Should I establish a sleep schedule with my newborn?
Does it really work? Is it really worth the stress?
Don’t babies just make their own schedules?
Well, yes and no. Of course a baby is going to cry when they’re hungry or tired or need a diaper change, but establishing a schedule early on will get them in more of a routine so you will have a better idea of when that cry is coming. Here are some pros of establishing a sleep schedule, and because I’m a realist, I’m providing you with some cons as well. I want you to know that it will be hard and you will feel like you haven’t slept since he was born, but in the end (after about a month) it will be worth it!
Pros of Establishing a Sleep Schedule
- You can schedule your day around feeding times
I know when to schedule doctor’s appointments, cooking meals, doing chores, exercising, etc. because I have a really good idea of when he is going to want to eat.
2. If people want to come see him, I know exactly when to tell them to come over because I know when he will be awake.
I can’t imagine how people handle this, maybe because I’m a huge planner. I have to know exactly what’s going on throughout the day. I have a “game plan” all mapped out in my mind.
But I would also hate having to wake my baby up when he’s in a deep sleep just to see someone. Sometimes it’s so hard to get him to fall asleep, so I really hate waking him up for no reason.
3. You never have to guess what time you fed him last.
I don’t know about you, but I am super forgetful. My husband can tell me something, and then a minute later I have to ask him what he said. I know Joshua’s schedule by heart after almost 2 months of using it, so I never have to worry about how long it’s been since he ate.
4. They figure out the difference in night and day
Babies don’t come out of the womb knowing the difference in night and day. It is very important for your sanity to help them figure this out. (You will see in my schedule below how you can do that.)
5. Your baby will sleep longer at night
Babies sometimes sleep as little as 15 minutes. You want your child to learn to have these cat naps during the day and save the long stretches of sleep for nighttime.
6. You can start right away with establishing the schedule
While doing research for this post, I read a few articles that said you could wait until your child is a month old to start establishing a schedule. I don’t agree with this. My son was in NICU, so from the very beginning he was on a feeding schedule. When I brought him home at almost a week old, I stayed on the schedule. It takes about a month for babies to learn the schedule, so why not start that month from the very beginning? If you start later, you have to break the habit of them getting food whenever they want it which can lead to overfeeding and more stress of breaking one schedule and starting a new one.
If you haven’t started a schedule, go ahead and start now. It’s never too late, it just may be a little harder.
Cons of Establishing a Sleep Schedule
- Sometimes babies just make their own schedules
Even though I have him on schedule, sometimes (maybe once a day, but usually not) he wants to eat about 15-30 minutes early. About half the time I can distract him with a pacifier or by taking him on a walk, but if he’s not having it then I will feed him. You shouldn’t make your baby wait just to stay on schedule if they are really upset.
2. You have to be really determined
It’s going to take some time. Joshua didn’t stick to the schedule until about a month in.
You will also have to hold your family and friends to the schedule when they watch your child. There will be some who complain, but stick to it, Mom! When you finally start seeing results, it will all be worth it!
3. Babies want to sleep right after they feed
You will see in the schedule that you should play with your baby after they eat during the day. However, newborns have a tough time staying awake with a full belly. You will have to try very hard and get pretty creative to keep them awake, but as long as you can get a minimum of 10 minutes of play from them in the early weeks, you can put them back down for a nap. My son is almost 2 months old and he finally doesn’t fall straight to sleep after feeding during the day.
4. You’re going to have to let them learn to self-soothe
As a mom, it hurts to hear your baby cry, but you shouldn’t pick them up right away if it’s not time to feed. Let them cry for about 3-5 minutes (closer to 3 at the beginning of establishing the schedule) to allow them to learn to self-soothe. If you don’t, then they won’t learn to put themselves back to sleep. The first time my son soothed himself back to sleep after about 2 minutes of crying I thought I was dreaming! I was almost too surprised to go back to bed! You will get there, Mom! Just set a timer and distract yourself for those 3-5 minutes.
5. You have to be a little flexible
Sometimes you will have to feed early because your baby can’t make it the 3 hours, but that’s okay! You are Mom. You know what’s best for your child. You have the final say. It may take a few days or weeks of stress to feel confident in your decision-making, but very soon you will be a pro!
Joshua’s Sleep Schedule
I found this sleep schedule on the All Spruced up in AK blog and modified it to fit my child and my life, as I encourage you to do as you establish your own schedule. Click here to read her original post about the schedule.
