5 Simple Steps to Start an Amazing 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 and happy, 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 your destiny.
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.
This is part two of my baby sleep tutorials.
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: like what a baby sleep schedule is ( it’s probably not what you think!), how to deflect criticism for starting a baby sleep schedule, and the absolute bare minimum you need to get started.
I’ll give you a moment to go do that, and then we’ll get started.
**Just a note** I wrote this guide specifically for babies 2 months and younger (newborns).3 month baby sleep schedules are a gray area. You might get lucky and be able to use the methods in this post. Or, your baby’s bad sleep habits could already be ingrained and you’ll have to use the methods in the other post, How to Get Your Crazy Baby on a Sleep Schedule ( 4 Months or Older).**
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.
First of all, I am so glad you’re here.
Most people will tell you not to even think about baby sleep schedules until your baby is over 4 months. I wholeheartedly disagree. My baby was on a consistent 2-2.5 hour feeding routine by the time she was 3 weeks old. That’s not an exaggeration. I have no idea how families survive without one.
The Best Resources for Starting a Newborn Sleep Schedule
Since you are starting so early, the process is so much easier. Throughout this post, you’re going to see that I reference three books pretty frequently: On Becoming Babywise, The Secrets of a Baby Whisperer, and The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems.
I bought these books at the suggestion of a few other mamas and total game-changers. The tips in this post are based on my experiences as mom, but they don’t even compare to the research and years of professional experience given in these books.
I think On Becoming Babywise is my favorite book because the tips they suggested for baby sleep schedules work so well. Having said that, The Baby Whisperer series contains a ton of information that is useful to new moms and veteran moms alike that you’ll use well beyond your baby’s first year (especially in The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. That’s basically like a baby troubleshooting manual if there ever was one…)
So, if you’re able to buy these books after this post, do it. Until then, let’s get started!
How to Start a Newborn Sleep Schedule
Step 1: Prepare
Starting a routine for your baby is so easy. You’re basically working with a blank slate. While there are some complications that may require additional preparation, you only need a few things to get started on an E.A.S.Y. or Feed-Wake-Sleep Routine.
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 (or Pack N Play, Bassinet, Whatever)
- Quiet place to establish as her nursery (in the beginning you might use your bedroom per SIDS guidelines).
- 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
Just a note on swaddles…When your baby is still trying to adjust to the harshness of the world, a swaddle is a very powerful tool for creating an awesome routine.
Awesome routine=more sleep.
If you don’t believe me, check out my article How to Swaddle a Baby (That Hates Being Swaddled). For the sake of progress, let’s just assume you agree that swaddles are the best things ever and move on!
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.
If it helps you, think of it as a flexible routine instead of a rigid schedule. You’ll have to adjust this schedule as your baby’s needs evolve. However, it will add a lot of structure to your day and help 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:
- Keep to your desired wake time and bedtime. Everything is founded on this.
- What is your family’s natural schedule? Try to work around that. For example, my husband used to get home around 7PM, so my goal was to aim for an 8pm bedtime (so Daddy could see his little girl).
- Be realistic about your expectations. Newborns require a lot of sleep. Typically, newborns require at least 8-12 feedings a day, 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.)
Running short on time? Pin this post for later!
Sample Newborn Sleep Schedule
In part one of this post, 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!
Step 3: For the first two weeks, concentrate on full-feedings.
Now that you’ve created your awesome routine, it’s time to put it aside.
The first two weeks of your baby’s life, you have one job: make sure your baby is getting full feedings. I can’t stress how critical this is.
On Becoming Babywise suggests this for three reasons:
- It will help you establish your milk supply. In the beginning, your supply will be precariously low or nonexistent. The only cure for that is feeding.
- 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.
- If you follow this rule, chances are, at the end of the two weeks your baby will already be on a 2 -2.5 hour schedule naturally. This was the case for my daughter and I.
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. My daughter was a guzzler 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 interactions and then there’s nighttime interactions.
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 daughter up for the day, I bounce in, happily greet her, and give her 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. Even at 8 months, we use the same wake time and bedtime routines.
Be reasonable about your expectations for bedtime and daytime times.
Some babies are naturally early risers (ugh, my daughter). If you’ve decided on a 9AM wake time and your baby bounces off the walls until then, it would be best for all of you to adjust your expectations. The same thing goes with bedtime. I’ve learned that babies do not do well on a late bedtime. They 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
Is your baby’s current sleep pattern kind of sporadic? Sometimes she’ll eat every half hour, then she’ll sleep go three, blessed hours.
That needs to stop, ASAP.
Crazy concept: you’re going to have to wake your baby up to eat sometimes. Do not let your baby sleep longer than 2 hour stretches during the day. 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.
In the beginning, strive to feed every 2-2.5 hours.
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.
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, developing a great relationship with you. That’s the main goal of a good newborn sleep schedule.
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!
One final chunk of wisdom:
Every baby is different. While I firmly believe that EVERY mommy and EVERY baby is capable of being on a great newborn sleep schedule, some of my tips may not be right for you. That’s okay! Just keep trying new things until you find the right fit!
If you’re looking for more baby tips, you can subscribe to my bi-weekly newsletter for lots of mom-related survival tips (and snag my awesome Sleep Troubleshooting Worksheet.)
I know having a newborn can seem overwhelming at first. There will be days where you’ll feel like an amazing mom and think you have it under control…then there’s other days where it plain old sucks. From one mom to another, let me assure you, it does get better. 🙂
I hope I hear from you soon!
Related Post: Baby Sleep Training: Everything You Need to Know