The Truth About Putting Your Baby on a Schedule
Should baby schedules be shunned or embraced? Toddlers love routines, but what about babies and infants? Like so many child-rearing issues, there is more than one right answer.
Do babies really need a schedule?
Scheduling is a modern concept. The ancients did not feed babies according to the time on the sundial or make baby nap schedules. But staying organised can be a lifesaver for today’s mum and can help a baby adopt a schedule that works better for the family.
Of course, rigid schedules that ignore a baby’s cries are unnatural and unloving. But flexible baby schedules—that set approximate times for feeding and sleep—can work quite well.
Simple Newborn Scheduling Tweaks Boost Sleep
A study of breastfed babies found that 2 simple scheduling tweaks yielded a big improvement in sleep in the first 2 months:
- Waking up for a “dream feed” between 10pm and midnight.
- Responding to nighttime cries with a few minutes of holding or a nappy change before feeding.
Within 3 weeks, 100% of babies were sleeping 5-hour stretches with these 2 steps, versus 23% of infants where no scheduling was tried.
The Benefits of a Baby Schedule
When you think about it, the benefit of flexible schedules is not a huge surprise since babies are learning experts! Even before birth, your baby starts recognising your voice and favourite music. So learning the pattern of feeding and sleeping is not above her pay grade.
Some experts advise an “eat, play, sleep” schedule. They hope that by using a little play to separate eating from sleeping (rather than always feeding before sleep) will help babies learn to fall asleep without a feeding—when they awaken at 2am.
This sounds logical, but it actually goes against your baby’s biology. Infants get sleepy after feedings, no matter how much you prod and play with them. Also, before bedtime, you want to fill your little lad’s tummy to prolong his sleep.
What is a Good Newborn Baby Schedule?
If you are going to try scheduling, I suggest you wait about a month (until feeding is going really well), then do the following:
- Carry your baby a lot during the day to help him learn the difference between day and night.
- During the day, feed your child every 1 and a half to 2 hours, then put him to sleep. (Start the nap before he is yawning and looking droopy eyed.)
- If he naps over 2 hours, wake him for his next play/feed period. Long naps mean less daytime eating and more hunger at night.
- Feed him in a quiet room so he does not get distracted and refuse to eat.
- Turn the white noise on—and the lights down—20 minutes before naps and bedtime. This quiets your baby’s nervous system and gives a clear signal that sleepy time is coming. Use the wake-and-sleep technique to help him learn to self soothe.
- Wake your baby for a “dream feed” between 10pm and midnight every night to fill his stomach and prepare him for a longer sleep period.
A flexible eating and sleeping schedule can be super-helpful if you have twins, other kids, you are a single parent, or you are working out of the house. But, the key word is flexible. If you are planning a 1:00pm nap, but your little guy is exhausted at 12:30, it is fine to bend the “rules.” Just feed him and put him down early. And if he gets hungry before his “scheduled” feeding time, try distracting him, but respond with promptness and love if the fussing persists, and return to the schedule later.
Note: Rigid and strict schedules (you never deviate even if your baby is crying with hunger) are contrary to our natural instincts, make us constantly watch the clock, and lead to underfed babies.
A Bedtime Routine Will Help Your Baby Schedule
Follow the same reassuring sample baby routine every night:
- Low lights
- Soft white noise in the background
- Toasty bath
- Loving massage with warm oil
- Yummy milk
- Cosy swaddle
- A soft lullaby (Read: Lullabies for Babies to Sleep to)
Within a week, these will begin to work like hypnosis. As you setup a routine for your newborn baby, you will find both you and your baby will be getting more sleep!
Related: A Sleep Schedule for Your Baby's 1st Year
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.