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Setting Up a Baby Sleep Schedule
From Ahhhhh to Zzzzzzz

The baby sleep schedule is one of the best kept secrets of the parenting world. From the moment the baby schedule is explained (Ahhhh!) to the moment it's implemented (Zzzzz...), it remains a wonder-tool in the box of parents everywhere.

Right now, in my brain, I'm thinking of 4 moms who have 6 kids or more. (Yes, they really are that amazing.) Each one of them has affirmed the baby sleep schedule as a must in their parenting arsenal.

And if they see the benefit of baby scheduling to keep the peace in their boisterous households, than it is certainly worth examining for my own 3-kid hovel.

But what does a baby sleep schedule look like? How do you implement it? What if you have multiples? What if you work outside the home? These are all valid and important questions we have to answer.

And we will answer them. Eventually. (keep reading!) But first we must lay the foundation for our castle of sweet slumber. We must clarify what a baby sleep schedule is for...and what it isn't.

The goal of the baby schedule is not to check of a bunch of boxes on your list. It's not to make your infant nearly invisible in the "routine". Caring for your baby should not become some line-item next to "Pick up Dry Cleaning" and "Wash the Dog".


People who say they sleep like a baby usually don't have one. ~ Leo J. Burke

Your baby sleep schedule should fit tightly around the rest of your life, encompassing it and filling in the cracks. Exactly how the baby schedule does that is a matter of hot debate.

I've split the two fighting families of baby scheduling into two warring camps. (As the mother of a 6-year-old and 3-year-old, I've learned how to keep the peace.) smiley tiny

  • The Queen Mothers ~ believe you should set the schedule, and your baby should follow it.
  • The Anti-Schedule Schedulers ~ believe in not setting an agenda, and allowing that "not setting" part to set the agenda. (Confused? Don't worry, I'll explain...)

Despite this fighting-among-sisters, they both agree on this. The purpose of the baby sleep schedule is to help your baby begin to understand the difference between day and night, and thus develop healthy sleep habits for the years ahead.

Consider this: It was night all the time in your tummy. He is having to come to grips with "day" while tripling his neuron connections at the same time. He is learning more things in this first year than he will ever learn again. No wonder babies sleep so much! Our goal is to teach him when to exercise that growing brain, and when to let it rest.

Side Note: Part of Parenting 101 is tracking the number of wet diapers, immunizations, sicknesses and medication, etc. It seems laborious (and it is) but your brain, and your doctor, will thank you for it.

Make all that tracking easier by purchasing an infant tracking journal, or iPhone app. Seriously. After "tracking" on endless scraps of paper all over the house, my baby journal was a godsend.

It's a must-have for working moms, since leaving it with your childcare provider will help keep communication lines flowing clearly. But it's just as useful for stay at home moms like me who need to free up brain-space for other things. I can write it down, and then promptly forget it. smiley

Let the Baby Sleep Adjusting Be-gin!

baby sleeping schedule
His newborn sleeping habits are not, at first, going to change much. You need to help him adjust his timetable to get your newborn sleeping at night as early as physically possible.

This could be as simple as giving him lots of stimulation during the day, and then keeping lights low and sounds down during the evening hours. However, the simple awake-day, asleep-night baby sleep schedule doesn't always work.

  • If you keep your baby awake all day, he may be over-stimulated and so-beyond tired that he can't sleep. Instead, he will scream and cry for several hours into the evening and sleep fitfully all night. This is a newborn sleeping disaster to be avoided at all costs.
  • What if you have other children in your home? Happy children are generally noisy children. No matter how loud the white noise is in Bella's bedroom, it can't completely keep the room library-quiet. Especially during Daddy's "Chasey-Monster" with the other girls before bed!
  • What if you live in an urban area? Noisy cars, trains, neighbors...all things you cannot control. Your newborn sleeping success should not rest on your neighbor's honking teenagers or the daily Tram.
  • Don't under-estimate the wonders of a good soother. Here's a brief list of some award-winning baby soothers, along with my family's ultimate soother: The Mimi.
You've got to rely on more than just sounds and lights to communicate "sleeping time". Your baby sleeping schedule is the nudge you need to encourage longer nighttime sleep.

