How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule
If you’re reading this, then you know the importance of establishing a consistent baby sleep schedule or you’re seriously considering it.
In either case, I promise that starting a baby sleep schedule is not some big, scary thing. It’s a complete blessing, for you and your baby.
In this post, we’re going to go over the basics of the baby sleep schedule I’ve personally used and recommend, as well as the minimum requirements to start.
Once we’re finished, you can move on to my step-by-step tutorial for newborns (0-2 months) or older babies (4 month and older). If your baby is 3 months, it wouldn’t hurt you to at least browse both posts.
In the meantime, make sure you grab my free baby sleep schedules below.
Note: This post is part of my Baby Sleep Series. Before we begin, here are the other posts:
- Everything You Need to Know to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night – Introduction to From Sleepless to Slumbering Series
- Baby Sleep Training: Everything You Need to Know
- Why Your Baby Won’t Sleep: 7 Surprising Things That Kill a Baby’s Sleep
- How to Swaddle a Baby (That Absolutely Hates Being Swaddled)
- How You Can Have Amazing Sleep With a Breastfed Baby
- This post: How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule
What is a Baby Sleep Schedule?
When I was a new mom, a “baby sleep schedule” felt completely taboo. In my experience, people either completely dismiss sleep schedules or they criticize you for not having one.
I believe that’s because people’s idea of a sleep schedule varies significantly based on their age and background. Parenting approaches have varied from generation to generation. In your great grandma’s world, scheduling to the minute was all the rage. This type of a structured day did not account for a baby’s emotional needs or daily flexibility.
Not surprisingly, the next generation hated baby sleep schedules. They believed that any form of scheduling was detrimental to a baby’s emotional needs.
In the 1980s, one of my favorite baby books was published. On Becoming Babywise presented a radical concept. What if, we used an approach that took elements from on-demand parenting AND scheduling, in order to create a flexible routine that provided structure and fulfilled the baby’s needs.
They dubbed this concept “parent-directed” parenting. Basically, your day is scheduled and ran by you. Not a clock, not the baby. This is the type of baby sleep schedule I’m going to show you in this post.
Should You Ignore Your Baby to Follow a Baby Sleep Schedule?
Unfortunately, critics On Becoming Babywise, have made schedules out to be cruel to your baby. And, to give these critics credit, ignoring your baby’s cries of hunger is cruel. Having said that, establishing a great routine that benefits your baby forever is not.
Think of this baby sleep schedule as a baby sleep routine. This routine is flexible. You will not ignore your baby’s hunger cues, but you will work toward feeding your baby at the same time of the day. Implementing this schedule will give your day a goal and help you organize your day in a way that benefits you both.
Benefits of Implementing a Baby Sleep Schedule
Implementing a baby sleep schedule can solve a ton of your nighttime problems. One study found that 82% of their participants had significantly improved nighttime behavior based on only small modifications to their daily routine . Another study found that babies on a schedule excel academically when compared to strictly demand-fed babies.
Here are the benefits I’ve personally seen:
- My breastfed baby slept through the night fast. Like, real fast. By 6-8 weeks, she was sleeping 5-6 hours at night, then 8-10, and now 11. She still loves me and almost 9 months in, I am still nursing.
- Increase Productivity: When your baby is on a reliable schedule, you’re able to get more done. You’re able to easily complete chores, run errands, and schedule play-dates because you know what to expect.
- “Good Baby Syndrome”: “Good Baby” syndrome is a common side-effect of a baby sleep schedule. That’s because she’s well-rested and her needs are fulfilled.
- A baby sleep schedule can actually help you read your baby’s cues. It’s almost like a cheatsheet. You know how to read your baby’s cues because you can eliminate alternative needs quickly.
- Freedom.When your baby’s needs are routinely met, you can venture into public without fear of having a scene.
- Self-soothing: A schedule and self-soothing go hand-in-hand. With positive sleep associations, a solid routine she can count on, and a little bit of patience, a baby will self-soothe much easier.
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How to Create the Perfect Sleep Schedule
1. Follow a Eat-Play-Sleep Cycle.
Three books helped me cultivate a flexible routine for my daughter: On Becoming Babywise, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, The Secrets of a Baby Whisperer.
Each of these books promote following the same routine for the first year(ish) of your baby’s life: Eat. Play. Sleep. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to reference the Baby Whisperer (Tracy Hogg)’s routine because I think it’ll give you the clearest idea of what we’re talking about.
- Eat- Every cycle begins with a full feeding.
- Activity- It might be tempting, but don’t nurse your baby to sleep. Your baby needs some sort of activity time after a feeding (unless it’s night time.) For a newborn, this “play” time might be very short, perhaps only 30 minutes.
- Sleep- Begin your sleep ritual right when your baby shows signs of tiredness. Swaddle her, sing, say your soothing words, and simply lay her down on her preferred sleep surface, then walk away just when her eyes start drooping. This is how self-soothing begins.
- You- Sleep, shower, read a good book. The point is, you need to schedule “you” time into your day.
2. Follow a 2-3 Hour Sleep Cycle
The E.A.S.Y. and Feed-Wake-Sleep routines follow a 2.5-3 hour schedule that begins with your baby feeding. As time progresses, extend your baby’s feedings to every 4 hours.
When you use this routine, it’s very, very important that you don’t let the clock rule you. Try to stick to a 30-minute window of your desired feeding time to ensure consistency, but try not to sweat it if your baby gets hungry before.
