When can I get my baby on a Schedule?

An oldie but goodie that we first shared in 2007.

This is the one question I am asked most often! Many new parents are anxious to get their baby into some kind of a routine and restore order to the chaos a newborn creates in their home. Unfortunately, imposing any kind of structure on a newborn that suits the parents’ schedule, usually results in a tired and cranky baby. Eventually, that baby will have tired and cranky parents and your family life will be anything but peaceful!

But what if you took a different approach to trying to get your baby on a schedule? What if you simply accepted that your baby has basic needs related to hunger and sleep that are beyond your control? What if, instead, you did everything you could to accommodate your baby’s natural schedule rather than trying to force him or her to follow yours? I can guarantee that if you did that, your life would fall into a very predictable routine. It would allow you to plan your day and actually feel as if you are able to accomplish things and in control. Why not give this approach a try? What have you got to loose, other than some more sleep?

A baby’s sleeping and eating pattern really does have some predictability to it throughout the newborn period.  Unfortunately, most parents of newborns are too tired to even realize it. I am certain at some point you will read this and think “That’s what my baby is doing right now!” Learning about it beforehand makes it much easier to recognize and deal with when it happens to you.

The first few days of a newborn’s life are full of sleep. The baby will usually be alert and awake for the first 4 hours after delivery, which is just one more reason to keep him with you and nurse in the delivery room! This is a great time for Mom, Dad, and baby to bond. After that, it’s lights out for days. Many parents tell me at this stage how good their baby is! I am constantly reminding them to make sure they wake the baby up every 2 to 3 hours during the day to feed him. If you don’t, he won’t eat. On or around day 4, Mom’s milk comes in and it’s a new ballgame! The baby eats all the time and is now vigorously demanding feedings. If he is doing this, you probably will not need to wake him anymore, provided he is voiding, stooling and gaining weight. Just feed him when he wakes up and asks for it! In addition, babies will start to have a fussy period that lasts a couple hours a day, usually in the evening. This fussiness usually peaks around 3-6 weeks and is almost always over by 3 months. This is a great cause of concern for mothers especially, who will begin to doubt their milk supply. It’s the perfect time to take a walk or ride in the car or break out the Snugly, swing, or vibrating infant seat. Don’t fight your baby’s fussiness! Feed him as much as he wants and do whatever else helps to make him happy. Nothing you do now is going to start bad habits and ruin him for life. You are simply giving him what he needs now, as any good parent would do.

At around 3 weeks of age, your baby will have a growth spurt. It is usually preceded and/or followed by a lot of sleep. He will nurse constantly for days, until you think you can’t stand it anymore! But when it’s over, he will fall into another predictable pattern. He may go as long as 3 hours between feedings during the day, and start sleeping for longer stretches at night. Another growth spurt happens again at 6 weeks and by that time, your baby should be sleeping from about 10pm to 4 or 6am. They usually nurse at that morning feeding and go right back to bed for a couple more hours. Another growth spurt then occurs again at 3 months of age, and is in many ways identical to the ones that preceded it. The best part about it is that when it’s over, the fussiness tends to diminish significantly and the sleep tends to become more regular and last longer. You may get a few good daytime naps and a good 8 hours of straight sleep at night!  It is at this time that I strongly recommend your baby is in his own crib in his own room (if possible of course!). I also advise parents to keep the baby in his bedroom from around 7pm to 7am, so he gets used to being in his room at night. The baby may go down at 7 and wake a few times throughout the night. But with a feeding and minimal stimulation (no TV, siblings, other adults) they usually eat and go straight back to sleep. This is usually a welcome relief to parents who have been up for hours during the night with their newborn.

Babies at 4 months of age generally are capable of and need to sleep from 7 at night to 7 in the morning. They may still wake once for a feeding anytime around 4 to 6, but they generally grow out of that rather soon. Problems at this age usually arise because your baby is now a little social being and has a pretty good idea that things are still going on in his family while he’s in his room and down for the night. At this stage, you may get some serious protesting at bedtime. But in my experience, babies who have been allowed to sleep and eat as they need to, are well accustomed to their crib and room, and have learned to fall asleep on their own, have no problem making this transition. And it is a very important one, because it now provides the parents with some quiet time in the evening for each other, other children, or additional sleep! In addition, once sleeping thru the night occurs with regularity, daytime naps start to happen with predictability as well, and your days get easier.

This routine of 12 hours of nighttime sleep and 2 daily naps in the morning and afternoon usually lasts from 4 months until about 15 months. At 15 months, your baby will start to phase out the morning nap, and tend to take one long nap in the afternoon. Many parents are happy to see that morning nap gone, as they are now free to leave the house in the morning and take the baby out for activities or errands.

Does this all sound impossible and too good to be true? I promise you it isn’t! If you think of sleep as something that your baby needs just as much as food, love, shelter and safety, it becomes something you feel the responsibility to provide for him as well. To learn more about this very important topic, I highly recommend the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth M.D. He discusses this topic at considerable length and teaches you how to recognize fatigue in your baby. He also reveals many good habits to start before that 4 month mark that make the transition to a full night of sleep an easy one. He believes strongly, as I do, that a well-rested baby is a healthy, happy child, with a happy mom!

If things aren’t  going this smoothly for you, we offer a sleep class and even a sleep consult if you need one.  Just call our office at 401-884-8273 to let us know what we can help you with!