How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule
If you’re reading this, then you either know the importance of establishing a consistent baby sleep schedule or you’re seriously considering it. First off, props to you. You might be considering this decision against the popular advice of your friends. Or maybe your life is in chaos and “listening to your baby” just isn’t working anymore.
Wherever you’re coming from, let me reassure you, starting a baby sleep schedule is not some big, scary thing. It’s a complete blessing, for you and your baby.
This post is part one of my baby sleep schedule tutorials.
Here we discuss what baby sleep schedule I recommend, the minimum requirements you’ll need to start, and other critical information regarding sleep schedules.
Once you’re finished, you’ll be ready to actually move on to my baby sleep schedule step-by-step tutorial. I’ve created a step-by-step guide for newborns (0-2 months) and older babies (4 month and older). If you’re in that gray area (for example, a 3 month old baby sleep schedule is usually a hybrid of both concepts) it wouldn’t hurt you to at least browse both posts.
Are you ready?
This is the sixth post in my new baby sleep series, From Sleepless to Slumber. 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
This post: How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule
This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase from one of the links I will make a small commission at no charge to you. I only recommend what I trust.
You’re Gonna Wanna Read Basically Everything in This Post…
You probably found my post on Pinterest and thought, “Yay! An easy baby sleep schedule! I’m saved! Lemme just skim over this…”
So, while it might be tempting to breeze through this and cut to the tutorial, please don’t! Everything in this post relates to the SUCCESS of implementing a daily routine. I didn’t add any fluff here.
It’s absolutely paramount that you understand WHAT this routine is so you can have the right expectations. Otherwise, you might fizzle out when things don’t go quite like you planned.
At the end of this post, you’ll be ready to begin implementing the perfect baby sleep schedule into YOUR day.
Why Everybody Hates Baby Sleep Schedules…and Why I Do To…
Have you ever noticed how many young moms tend to dis baby sleep schedules while another (older) crowd might criticize you for not having one?
Parenting approaches have varied from generation to generation. In your great grandma’s world, scheduling to the minute was all the rage. Baby ate at 10 o’clock. If the baby was hungry before the top of the hour…well…tough luck.
Not surprisingly, the next generation hated schedules. They believed that any form of scheduling was detrimental and the baby’s emotional needs should take precedence over basically everything. AKA, on-demand feeding.
It’s been a tug-of-war battle ever since then.
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 ROUTINE that provided structure and fulfilled the baby’s needs.
Seems like common sense, right? But like I said, it was a radical concept. Even better, the parent controlled this routine. Not a clock, not the baby. You, the mama.
Unfortunately, critics of the book, have made it and schedules in general, out to be not only high-maintenance, but cruel to your baby. And, to give these critics credit, ignoring your baby’s cries of hunger for hours is cruel. But establishing a great routine that benefits your baby forever? Not cruel at all.
If you were hoping to implement a kind-of von Trapp Family sequence, then sorry, Fraulein, that’s not the kind of baby sleep schedule we are talking about here.
Think of this baby sleep schedule as a baby sleep routine. This routine is flexible, yet it gives your baby’s day structure, and frees you from all of the chaos that comes from simply winging it.
The Benefits From 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.
- Oh, the productivity! I have started my own online business because I have a predictable routine that allows me to productive.
- Good Baby Syndrome: Everyone compliments me on how I have such a “good baby”. This makes me feel super sneaky. Believe me, her good behavior is NOT because of my epic parenting skills or incredible genetic disposition (you can verify that fact with my mom…) “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 actually helped me read my baby’s cues. Because I was on a schedule, I learned how to differentiate my baby’s cries REAL QUICK.
- We have so much freedom. We can go anywhere without the fear of her causing a scene, because we know when her needs are met and how they are met.
- She can self-soothe. I’ve written a lot of posts about the benefits of training your baby to sleep, but implementing a solid routine has been the biggest contributing factor to our success.
Introducing the Best Baby Sleep Schedule EVER!
Can I be completely honest with you? I can’t take credit for all of this. When I first became a mom, I literally didn’t know how to change a diaper. I was absolutely terrified.
My saving grace was heavily researching baby sleep schedules before I even made it to the hospital. I’ve followed the tips from these three books and that’s totally my secret. When I explain how my routine works, you’re going to see me reference three books very frequently: On Becoming Babywise, The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems, The Secrets of a Baby Whisperer.
My dinky post is no substitute for these books.
I’m not an expert. The hours that I put into this post is NO substitute for the years of experience these authors have. In the following posts, I’m going to share some of the concepts I learned from these books and how I implemented these strategies successfully. In other words, what worked for us.
