Every new parent is universally dealing with one massive issue. They are extremely tired. Newborn babies wake up throughout the night to eat, and while it’s true that babies sleep quite a bit, the total reshuffling of new parents sleep schedule can lead to serious sleep deprivation. For many parents, this continues on through the first year of their baby’s life. However, there is one tip that can change the lives of both new parents and their new addition(s) alike. The baby sleep schedule.
The baby sleep schedule is what I was talking about when I mentioned how important a routine is in my post on The Most Important Lessons Learned As a New Father. I mentioned in that post that this may be the most important lesson I learned. Babies, like their adult counterparts, benefit from a routine as they develop. This routine also allows parents to regain control of what can feel like a whirlwind life. Let’s start breaking down the Baby Sleep Schedule with some hard facts.
Why Baby Sleep Schedules Work
You may be wondering why I think this is the most important tip for new parents. The answer is simple. This really does work. But why does it work? Well, there’s some science that can explain this.
Have you ever heard of the circadian rhythm? It’s that clock that our bodies are on. It’s the reason why jetlag exists and why we can’t just change our sleep schedule on a whim. In utero, your little one is reliant on Mom’s circadian rhythm and will tend to sleep when mom regularly does (though this isn’t always the case). However, after birth, the baby must develop their own circadian rhythm and it takes time. From birth to around 4 months, that body clock is still being programmed.
While that reprogramming is happening, parents can help the process. Your baby will not stick to the schedule you set in the first 4 months, but having them on one in the first place can help them make adjustments once their circadian rhythm kicks in. The importance here is building good habits. Once your little one develops their circadian rhythm around 4 months, the schedule begins to really benefit them more than ever.
Sleep Begets Sleep
We know that sleep begets sleep. It may seem counter intuitive, but your baby needs to sleep a certain amount each day during naps to be a successful night sleeper. Newborns will usually sleep around 8 hours a day and 8 hours at night. However, if they don’t get the 8 hours they need during the day, they may become overtired, which leads to fussing throughout the night. This is why having a baby on a schedule throughout the day can lead to better nighttime sleep.
The disclaimer here is that every baby is different. They will respond to schedules differently, and the baby sleep schedule is not an instant fix in many cases of bad sleep. However, as your baby develops and eventually becomes a toddler (scary, I know), a routine will benefit them. If your child is used to trying a routine in the first place, it will lead to less frustration down the road.
How Can you Implement the Schedule?
As I said before, every baby responds differently to this. The schedule depends on the stage of development that your little one is going through. There are some tried and true methods that I’m going to list here. These are for new parents who are looking for some examples of schedules they can try. However, before I do, this is where I need to put an important disclaimer: flexibility is key.
Wait, what? Flexibility? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a schedule? No, what I’m saying here is that your baby is unique and special. You may see “The Perfect Baby Sleep Schedule” online somewhere, but the truth is that you need to try to make this work for your little one. It’s one of the first of many collaborative efforts between you and your baby, and being rigid about a schedule could do more harm than good. I’m going to give some examples of sleep scheduling for various stages of your babies first year below, but please remember that you have to flexible.
Day 4 to Month 4: Take it E.A.S.Y
The E.A.S.Y routine is a classic routine that is recommended by many doctors and sleep coaches. The acronym stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, and You Time. Let’s break that down.
- Eating. It’s common knowledge that newborns must be fed every two and a half to 3 hours. This step of E.A.S.Y simply represents the time that you are feeding your baby.
- Activity. Babies love light stimulus and doing a small activity with them after they eat can help them wind down for the coming nap.
- Sleep. This is nap time. It’s important that your baby gets enough naps during the day so that night time isn’t as much of a hassle.
- You time. You may never think you’ll have this again, but it’s possible. When your baby is napping it’s important for parents to take you time. This goes back to my self care tip in 8 Lessons I Learned from my First Year as A Father.
So what does this look like in practice? Well it may look something like this (remember, be flexible):
7 AM – E – Wake up and morning feeding
7:30 AM – A – Morning activity
8:30 AM – S – Morning Nap
8:30 AM – Y – Morning You Time. Take a nap, read a book, catch up on that TV show, or get some exercise.
10 AM – E – Wake up for next feeding
This would be one block of your day, but you get the idea. Not every block would be the same, because maybe your baby sleeps more in the morning than they do in the nap in the middle of the day. This isn’t uncommon and it just goes to show that flexibility is important.
