Schedules are not for everyone, that goes without saying. But the arrival of your little one can quite literally turn your world upside down!
What if I told you that by structuring feeds and naps, even just a little, your newborn will be happy and contented in between?
HINT: A newborn sleep and feeding schedule can help with that.
So number 1: it’ll benefit your baby.
What if I told you that by working towards a long afternoon nap, it’ll give you a good chunk of time to yourself?
HINT: A newborn sleep and feeding schedule can help with that.
So number 2: it’ll benefit you.
What if I told you that by ensuring baby feeds enough in the day, your baby is less likely to wake at night and more likely to sleep through the night early (let’s say by 3 months)?
HINT: You guessed it, a schedule can help with that too!
So number 3: it’ll benefit BOTH of you.
So this post will cover these 3 main reasons in a bit more detail or if you don’t need any more persuading, hop on over and start on this newborn feeding and sleep schedule.
On the other side of the fence, you may be a lover of routine, but are concerned because the advice is always ‘be led by your baby’ these days. Don’t worry, this post has got you covered!
Only start a sleep or feeding schedule when baby is a few weeks old
In the first few weeks, you must be led by your baby.
Feed on demand, frequently, both day and night.
This is fundamental to keep your newborn’s tiny tummy full, to build and establish your milk supply and to bond with and comfort your baby. More on this here: Your Essential Guide To Newborn Breastfeeding: A Must Read To Start It Right
But when baby has regained birth weight, and is feeding every 3 hours or so and is able to stay awake for short periods after feeds in the day and not at night (sort out day-night confusion here) you should be good to go.
Wondering how to establish 3-hourly feeds? Check out this post: Is Feeding On Demand Crushing You? How To Establish A Newborn Feeding Schedule WITHOUT Leaving Baby Hungry
Why your baby will love a sleep and feeding schedule
#1 Baby will be happy and contented
The basic premise of a sleep and feeding schedule is set times for sleep and feeding (sorry to point out the blindingly obvious and there are other elements to a schedule, but these two are number 1!).
The need to sleep and eat are two MAJOR basic needs of a newborn; if you can tick those two boxes, chances are your baby will be happy!
This is exactly why babies who follow a schedule tend to be such happy, smiley, relaxed babies; a schedule should take care of their sleep and feeding needs. There’s much less chance of keeping baby awake too long or leaving baby too long between feeds if you follow a schedule.
#2 You will learn to read baby’s cues and understand their cries better
Even with the help of charts that help you spot which ‘cues’ mean what, it’s still not all that easy most of the time! And let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than having a fussy crying baby that we don’t know how to help. It can make us moms feel helpless and even guilty.
So understanding why your baby is fussing and crying can be a bit of a game changer!
If you follow a schedule you should know exactly when your baby last fed and last slept. So when your baby is crying you will have much more of an idea as to why and be able to eliminate either hunger, tiredness or both.
Baby is fussing and starting to cry
Is it hunger? Oh wait, it’s nearly feed time. Maybe she’s a bit hungrier today and needs to start feeding earlier.
(More on this later but a feeding and sleep schedule is still ‘flexible’ and doesn’t mean leaving your baby hungry because the schedule says it’s not feed time!)
No, it can’t be hunger, she ate really well at the last feed and isn’t due a sleep. Maybe she has gas?
I’m sure it can’t be hunger or gas since baby burped well, but it’s been a busy morning and she’s normally down for a nap now. She must be tired!
From this you will start to pick up on different cries: a different cry for hunger, a different one for gas and a different one for tiredness. And will spot other hunger/discomfort/tiredness cues specific to your baby, allowing you to quickly meet those needs.
#3 Avoid dreaded sleep associations as baby learns to self-soothe
In the early days, newborns are very sleepy and are likely to fall asleep while breast or bottle feeding and during cuddles with mom or dad – a lovely way to bond!
Sleep associations often develop
If baby consistently falls asleep while breast or bottle feeding it’s likely that he or she will become reliant on this method to fall asleep. If so, a nursing/feeding to sleep ‘association‘ has developed. The other most common sleep association is rocking or cuddling baby to sleep.
Sleep associations tend to develop as newborn sleep patterns and cycles start to mature, at around the 3 to 4-month mark.
So sometime before this point, you want to start putting baby down sleepy but awake, so baby falls asleep independently.
Self-soothing is key for baby to sleep through the night
‘Self-soothing’ describes your baby’s ability to both settle to sleep and fall back to sleep independently, i.e. without you feeding, rocking or assisting in any other way.
I say fall ‘back’ to sleep because the very nature of newborn sleep means that babies wake multiple times during the night. If they always need assistance in falling back to sleep, you’re going to suffer disrupted nights for a very long time!
