What to Know and Consider

Creating your baby’s schedule can be confusing. When I had my first child six years ago, I frantically Googled “baby schedule” nearly every month because it was the one piece of information we did not get from the hospital after delivery. Sleep was so precious in those days, and it felt like our sleep depended on getting our daughter on the proper nap schedule. But I wasn’t sure what that should look like.

The results? I was overwhelmed with information. The good news is that there was a lot of information. The bad news is that it all seemed to be different and sometimes downright contradictory. It was difficult as a first-time mom to figure out what exactly was ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ However, six years later, as a mom of two and as a pediatric sleep coach, the rules of a baby’s schedule have become so much clearer.

What You Should Know About Your Baby’s Schedule

1. Avoid a schedule under eight weeks old.

If you are a newborn mom with a child under the age of eight weeks, my first piece of advice is to avoid the stress of a schedule. You and your child are acclimating to this new world outside the womb and in parenthood. Simply introducing an eat-play-sleep routine and offering natural light with thirty minutes of waketime during the day is sufficient. Consider diving into schedules as your child matures and develops, generally after eight weeks old.

2. Pay attention to your baby’s natural rhythms.

The first place to start creating your baby’s schedule is . . . your baby! Each child has a natural preference for sleep times and varies in their ability to stay awake. Like some people are built to be ‘morning people,’ while others are ‘night owls,’ babies are made to have different sleep rhythms. Baby sleep patterns start to emerge around ten weeks when sleep becomes much more predictable1. Start your schedule by determining when your child might naturally wake in the morning and start with that first piece of information.

3. Schedule using wake times.

Time-based schedules are less appropriate for babies under 5-6 months of age due to the unpredictability of nap lengths. Before six months of age, a child is also much more prone to being overtired quickly, making a routine more appropriate. During this age, after you’ve determined a general wake-up time, I recommend applying the appropriate wake time for that age and your child. This can range anywhere from 1-2 hours. As your child matures and develops, their ability to stay up for longer without impacting their sleep cycles will also increase. You will then apply that wake time from time awake to time asleep based on your previous sleep or nap time.

4. Use the routine-schedule hybrid.

Just because your child may not thrive on a time-based schedule doesn’t mean you can’t have any schedule. But wait…you just said it’s not recommended to have a schedule for a child before six months of age. So, what can I do? This is where the routine-schedule hybrid comes in!

The best way to find consistency in your day is to keep your wake-up time the same every morning. This means that if your child is sleeping, you will wake them at their designated wake time so you can help them regulate their sleep cycles and aim for the first nap of the day to be the same time every single day. After this first nap, your remaining naps will be based on wake times. These naps will vary. Once you get close to late afternoon, you will end your last nap of the day at the same time every day to maintain the same bedtime. This brings you back to a schedule of a predictable day and night!

5. Time-based schedules for older babies.

A time-based schedule is much more appropriate for children ages six months and older. Their habits have matured, and naps are likely to be much more predictable. Apply the same practices I have noted above, but instead of wake times, you will estimate one-hour naps and apply age-appropriate wake times to those nap times to create a time-based schedule.

6. Change the schedule as needed.

If your schedule works, don’t fix it! The last thing to consider is to allow your child to tell you when they are ready for a schedule change. If their naps are solid and nights are feeling very good, there is no need to change the schedule or align to anything you might hear or see online. A schedule is meant to support their sleep, not complicate it.

Sample Schedules

Here are some sample schedules to consider for your baby: 

Newborn (create the schedule by wake times!)

8 am – Wake-up (Try to keep this at the same time every day)

45 mins – 60 mins wake time based on the time the child has woken up

(4-5 naps)

7:00 pm – End the last nap

8:00 pm – Night Night!

4-6 Months (create the schedule by wake times!)

7:00 am – Wake up (Try to keep this at the same time every day)

8:15 am – First nap of the day – ALWAYS

Every nap after is 75 mins – 120 mins wake time based on when the child has woken up

5:00 pm – End the last nap!

7:00 pm – Night Night!

7-12 Months (create a time-based schedule!)

7:00 am – Wake up time!

10:00 am – First nap of the day

2:30 pm – Second nap of the day

3:30-4:00 pm – End the last nap!

7:00 pm – Night Night!

12-18+ Months (create a time-based schedule!)

7:00 am – Wake up time!

12:00 pm-2:00 pm – Nap time! Aim for 2 hours!

7:00 pm – Night Night!

The overall best advice of what you need to know when creating a schedule is to take your child’s lead. Most babies will start showing patterns of what works for them. Utilize wake times (also known as wake windows) as a starting point, and slowly move to a time-based schedule when your child is about six months of age. Good luck and happy scheduling!

Source:
  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1087079211000682

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