Month 4 to Month 12: Focus on the Wake Windows
After month 4, the routine should feel a little more second nature. Of course, this is the time to switch it up. As your baby grows and develops, they won’t need as much day time sleep, but their night time sleep will increase. This is where you hear about babies sleeping twelve hours through the night. That may not be the case for your little one, but the baby sleep schedule can help get you closer.
This is the time when parents need to focus on wake windows. Wake windows are the times between your babies naps. These wake windows are important because your baby will have more energy to expend between naps. As wake windows are expanded, 3rd naps are dropped. Let me give you an example of the sleep schedule my son was on that worked wonders for us once we realized he wasn’t sleeping at all during his 3rd nap (9 months):
7:30 AM – Wake up and Eat Breakfast
7:30 AM – Two and a Half Hour wake window begins, involving playing, diaper changes, etc.
10 AM – Nap 1
11:30 AM – Wake for the next feeding
11:30 AM – Two and a Half Hour wake window begins, involving playing, diaper changes, etc. this wake window involves a snack as well
2 PM – Nap 2
4 PM – Wake up for the next feeding
6 PM – Dinner time (our baby eats with us)
7 PM – Bath time with Dad
7:15 PM – Final bottle of the day and bedtime ritual
7:30 PM – Bed time
This schedule is also flexible depending on our lives and what we have going on. However, this is the schedule that we’ve had for quite a few months now, and as always, it’s time to switch it up again. That will happen continually. The importance of the baby sleep schedule is introducing regularity and routine to your child, and shifting that routine to meet their needs.
Optimize the Schedule With Rituals
Notice that there is a point at 7:15 in my son’s current schedule where I reference a “bedtime ritual”. Rituals are an excellent way of reinforcing a routine with your little one. These rituals will signal to your baby that it’s time for a specific action on the schedule. The most common example is a bed time ritual. Let me give you an example of ours to illustrate how this works. Every night before bed we do the following with our son:
- Bath time – We start with a warm bath to calm our son down and clean him up.
- Lotion and changing – After bath time we lotion and change him into pajamas.
- Sleep Sack – We put him in to a sleep sack every night to help him feel comforted.
- Rocking Chair – We finish with a bottle in the rocking chair and a goodnight song.
This ritual lets our son know that it is bedtime so his body can start to wind down. It also makes bed time a repeatable process for us without any hassle of mixing it up. If you don’t know what some of these things are, like a sleep sack, there will be an article soon covering some of the essential items every first time parent needs. Be sure to look out for it. The ritual is what we attribute our lack of bedtime fuss to and I highly recommend adding it to your baby sleep schedule.
Resources for Your Baby Scheduling
Like all things for new parents, I was obviously just born with this information in my head…
If only it were that simple. My wife and I did a ton of research before and after our son was born to learn about the power of the schedule. I want to link a couple of those resources so that other new or struggling parents can learn more about baby scheduling or baby sleep:
- Taking Cara Babies – https://takingcarababies.com/ – Taking Cara Babies is a website and sleep training program run by Cara Dumaplin and her team. We were recommended her newborn class and it taught us so much. Not only did we learn about baby sleep schedules, we learned about feeding scheduling, self care, building good habits, and so much more. We highly recommend her resources, whether it be a course or her blog, to any new parents.
- Mommy Methodology – https://mommymethodology.com/category/child-development/sleep/ – Mommy Methodology has a great series of articles on E.A.S.Y sleep training that really helped serve as reference while we were using E.A.S.Y to guide our lives. Check them out if you want more information.
Remember that there is a wealth of information on the internet. However, all that matters is that you’re doing what is best for you and your baby at the end of the day. This blog, along with the sites I link above can be outstanding resources, but sleep is different for every baby and you have to do what you think is best.
Harness the Power
The power of the baby sleep schedule feels like magic when it starts to work. Not only will your baby be sleeping better, but you will feel better because you have a routine that allows you to perform some self care. Remember my tip from The Most Important Lessons Learned As a New Father, self care is crucial. The schedule helps parents as much as it helps their little ones. Keep flexibility in mind, make adjustments where needed, and pay attention to what works for your little one. You won’t believe what a difference it can make.
Thanks so much for reading. Have any thoughts or questions? Let me know below in the comments. Pin this article on Pinterest using the Pin button below if you want to share with other new parents. If you have a topic you’d like me to dive in to, feel free to shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you like what you read today and you want some bonus content, you can sign up for our monthly newsletter on our homepage here. Until next time, father on.