Here is my modified version that works best for me and Joshua. I’m starting at our nighttime schedule so I can better explain how our day begins:
9:00 pm — Diaper change and feed. Try to keep him awake as long as you possibly can. Now that Joshua is 2 months old, my husband can keep him awake for up to an hour and a half. The longer he stays awake the better he will sleep through the night, but don’t fight him. If he gets too overstimulated and cranky, put him to sleep.
11:00 pm to 9:00 am — Change diaper and feed every 2-4 hours. When they’re a month old, change this to every 3-4 hours. Wake to feed if they make it to 4 hours (I set a timer for every 4 hours just in case, but he didn’t make it to 4 hours until he was 5-6 weeks old.) Make sure to read the next section about how to keep them sleepy after each feeding.
8:00 to 9:30 am — This time depends on when they last ate during the night, but the goal is to make it to 9 am to start your schedule. I make Joshua wait at least 2.5 hours ever since he turned 1 month old, but before a month, you shouldn’t feed earlier than 2 hours if you can help it. So, for instance, if he ate at 5:30 am, I want him to eat again at 9 am to get the schedule back on track. But if he wakes up at 8 am wanting a bottle, I will give it to him, but no earlier than 2.5 hours. If he happens to eat at 7:30 am, I will wake him up at 9:30 am to start the day. It’s 2 hours, but if you wait till 10 am to feed, it can throw your baby off their schedule. This block of time is important to getting him on his schedule for the day. (You’ll get the hang of this after a week of having to make these decisions and figuring out what works best for you and baby. To start the day, I turn on all the lights in the rooms I will be using, change his diaper, and then feed him. After feeding is playtime. A newborn (less than a month old) should play for 10-30 minutes. When they start getting cranky, put them down for a nap.
From here on out, my schedule is less flexible until bedtime (unless he gets hungry early and can’t make it to the next feed).
12:00 pm — Change diaper and feed. Playtime for 10-30 minutes. Lay them down for a nap. (I suggest making your own lunch at 11 am. Too many times in the early stages of establishing a schedule did I wait till 11:30 to eat and he decided to wake up while I was eating.)
3:00 pm — Change diaper and feed. Playtime for 10-30 minutes. Lay them down for a nap.
6:00 pm — Change diaper and feed. Bath time every other day. If it’s not bath day, then playtime for 10-30 minutes. Lay them down for a nap.
9:00 pm — Repeat schedule.
*At a month old, my son was more aware and wanted to play more after each nap. I got tired of trying to get him back to sleep every 15-30 minutes, so I stopped laying him in his crib during the day. He now sleeps in his bouncer during the day and when he wakes up I play with him until he falls back to sleep.
** Need some tips on how to help your newborn sleep longer and deeper at night? Read my 13 Late Night Newborn Sleep Hacks post.
Sleep Schedule for Mama
It is irrational to think that Mama doesn’t need more than 2-3 hours of sleep at a time for the first 4 months of a baby’s life (and some kids don’t sleep through the night until they’re several years old). Talk to your husband, or whoever will be helping you, about taking over for a few hours at night so you can get some sleep. (Click here to read my blog post about letting Daddy be Daddy and why it’s important for both of you to share the schedule.)
Here’s how my husband and I share the schedule:
6:00 pm — Husband’s shift starts. I can have me-time, shower, cook, or whatever I need to do. I do help with bath time because that tends to be a two-person job.
7:00 pm — We eat supper together.
7:30 pm — I go to bed. Sometimes I wait till 8 or 8:30 to go to bed, but I always regret it.
12:00 am — Husband’s shift ends. He brings me the baby monitor and tells me what time the baby last ate. I set an alarm for the next feeding and fall back to sleep (before Joshua was used to the schedule, I would get up and sleep on the couch until he was ready to eat because this part of the night consisted of me waking up every 15-30 minutes to rock him back to sleep and I didn’t want to wake my husband up).
1:20 am — This is when Joshua tends to wake up now. When he wakes, I bring my phone and the monitor to the couch so I can sleep there the rest of the morning after feeding him and my husband can get an uninterrupted sleep before work.
Remember, Mom, this is going to take time, determination, patience, and prayer. Stick to it the best you can, but know your limits. Don’t berate yourself when it seems like nothing’s changing. It’s a slow process, but the end result is worth it!
“… Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith …”
“Cast all your anxiety on Him
because He cares for you.”
1 Peter 5:7
You’ve got this, Mom!