This is also why it’s essential to ‘pause’ and not rush in every time your baby stirs. (The pause is probably the single most important thing you can do to encourage baby to sleep through, as explained here: Want baby to sleep through the night? Essential learnings from newborn sleep and the ONLY tip you really need)
How a feeding and sleep schedule can encourage baby to self-soothe
If you’re following a schedule, you will be putting baby down to sleep when he or she is tired! It’s as simple as that.
Having had a good feed and a little stimulation of some sort (as simple as accompanying you on your day-to-day tasks), baby will be tired. Then it’s wind-down time – 10-15 minutes quiet time in a calm, sleep-inducing environment. This ‘sets the stage for sleep’.
Wind-down periods are marked in this newborn sleep and feeding schedule.
For more about setting the stage for sleep and the ideal sleep environment, see #5 of this post: How to get your baby to sleep through the night: 10 steps for an awesome nights sleep, no cry-it-out
If baby is tired, well-fed and you have set the stage for sleep, there is every chance baby will fall asleep alone. Once a schedule (like this one) is fairly established, put them in their cot awake and see for yourself!
If you can encourage your baby to settle in this way there should be no need for traditional cry-it-out methods of sleep training.
#4 Will help baby take longer naps, specifically a long afternoon nap
This sleep and feeding schedule structures day time sleep into a few long naps, as opposed to many shorter naps, like some other schedules.
Does baby always wake up after 45 minute?
It may seem that your baby naturally wants to take shorter naps, specifically no longer than 45 minutes. That’s because the sleep cycle of a newborn lasts around….. 45 minutes! So your baby may stir, briefly wake or be easily disturbed at this point.
That does not mean your baby is ready to wake up.
Baby has a tonne of growing and developing to do, so encouraging another sleep cycle or two can be beneficial. Plus, baby will wake up more refreshed.
How the schedule encourages longer naps
Firstly, there’s the ‘pause’ as mentioned at the last point. (To recap, don’t rush in when baby stirs, ‘pause’ first and allow him or her to settle back to sleep).
Secondly, as you move through the schedules and cut down on daytime sleep, cutting back one nap will mean baby is a little more tired and need more sleep at the next nap.
How the schedule encourages a long afternoon nap
As baby grows and develops, less daytime sleep is needed. When moving through these newborn schedules, the morning nap will be gradually reduced. This means the longest nap is always in the afternoon.
Eventually, the morning nap will be cut out altogether, leaving a solid 2 hours after lunch still.
A long afternoon nap is best for baby
A decent chunk of sleep midway through the day should ensure a happy baby in the afternoon! Once there are no further day naps to come, this long afternoon nap should happily see baby through to bedtime, reducing the chance of evening fussiness and tantrums.
#5 We are creatures of habit
As adults, we eat roughly at the same time every day. We sleep at the same time every day. We are creatures of habit and like predictability and knowing what comes next.
It’s not just the ‘knowing’ – our bodies get used to certain things happening at certain times of the day.
Why would anything different be true of your baby?
Have you ever tried to go to bed 3 hours earlier than normal and find it easy to fall asleep?
(Possibly, not the right time to ask you that since I’m guessing that, if you’re reading this, you have a newborn. No doubt you’ve reached a level of exhaustion you never knew existed and your eyelids start dropping at the mere sight of your pillow….)
But you get where I’m going?!
#6 Babies cope better with change & discomfort
After a few weeks, a sleep and feeding schedule should become well established. Your baby’s body clock will be fully in tune with the feed and nap times, so much so, your baby may follow it like clockwork.
Friends joked they could tell the time based on when my son was feeding or sleeping – he was so ‘to-the-minute’!
When away from home
While a schedule may feel a little restrictive when out and about and away from home, by sticking to your normal feed and nap times as much as possible your baby should still settle well for naps and at night; a change of environment seems to have little impact.
This is also where it helps to replicate the same sleep environment and carry out the same wind-down routine.
When uncomfortable due to teething or minor illness
Hopefully, your baby will learn to self-settle, as explained at #4. So when teething and the inevitable cold hits, you may find your babies sleep is relatively undisrupted.
Baby can not only fall back to sleep when waking, just because that’s what babies do, but also when waking due to teeth or if they’re a bit under the weather.
This is not a given, of course. Like us adults, some babies will naturally cope better than others with any such discomfort. However, from my experience, even if both of my two Littlees were grouchy and grumpy in the day due to teeth, their nights were little affected.
Many of my friends who followed a schedule with their babies have said the same.
