How to Start a Newborn Sleep Schedule
Got a newborn, eh? How’re you sleeping?
Sometimes it feels like you can’t go a single day without hearing that smug little question. Believe me, I get it. When I was a new mom, I was sick and tired of hearing it over and over.
But guess what?
Exhaustion does not have to be a staple of motherhood. With a structured baby sleep routine, your newborn can be well-rested, which translates to a happier, more alert baby.
And, Mama, you will feel so much less overwhelmed by this routine. I’ve heard of moms that are so bogged down by the chaos that comes with a newborn that they haven’t been able to shower in days. I’m here to tell you that this does not have to be you.
In this post, I’m going to show you how to start a newborn sleep schedule that is flexible, easy to keep, and works for you and your baby.
Before we get started if you haven’t already read my post How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule, read it now. I promise, it’s just as beneficial as this post. It discusses everything you need to get started with this step-by-step tutorial.
How to Start a Baby Sleep Routine During the Newborn Phase
What is a Newborn Sleep Schedule?
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Let’s talk about realistic expectations for your newborn. At this age, feedings and sleep is sporadic. Growths spurts, day/night confusion, trauma from birth. So, when I talk about starting a “schedule” for your newborn, you should know that we’re really trying to implement a flexible routine. Anything more rigid will frustrate you and endanger your baby.
A flexible routine, on the other hand, works for you and your baby. It creates a stable environment for your baby to learn how to sleep and gives you predictable, much-needed breaks.
I found that writing a schedule out is very helpful. It creates a template for you to follow (or just maybe hope for). Having said that, I want you to expect your baby’s sleep to be sporadic at this point. Expect to feed more often than your “sleep schedule” dictates. If you go into this with realistic expectations, it’ll take a huge burden off of you.
Step 1: Prepare for an EASY Routine
My favorite sleep routine of all time is E.A.S.Y. or Eat-Activity-Sleep-You. Tracy Hogg, author of the Secrets of a Baby Whisperer, first coined this term. Since then, many sleep experts (most notably Cara from Taking Cara Babies) have used this same routine as the pillar for their sleep training methods.
I LOVE this routine because it almost completely takes the guesswork out of tending to your baby’s needs. When your baby wakes up, you feed her. You play for a few minutes (at the newborn stage it’s probably only 5 minutes) before putting the baby back to sleep. Then, YOU get some nice free time.
I covered most of these items in my last post, but here’s a quick recap of what you’ll need for a newborn sleep schedule:
- A Crib: It’s very, very hard to establish a routine when you bed-share. Your crib (or Pack N Play or Bassinet) should be flat and without any loose blankets.
- Quiet, dark place to establish as her nursery: In the beginning you might use your bedroom per SIDS guidelines.
- Swaddle: A swaddle controls your baby’s moro-reflex and can even help prevent SIDS.
- Phone: To keep track of which breast you’re using or how many ounces you’re giving, and when your feelings are.
- Desired Wake Time and Bedtime (more on that in a minute)
- Secrets of a Baby Whisperer (optional) or, if you want to save time, the Taking Cara Babies Newborn Sleep Class.
Step 2: Make Your “Schedule”
A written schedule is your game plan for the next couple months of motherhood. In other words, this your sanity, written on a paper.
Remember, this is a flexible routine, not a rigid schedule. You’ll have to adjust this schedule as your baby’s needs evolve and you cope with the different daily challenges your baby throws at you. A written schedule just helps you keep sight of the end goal when you’re surrounded by piles of diapers.
Here’s a couple things you should keep in mind when you create your newborn sleep schedule:
- Decide on a desired wake time (the official start of the day) and bedtime.
- At this age, it’s ideal that you feed your baby 2-2.5 hours. Less might encourage snack feeding and hindmilk/foremilk imbalances. More time between feeds will probably increase night wakings.
- Consider your family schedule. This will help your baby adjust to life in your family, as well as help your family adjust to your baby’s needs without stressing you out too much. For example, my husband used to get home around 7PM, so my goal was for an 8pm bedtime so he could see his little girl).
- Be realistic about your expectations. Newborns require a lot of your time (not that I have to tell you that!) Typically, newborns require at least 8-12 feedings a day and sleep a minimum of 16 hours a day. The 2.5-3 hour schedule fits very nicely into their natural rhythms.
(Here’s a great article from the Chronicles of a Babywise Mom that goes over general baby sleep expectations. These figures aren’t the rule, but it’s a great guideline to help you plan.)
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Sample Newborn Sleep Schedule
So, what does a newborn sleep schedule look like? Below is the rough (very rough) schedule I used for both of my daughters.
In my previous post, How to Start the Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule, I talked about the E.A.S.Y. routine from the Baby Whisperer and the Feed-Wake-Sleep routine from On Becoming Babywise. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to use the E.A.S.Y. routine below.
Every Baby is Different
Your routine may look vastly different from mine. Don’t kill yourself trying to get on a 2.5-3 hour routine. In some instances, your baby may NEED to continue eating every 2 hours. For example, many moms switch to a 2 hour feeding routine if they have a low milk supply. Don’t worry, these situations are only temporary!
Related: How to Increase Your Milk Supply FAST
Step 3: Focus on Full Feedings
Make sure your baby is getting full feedings. A full feeding is simply making sure that your baby nurses a minimum of roughly 10 minutes per side, ideally draining your breast.