Having said that, you’re going to want to try to stick within a 30-minute window of your desired feeding time. This ensures that your baby is hungry enough to take a full feeding and you’ll stick with a predictable routine.
Hey, Mama! Does the idea of sleep training and following a sleep schedule make you a little nervous? Did you know that there are sleep training classes that can teach you to do ALL of this in just a couple hours? If you have a newborn, check out Mommy Labor Nurse’s Newborn Sleep Class. If your baby is 4 months or older and still not sleeping, definitely check out sleep expert Zoe Chu’s Sleep Baby Sleep Class. They’ll save you so much time and grief!
3. Be Careful with Play Time
As you establish your naptime and bedtime ritual, you’ll find that your baby starts to self-soothe and fall asleep much easier. However, your activity time can positively and negatively affect the sleep aspect of your schedule.
During your baby’s first couple months, play time will establish three goals: it will help your baby differentiate between day time and nighttime, increase motor skill and cognitive development, and it’ll tire your baby out until the next sleep time.
However, be mindful of your baby’s sleep cues. If your baby is overtired, you will most likely have difficulty putting her down for a nap. Overtiredness and over-stimulation is a topic in of itself, but keep these things in mind:
- Watch for sleep cues (yawning, fussiness, rubbing eyes or ears, fidgeting)
- Avoid the TV or too many electronic toys
- Avoid too many visitors at once
RELATED POSTS: 8 Things that Could Be Ruining Your Baby’s Sleep
4. Always Listen to Your Baby’s Hunger
Some attachment parenting experts say that baby sleep schedules can ruin your milk supply. They go on to suggest that no part of your day should be set in stone, unless it follows the pattern that your baby paves for you.
In a way, that statement is true. If you ignore your baby’s cries of hunger in favor of a rigid schedule, your milk supply will drop and your baby be classified as a failure to thrive.
But breastfed, schedule-following baby was in the 80th weight percentile for most of her first year. Why? If my daughter woke early from a nap starving, I fed her. Most of the time, this was due to a growth spurt or a drop in my milk supply. Because of taking her needs into account, we were able to follow a baby sleep schedule and breastfeed until she was 13 months old.
You can too. I recently wrote a post on Babywise.life discussing how to protect your milk supply while using a Babywise schedule, but here are some simple tips:
- Treat early nap wakings like hunger wakings. If your baby takes a full feeding you know she needed it. Simply adjust your schedule and move on.
- Add a feeding during growth spurts
- Add a late-night pumping session if your baby begins to sleep through the night.
- Cluster feed before bed.
5. Do Not Feel Bad About Using a Schedule
You will receive a lot of criticism for implementing a baby sleep schedule. Ignore it. You’re not an overzealous new mom. You’re not ignoring your baby’s needs.
In fact, you’re taking control of your baby’s development and giving him a great start.
Critics of baby sleep schedules claim that you should follow your baby’s lead. Neither you nor he should have a set bedtime, naptime, or mealtime until he’s months and months older.
Mama, I don’t have anything against attachment parenting moms, but that kind of life would not work for me. I hate that these concepts revolve around a baby (in his mystical wisdom) dictating your entire day.
In the beginning of your baby’s life, he doesn’t even know what’s night and day. He’s depending on you to fulfill his every need and help him adjust to this brand new world. I don’t think routines are cruel.
A routine is gifting him with a safe, familiar structure that encourages his development.
How to Start a Baby Sleep Schedule
If you’re a new mama or a mom-to-be, implementing a baby sleep schedule is so easy. If you’re the mom of an older baby (or toddler) then, as you’ve probably already guessed, it’s not as easy.
The older your child is, the harder it is to break bad habits and create new ones, but you CAN do it.
Before you get started, you’ll need a couple things:
- Those books! I wasn’t kidding, my advice is only a primer, On Becoming Babywise, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, and The Secrets of a Baby Whisperer are just a couple excellent books you will not regret reading. (Or, if you don’t have time for reading, you can just take a baby sleep training class like Mommy Labor Nurse’s Newborn Sleep Class or Zoe Chu’s Sleep Baby Sleep Video Program for babies older than 4 months)
- A Crib, Pack n Play, or AAP Safe Surface Bed. The ultimate goal of a routine is to establish a great balance of independence and structure.. That includes getting your baby to sleep in her own crib, without any sleep props. However, if you’re not there yet, I get it. Let’s establish the routine first. The bare minimum is finding a quiet place for your baby to sleep.
- Baby Care Tracker. You’ll need a way to track your baby’s intake, feeding sessions, and your ideal schedule. My Baby Sleep Schedule Printables includes a baby care tracker plus a lot of other goodies. You can also download a baby care app.
- Swaddle. Swaddling your baby can dramatically increase your baby’s sleep. Read more about it in my baby swaddling post.
- Create the Desired Wake Time. Soon we are going to plan our baby sleep schedule. For a big planner like me, that’s the fun part. The most important component of a routine is a desired WAKE TIME and a set BEDTIME. If you don’t have these two things, the entire routine falls apart.
- Your Commitment. Your child craves structure and the resulting security. When you present her with that gift, don’t snatch it away a few days later. You’ll only confuse her. In order for this to work, you really need to commit. This is a life-long deal with lifelong benefits.
Move on to the Baby Sleep Schedule Tutorial
Alright, Mama! This is everything you need to make you dangerous. Now, let’s learn start your baby sleep schedule.
5 Simple Steps to Start an Amazing Newborn Sleep Schedule
How to Get Your Crazy Baby on a Sleep Schedule (Babies 4 Months and Older)