Let me start off by saying that my babies were “schedule babies”, but I really don’t like that term. It implies that you are trying to enforce a rigid timeline on your baby with no room for flexibility. On the contrary, the schedule is more of a routine, designed to help you organize your day and help your child grow and develop in the best way possible!
What are Schedule Babies?
A schedule baby is one that follows a pattern of activities each day in a cycle throughout the day. I am a fan of the EASY model, which I’ll describe later. But first let’s take a look at the advantages of getting your baby into a schedule:
- A schedule provides a sense of comfort for your baby. Since he knows what’s coming next, there’s no ambiguity to cause anxiety. Each day becomes a sensory overload for your baby because everything is new. Having the security of a routine is something your baby can cling to, and take comfort in its consistency.
- It ensures your child is getting what he needs throughout the day. If you follow an EASY routine (or something similar), there’s no doubt that your child is getting enough feedings, lots of snuggles and playtime and adequate rest.
- You can eliminate the guessing game. Not sure why your baby is fussy? Schedule babies follow a routine that enables you to rule out certain reasons right away like hunger, boredom or sleepiness.
- Find time for yourself. Having an idea of when your baby will be napping gives you time to do some chores around the house or take a much-needed rest!
Remember that having a schedule doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible. Let’s face it: life happens. Vacations are a good example. But if you have a routine in place most of the time, and can stick to part of it (mealtimes and bedtime for example) your child will more easily adapt to change. And occasional change can be good, as it will teach your child flexibility and resilience.
What kind of schedule are we talking about?
Many people adopt an EASY (eat, activity, sleep, your time) schedule:
- When your baby wakes up, feed him first. You may want to do a diaper change first if he’s ‘muddy’. Upon waking, your baby will be alert and less likely to nod off and not get a full feeding. This is especially important if you’re breastfeeding.
- Next, do an activity. This will vary by age. For a very young baby, it can be as simple as cuddling and singing to your baby. From there, you’ll progress to ‘tummy time’, reading stories, playing with toys, going for walks with the stroller, you get the idea.
- It’s time for sleep when your baby’s sleep cues start (i.e., yawning, tugging their ears, or getting fussy).
- And then, it’s YOUR time!
When can I start to put a schedule in place?
You can’t (and shouldn’t) start introducing a schedule to your baby until they’re at least a couple of months old. Prior to that, your baby will be dictating the feeding and sleeping schedule. Your primary focus should be on providing lots of love, comfort, and nutrition to your newborn.
One thing you can do from the start is to help your baby understand the difference between day and night. Have you ever heard of parents saying their newborn had its days and nights confused? You can help your baby set her circadian rhythm so she understands that when it’s light, we’re up and when it’s dark, we sleep.
From the start, when waking for night feedings, try to keep the lights dim and the environment quiet. A dimmer switch helps you bring up the light enough to see but not so much that it’s really bright. For the first 4 to 6 weeks, it won’t make much difference to your baby, but it will get you into the habit and your baby will start to develop a day and night rhythm shortly thereafter. I also felt I was making it easier on myself to fall back to sleep by keeping the room low-lit.
How will my child’s schedule change over time?
- Between 6 weeks and 4 months old, your baby can only stay awake for one and a half hours without getting overtired. He will likely take three naps (around 8:30 AM, 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM) and may take a catnap late in the afternoon (around 5 PM) before going to bed around 7:30 or 8 PM. Your baby will also look to eat every three hours or so.
- Between 4 months and 6 months old, your baby will stretch awake time to two hours and transition to two naps (around 9 AM and 1 PM) with a catnap around 5 PM and bedtime still around 7:30 or 8 PM. Your baby’s time between feedings will increase to four hours.
- From 6 months until your baby is around 15 months old, he will be able to stay awake for about two and a half hours. At this point, he will likely take 2 naps (one around 9:30 in the morning and the other around 2 in the afternoon). Bedtime should be between 6 and 8 PM. Your baby should be able to stay away for about 3-4 hours max at this point, so use that as a guide to determine a good bedtime for your child.
- Between 15 months and 3 years old, your child will drop the morning nap, take one long nap in the afternoon and stay on that schedule for a while. Typically, most children do not fully drop their afternoon nap until they are around 4 years old. Your child should gradually stretch awake time to 5 hours and bedtime should be between 6-8 PM.
- Between 3 and 5 years old, your child will drop his afternoon nap. Yep, it happens. After I mourned the loss of my afternoon peace and quiet, I realized that I’m glad my big guy doesn’t take a nap in the afternoon. It gives us more flexibility to be out and about throughout the day, instead of cramming everything into the morning to be home before naptime. Awake time will average 12 hours total, with the goal of 11-13 hours of sleep time each night. Target a bedtime between 7-8:30 PM, moving to an earlier bedtime as your child drops their afternoon nap. My son is almost 4 and on days he doesn’t nap, we start our bedtime routine around 6:30 to prevent meltdowns.
Listen to Your Baby
You may find that your baby naturally falls into a routine on their own. My first born didn’t, but my younger son did. In retrospect, I was too much of a ‘clock-watcher’ as a first-time Mom. Had I been more relaxed about it, my son probably would have fallen into a routine on his own. With my second son, I let him feed on demand for the first couple of months, and noticed that he fell into a routine of eating every 3 hours or so after that.
My piece of advice is to follow your baby’s lead – they know what they need. It may seem difficult at first, but the more you can understand your baby’s cues, the less anxiety you will have and the more relaxed you’ll be as a parent. Your baby will sense this too and you’ll both be happier for it!