Here are just a few reasons why sleep experts recommend full feedings:
- Full feedings combat the arch nemesis of baby sleep schedules: snack feedings. Full feedings ensure that your baby has a nice full tummy that can help his little metabolism stabilize. The only thing snack feedings do is ensure that you’re feeding your baby every half hour.
- Your baby will already be on a 2 -2.5 hour schedule naturally. This was the case for my daughter and I.
- Ensures quality of milk: When your baby drains your breast, he receives foremilk (the clear, thirst-quenching milk) and hindmilk (the white milk that helps baby gain weight).
- Helps drain breasts: When your breasts are drained it signals your body to produce more milk.
How long is a full feeding?
Most experts say that a full feeding is 15-20 minutes on each side if you’re nursing. For formula-fed babies, it’s usually between 4-5oz.
As always, this is the norm, but don’t stress out if your baby is a little off. I hardcore stressed out about this concept at first. Both of my daughters were guzzlers from birth, only taking 20-30 (tops) minutes to empty both breasts.
The main idea you want to grasp here is not to let your baby fall asleep nursing and burp frequently to ensure that air isn’t filling your baby’s tummy instead of milk.
Step 4: Desired Wake Time and Bedtime
Every good newborn sleep schedule begins with a good morning routine.
If your morning wake time is messed up, it throws everything off. If you try to start a newborn sleep schedule without enforcing a solid morning wake time and bedtime, it’s like trying to build a house without a foundation.
Are you wondering how the heck you can control when your baby wakes up for the day and goes down for the night?
It’s not as intimidating as you’d think, I promise. The key to a successful wake time and bedtime lies within your interactions. There’s daytime feedings and then there’s nighttime feedings.
From the time you put your baby down for the night to your desired wake time, you must do these things:
- Limit social interaction. You feed your baby, you put her back in the crib. In the beginning, you may have to coax her back to sleep, but don’t play with her, don’t snuggle for long periods, don’t talk to her. Remember: low-key.
- Create a nighttime environment: Dim lights, no sounds, comfortable temperature. When you feed your baby in the middle of the night, don’t turn on the light. Instead, use a night light or a very low watt bulb.
- Use the same routine every morning and night. When I wake my daughters for the day, I bounce in, happily greet them, and give them a big ol’ hug. Together, we open the blinds and begin our day. Likewise, our bedtime routine is just as predictable: we nurse, take a bath/clean up, get into jammies, pray in the big bed with Dad, and then off to the crib. My eldest is 3 years old now and we still follow a very similar bedtime routine. It’s our most treasured part of the day!
When should morning time and bedtime begin?
Some babies are naturally early risers (ugh, my daughter). If you’ve decided on a 9AM wake time but your baby consistently is UP at 7, you might need to adjust your expectations.
The same thing goes with bedtime. Some babies do NOT do well with late bedtimes. My first daughter did, my second daughter begins to scream at around 7:45.
Some early bedtimers get overtired and don’t sleep nearly as well (often resulting in an even earlier rising). Going to sleep early can give you a little more freedom and your baby some much-needed sleep. (Experts recommend before 9PM for 0-3 months, but this gets earlier as your baby gets older.)
Step 5: Repeat the Cycle Every 2.5-3 Hours
We touched on this a little bit before, but let’s dig a little deeper into a 2.5-3 hour routine. If your baby is younger than 4 weeks, she may need to ear every 2-2.5 hours. After 4 weeks, it might be time to stretch it to a 2.5-3 hour.
Sometimes, this can be a struggle. Depending on how old your baby is and what habits she’s already developed, she may resist full feedings. In this case, you may need to gradually extend the duration between feedings. Aim first for 2 hours, then work your way up to 2.5 hours.
During the day you should not let your baby sleep longer than 2 hours at a time. I know it might seem cruel, but it’s extremely important that you feed her consistently to help her circadian rhythms develop and stabilize her metabolism.
Aim for Consistency, Adjust for You.
Newborn sleep schedules are constantly evolving. When your baby isn’t thrown off by the chaos in his day, he’s able to concentrate on more important things, like learning about the world around him, practicing his motor skills, and developing a great relationship with you.
The main goal of a good newborn sleep schedule is to lay the foundation for great sleep.
But, let’s be honest. Sometimes, baby sleep schedules just don’t go as well as you hope. There will be growth spurts, Wonder Weeks, teething, the 45-minute Intruder (which is a really sucky thing), the Witching Hour, illness, time changes, milk supply issues…
These things happen. The important thing is, you know what your baby’s schedule is supposed to look like and you’ll have a firm foundation that allows you to make adjustments easily. Expect these situations and have grace for yourself.
A flexible newborn sleep schedule provides freedom, but it should not become another cause of stress!
Need more help starting a newborn sleep schedule? Here’s some more resources!
Every baby is different. I followed the tips from On Becoming Babywise and the Baby Whisperer with great success for my first. But I struggled with naps with my second. The Taking Cara Babies Newborn Sleep Class, which advocates a more laid-back approach, improved my second daughter’s naps dramatically. Two different babies that required two different approaches.
If you and your baby are struggling with sleep right now, you’re not alone. This is a hairy, exhausting phase. Employing these simple steps can definitely help improve your baby’s sleep, but it might take time and a lot of patience.
Keeping track of your baby’s sleep habits can help you troubleshoot and figure out what could be going wrong. I created the Baby Sleep Troubleshooting Worksheet to make that process easier for moms! You can get it for free below!
If you’re still struggling, check out a few of the related posts too! I love talking about infant sleep and sharing my experiences!
Keep on going, Mama! You will sleep soon!