Why you will love a feed and sleep schedule
Because YOU are important! I say that because it’s all too easy to forgo everything as a mother for the sake of your baby, particularly the first one. But your baby ain’t no good without you! So looking after yourself is a must.
#7 Some resemblance of predictability and ‘freedom’ (of a slightly different kind)
A sleep and feeding schedule has a lot going for YOU – namely predictable points in the day that you can call your own. Sleep, catch up on housework, chill, whatever floats your boat.
To some a schedule may feel restrictive vs. going out and about whenever you please. But hey, once you have a little one who is entirely dependent on you, real freedom and spontaneity is really a thing of the past.
By knowing exactly when baby is likely to get hungry I stopped panicking about a hungry screaming newborn on the highway. Because I could plan around feed times.
Instead, I could make sure I was somewhere comfortable and suitable to breastfeed by feed times.
For me, I found a lot of freedom in following a schedule because I knew when my windows of opportunity were. That’s not to say it always worked out like that. Of course there were often times when we went off course and my babies were hungrier earlier than I expected or woke up earlier than normal, but on the whole, life was a lot more normal.
#8 The beauty of the long afternoon nap
As I mentioned at #4, this particular sleep and feeding schedule, includes a long afternoon nap (nap 2). As you move through the schedules, the morning and afternoon naps get progressively shorter and are eventually dropped altogether.
The long afternoon nap remains.
This is a decent amount of time to actually get sh*t done!
#9 A happy baby means a happy mum
This is a reference to the #1 and the most important point: babies who follow a schedule tend to be happy and relaxed.
That’s good for mom too!
No further explanation needed.
#10 Got an older baby/toddler that still naps?
Well this newborn sleep schedule should fit well. I.e. both baby and toddler asleep at the same time!
My son was 15 months when my daughter was born and had only just started walking. (No, it wasn’t planned and no, I (still) don’t recommend an age gap that close!)
It was full on. He was still incredibly independent on me, as to be expected. The days were long and busy and I only survived because they both took THE SAME afternoon nap. Ok, there are a few other reasons (3 mornings in nursery and my mum on hand if I needed) but that joint afternoon nap was a lifesaver!
Friends always looked at me in amazement when I told them that everyday my baby and toddler nap at the same time in the afternoon. But once in the swing of the schedule, it wasn’t even hard. Now, at 2 and 3.5, they still nap at the same time.
Just to reiterate:
Your newborn and toddler can take the same afternoon nap if you follow a sleep schedule. Start with this newborn sleep schedule, follow it through the newborn months and then progress onto the baby sleep schedules.
Why both of you will love a feeding and sleep schedule
#11 Sleeping through the night by 3 months, no cry-it-out
Now this is the biggie and definitely the best:
Following this sleep schedule will encourage your newborn baby to develop healthy sleep habits and sleep through the night as early as capable, WITHOUT TEARS.
This benefits you, of course, but also your baby. Sleep is important! Growth and development happens during sleep. So consistently sleeping well and through the night means plenty of growing and development time.
A sleep schedule means baby won’t have slept too much in the day
So won’t be up in the middle of the night wanting to play!
A schedule ensures baby has had as much milk as possible in the day
Baby less likely to wake hungry. (Up to the age of 3 months most babies will need to feed a few times in the night.)
Related post: When do babies sleep through the night? 20 normal moms share their baby sleep stories
A schedule encourages baby to self-settle
This was already mentioned at #3, but following a schedule encourages baby to self-settle.
This is probably the single most important factor in baby sleeping through. Read more here: Want baby to sleep through the night? Essential learnings from newborn sleep and the ONLY tip you really need
For more tips on getting baby to sleep through the night, this post covers everything you need to know: How to get your baby to sleep through the night: 10 steps for an awesome nights sleep, no cry-it-out
I’m a routine kinda gal so it was no surprise that I gravitated towards a feeding and sleep schedule for my newborn.
But, even if routines are not your thing, I would encourage you to give it a go.
There are tonnes of reasons that will benefit your baby and a few for you to.
And getting baby to sleep through the night will benefit both of you and for this reason alone could well be enough to sway you!
I did and both my babies were sleeping through by 3 months. Yes, it can be done!
Here are the newborn schedules that worked for me: Your Essential Guide To Newborn Breastfeeding: A Must Read To Start It Right
For other sleep-related posts, check these out:
Newborn sleep patterns: decoded and demystified for healthy sleep habits
Want baby to sleep through the night? Essential learnings from newborn sleep and the ONLY tip you really need
How to get your baby to sleep through the night: 10 steps for an awesome nights sleep, no cry-it-out
When do babies sleep through the night? 20 normal moms share their baby sleep stories