Getting Started on a Baby Sleep Schedule

First, decide on the order of your usual nighttime routine, and try to consistently implement it at around 8 weeks. Bath, lotion, book, bed? or book, massage, singing, bed?

As you begin to set up your baby sleep schedule, vow to make it a priority for the first few weeks. This may mean saying "no" to a few evening activities, or sending one parent instead of two. Avoid starting a schedule right before a holiday or vacation is planned.

If you choose the Queen Mother Scheduling Method, prepare to have grace for yourself, your family, and your baby. Every day is an adventure. Recognize that there will be day when the baby sleep schedule goes out the window. That's okay.

On the other hand, realize that the more often the schedule "goes out the window", the harder it will be to keep the schedule going. Try to make those "winging it" days as infrequent as possible.


Guidelines for a Generic Baby Sleep Schedule

baby sleep schedule
Regardless of which philosophy you choose (Mom-in-Charge or Baby-Guided), there are general estimates available of what your infant will require in regards to eating and sleeping.

These are just bare-bone guidelines of what you can (usually) expect your baby to need. People write books on how to set up a baby sleep schedule. If you want to set one up, I recommend getting the how-to details from the experts.

The 0- to 3-Month-Old Newborn

  • Needs to eat every 2.5 to 3 hours (perhaps closer to 3.5 near the 12 week mark). Never let him go past 4 hours if breastfeeding or your milk supply will drop. Count from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next.
  • Average 8 feedings (7 minimum) in a 24-hour period. Most experts don't recommend starting a baby sleep schedule until your infant is 6-8 weeks old, letting him feed on demand for the first month.
  • Can sleep 16 to 20 hours every day, divided into 6-8 naps during the day and a longer period at night.

The 3- to 6-Month-Old Infant

  • Needs to eat every 3.5 - 4 hours, counting from the beginning of one feeding to the beginning of the next.
  • Average of 6 feedings during the day, minimum of 4.
  • Can sleep 10-12 hours at night (undisturbed, get expert sleep help here), with three naps 1.5 to 2 hours long during the day.

The 6- to 9-Month-Old Infant

  • A significant shift occurs at this age, when you start introducing baby food to your infant's diet. Your infant will generally have 4 to 6 liquid feedings every day, 3 of which will be supplemented with baby food.
  • Nursing mothers must feed their baby 4 to 6 times a day in order to keep up milk supply.
  • Can sleep 10-11 hours at night. As your baby gets closer to a year old, he will drop his late afternoon/early evening nap and adjust to a two-nap schedule during the day for around 2 hours each (one in the morning, one in the afternoon).

The 9- to 12-Month-Old Baby

  • The baby food transition has occurred and your baby is eating three meals a day, supplemented with breastmilk or formula each time. There is also usually a fourth nursing/formula feeding time right before bed.
  • Can sleep 11-12 hours at night. As your baby gets closer to a year old, he will drop his late afternoon/early evening nap and adjust to a two-nap schedule during the day for around 2 hours each (one in the morning, one in the afternoon).
  • Eventually, between 16 and 20 months old, the baby sleep schedule will adjust by dropping the morning nap and taking one long 2-3 hour nap in the afternoon.

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So where do you go from here? Do you believe in guiding your baby's schedule and choosing when it's time for sleeping and when it's time for play? Then the Queen Mother Method is the best baby sleep schedule for you.

Or, perhaps you feel it's best for your infant to call the shots. Do you prefer to follow your baby's signs and cues, letting him set the day's agenda? Then you are an Anti-Schedule Scheduler.

Either way, you've stumbled on one of the most wonders and best kept secrets of parenting: the baby sleep schedule.


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