Your experience is going to be so different.
If you want to know everything you can about baby sleep schedules, I highly recommend buying these books. The information will help you way beyond your baby’s first year. In fact, I’m still referencing these books (On Becoming Babywise and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems…the Secrets of a Baby Whisperer is more of a younger baby book).
Introducing the E.A.S.Y. Routine and Feed-Wake-Sleep Schedule
People either love or hate Babywise and I can kind of understand why. Dr. Ezzo is so a matter-of-fact with his methods. After reading On Becoming Babywise, it’s easy for moms to have very high, unrealistic expectations for their babies…and to go a little crazy on the routine aspect. It’s not that the book says that your baby should be on a super strict schedule. Quite the opposite actually. However, it’s easy for planners and Type A personalities (like me) to go a little overboard.
For this reason, I’m going to mostly reference the E.A.S.Y. routine in the next post. Like On Becoming Babywise, Tracy Hogg suggests using a routine to add some structure to you and your baby’s life; She’s just a little bit more flexible with her expectations.
Bare Bones of the E.A.S.Y. Baby Sleep Routine:
Every cycle begins with a full feeding. We’ll get more into that later.
This is important: don’t nurse your baby to sleep (unless it’s nighttime). Activity time must come next. “Play” time for newborns is often very short. Sometimes it’ll only be 15 minutes, sometimes it’ll be up to a half hour!
- When you’re having play time with your baby, just remember:
- Encourage motor skills and independent play
- Be careful not to overstimulate (TV, lots of noises, 75 visitors at once playing “Pass the Baby”, etc.
- If your baby is having a hard time differentiating between night and day, try taking her out to a window or the outdoors (just protect her eyes)
- Watch out for overtiredness. Newborn sleep windows are very short. My daughter had two yawns and that was it. If I didn’t get her in bed before then, I could expect a lot of crying. For older babies, you can usually get away with about 10 minutes without dramatic consequences.
Mmmm, sleep. Think about the perfect nap. A wild fantasy, I know. The room is dim, there’s no crying baby, no whining kids. Just you, your big comfy bed, and a nice warm blanket.
Heaven, pure heaven.
Good sleep must have a great sleep environment. When I tell my readers that you can start sleep training from the moment you come home from the hospital, this is what I mean. Good sleep associations are the best tool for sleep training (next to schedules, of course 🙂 ).
Begin your sleep ritual right when she shows signs of tiredness. Swaddle her, sing to her, say your words, and simply lay her down on her preferred sleep surface. It’s that easy. Maybe not at first, but it will be. Trust me.
You sleep, eat, (shower), clean, blog!
How Long is a 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. Then, every 5.
When you use this routine, it’s very, very important that you don’t rush to Wal-Mart to buy a stopwatch. If you do that, you’re going to lose your friggin’ mind and become one of the schedule-haters crowd.
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.
People Will Criticize You…
Have you heard of attachment parenting? It’s actually a really loving, cool concept and is wildly popular right now. While I have nothing against attachment parenting, I do have beef on the claims some advocates make about routines. 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 addition, there should never be a set nighttime routine. Your baby might fall asleep in the living room, other times he could sleep in the bedroom. Neither you nor he, have a set bedtime.
Yikes! Doesn’t this sound chaotic and exhausting?
I hate that these concepts revolve around a baby (in his mystical wisdom) dictates your entire day. In the beginning, babies don’t even know the difference from night and day. He’s depending on you to take care of his every need. How in the world can you ever expect him to take hold of the wheel and control your entire day?
I don’t think routines are cruel–if anything, I think they are helping the little dude out.
Running out of time to read this aweome post? Pin it for later!
How do I Start This Awesome Routine, Erin?
I’m so glad you asked!
If you’re a new mama or a mom-to-be, then you’ve got it real easy. 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, their advice is legit!
- A Crib, Pack n Play, Whatever. The ultimate goal of these routines 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.
- Phone. I know I said not to use a stopwatch, but if you want to download a baby care app, it’ll make things 1000x easier. Baby care apps are incredibly useful for breastfeeding moms, whose only way to ensure that their baby is getting a full feeding is by counting the minutes. Also, when you can’t even remember the last time you brushed your teeth, you’ll need a little help remembering which breast you last fed your baby with. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.wachanga.babycare
- 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.
Next Step: Implement a Baby Sleep Schedule
Alright, Mama! I think this is everything you need to make you dangerous. Now, let’s learn how to start a baby sleep schedule.