinet and gently rub their feet with a light tickle until they open their eyes. After a few seconds, your baby will close their eyes and fall back to sleep again.
- Monitor naps. If your baby naps for over two hours, wake them up for their next play/feed period. (Long naps cause less daytime eating and more hunger at night.)
Baby sleep schedules by age
There is no one-size-fits-all baby sleep schedule. Try to be flexible and find what suits both you and your baby, especially their sleep cycle.
You may use these as a guideline to find the right schedule designed for a newborn to an 18-month-old baby:
Newborn (0 to 3 months): Newborns sleep for around 16-17 hours a day, waking up frequently for feedings and diaper changes. They may not have a set sleep schedule at this age. According to Hugo Lagercrantz, a Swedish pediatrician, newborns are in a dream state for about 70 percent of their sleep time.
3 to 6 months: By this age, babies may start to develop a more consistent sleep schedule, sleeping for around 14-15 hours a day. They may start to sleep for longer stretches at night but still wake up for feedings.
6 to 9 months: At this age, babies may start to sleep for around 14 hours a day, with long stretches of sleep at night. They may start to consolidate their naps into two or three longer ones.
9 to 12 months: By this age, babies may sleep for around 14 hours a day, with most of their sleep happening at night. They may start to drop their third nap and transition to two naps a day.
12 to 18 months: Toddlers in this age range may sleep for around 13-14 hours a day, with most of their sleep happening at night. They may transition to one nap a day, typically in the afternoon.
Again, these are just general guidelines and every baby is different. It's important to pay attention to your baby's individual sleep needs and adjust their schedule as needed.
When should I see my doctor?
Trusting your instincts and establishing a baby schedule that suits your family's needs is advisable. But if you have any uncertainties about your baby's sleep, feeding, or playtime requirements, it is recommended to consult your baby's pediatrician for guidance and medical advice.
Keep it flexible & BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Let me say this: DON’T EXPECT PERFECTION! While consistency is beneficial for babies, changes are inevitable as they grow. Sometimes your baby may deviate from their usual schedule by skipping a nap or requiring an extra snack.
And yes, life happens – family obligations, social events, errands, and other unforeseen circumstances that can disrupt the routine. So as long as your baby receives adequate sleep, nourishment, care, and love, some variation is okay. Plus, never compare your baby's schedule to other people’s schedules because after all, they are not raising the same baby you are.
Baby Schedule Mistakes to Avoid
You may desperately want to create a schedule for your baby, but you have to know that these common missteps can actually backfire.
- Keeping your baby up for too long: If your baby is under 6 months old, it should sleep again within two hours of waking up. While some babies may adjust well to a set routine, others may have a negative reaction and experience stress, which can throw off the entire schedule.
- Going against your baby's natural rhythm: It is important to establish a schedule that suits your baby's natural rhythm rather than attempting to enforce a strict schedule that causes stress, or worse, HUNGER. If your baby is hungry, feed the child for heaven’s sake! At the end of the day, the goal is to encourage them to fill their tummy.
- Making sudden schedule changes: Babies learn to anticipate the next step in their routine, hence abruptly changing your baby's schedule can lead to a fussy baby. So make sure to take baby steps when making changes to their schedule.
By avoiding these mistakes and being flexible with your baby's schedule, you can find a routine that works for your family. The result? A happy, healthy, and well-rested baby (and mama)!