Why Our Babies Need A Schedule and How To Make One | Structuring the Day to Meet All Your Baby’s Needs

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Many parents resist the word “schedule” when it comes to their babies. For some reason, structuring a baby’s day has become very controversial.
But truly, you could throw out the word schedule and replace it with routine, structure, or rhythm to understand what I am trying to say here. We simply want to meet our baby’s needs as best we can during the day to support good sleep. So let’s get started!

Why do I need a Baby Schedule?

After 9 long months that sweet baby is finally here! It’s now, yes now, that is the ideal time to start introducing and establishing a good baby schedule. We want our babies to do the 4 main things they do and do them well. 

What 4 main things do babies do? They…

  • Eat
  • Sleep (We want them to do this well, ASAP!)
  • Fill Diapers
  • Spend Time Awake

We want them to do all those things as well as possible so they thrive!
You have more influence on everything than you might imagine.

A schedule is simply us trying to properly meet the baby’s needs by finding the best possible times and intervals for each activity.

A schedule allows us to get the most out of each task of the day and allows us to know what our babies are asking for. For example, if we know they have already had a full meal, then when they’re fussy an hour later we can be confident that they are getting tired. No more guessing.

Now, without a routine, your baby will still eat, fill diapers, and sleep… (hopefully).

We as parents are here to manage our baby’s day so all their needs are met and make it predictable so everyone can relax.
At the same time, we stay flexible to change and grow the routine as our baby’s needs change.
First, we create a structure and then we introduce flexibility.

The goal is to anticipate our baby’s natural rhythm and definite needs to plan accordingly.

So what is our focus as babies eat, sleep, fill diapers, and spend time awake?

What_do_babies_do_ a guide to baby schedules

Notice the reason listed why babies need sleep. When babies sleep they not only grow but become rested enough so they have the energy to gain new skills and connect with loved ones. This can’t be undervalued as a parent. We often forget that babies need good sleep just like us but they usually don’t do it without guidance

A well-rested baby is like a well-rested adult. All the other parts of life are easier to enjoy and do well because of quality sleep.

What could go wrong without a Baby Schedule?

The problem here is that babies don’t naturally sleep or eat as well as they might fill diapers. 

  • You might have a baby who is exhausted and waking every night
  • You might have a baby who is eating too much or too little
  • The baby might be slower to develop because they are too tired to explore and practice
  • It might be difficult for a family to plan anything or rest well

My firstborn would eat every single hour if I fed her when she cried. This caused her to eat irregularly and have gas and digestion issues that come with eating too much.
A friend’s son would sleep for hours and hours during the day. (The dream baby right? Who’s complaining?) Well… he would sleep so long that he didn’t eat enough and this was causing him to be underweight.

Babies that wake every night for the first year for various reasons are not being provided a selfless, loving service from their parents.

Well, they are but they aren’t.

These babies struggle as much as anyone who might wake up every night, and it affects every part of their day and their development. 

You will not have a thriving baby if you let your baby run the show with no guidance and parental direction to help establish good habits and routines.

We are their parents and they need us from day one in more ways than we might realize. That includes setting them up with a predictable routine that meets and anticipates all their needs before they need to cry and scream and beg for them to be met. 

If you follow these simple guidelines you will set your baby up with a gentle structure that will create healthy habits and give them the rest they need. And give you the rest you need.


1. When Can Babies Sleep Through the Night?

Some books say at 6 months, some people say it will come naturally, and none of that is encouraging, helpful, or perfectly true. You are not doomed to a long period of time without proper sleep.


The Ultimate Schedules

A dear friend gifted me the book, Babywise after our first tot came along.

Previously, I didn’t know that such helpful resources for parents truly existed. I believed it must be down to my intuition and gut, whatever that means.

Learn as you go? No. Thanks to this incredible resource (of which I hand copies out like water) my 3 children all began sleeping 8 hours through the night at 8 weeks and 12 hours through the night at 12 weeks.

Not flawlessly mind you, there were bumps but they were usually due to specific issues or milestones. 

With my first child, I thought, this is probably how all babies are.
With my second baby, I thought… coincidence?
Then with my third, I realized this method (*with some exceptions) is dependable. 

*Babywise recommends two things I haven’t followed, and those are the cry-it-out method and not giving the baby a pacifier.


Babies wake at night in the first 12 weeks because they are hungry. Their stomachs are not yet large enough to hold all the calories they need to carry them through 12 hours of sleep.

But the belly grows fast so hang in there! 

In all the joy and wonder of a new baby, we mustn’t forget the needs of the parents altogether. The importance of a routine for our sake is not to be understated.

I can already hear my selfless, wonderful friends saying “I don’t need much I am here for my baby.” That is a sweet sentiment but to what end?

And what does your spouse need?
What does your marriage need?
You may need nothing now but what about in 6+ months when you haven’t slept through the night?
Can you really be the parent you want to be with no rest or structure?

We want to set our whole families up for a win and many couples see an increased separation when they become parents. An easy way to help combat that from happening is putting some structure in place and being rested as a result.

We as adults wake around the same time, are hungry around the same times, and get tired around the same times because our bodies are made for rhythm and routine. Yours may look different than mine but nonetheless, our bodies are made with rhythm in mind.

If you’re a nursing mom who nurses every 2-3 hours, you will feel when that milk comes in, often to the minute, when it is time to nurse again.

We all thrive when our days have predictability and our needs are properly met. Babies are no exception. 

“If they don’t sleep, they don’t sleep.” And if they don’t sleep we don’t sleep!

Have I convinced you?

Schedule-Promo

2. How Do I Help My Baby Sleep Better At Night?

You focus on everything else.

Take a look below to see how a baby’s morning should look.

Baby-schedule-eat wake sleep

When you think about it, sleep is something we can’t control at all. Once they are sleeping they are going to do what they are going to do.

What we can be sure of is that every other part of the day is structured in a way that they get what they need. So when naps and bedtime come there’s no reason they shouldn’t sleep well.

Things that might disturb their sleep that are circumstantial could be (but aren’t limited to):

  • Growth spurts (that sometimes increase hunger)
  • Skill development (that causes them to wake sporadically and want to practice)
  • Illness
  • Teething
  • Environmental change (going on vacation, moving house, etc.)
  • Separation anxiety (they love you so darn much)
  • Increased sensitivity to light or sounds
  • General sleep regression that encompasses several of the reasons listed at once

Although we can’t do much about the list above, it’s important to be aware that some sleep challenges are out of your control and the season of challenge will pass, if you keep good practices elsewhere.


So What Can We Influence?

  • How much they are eating
  • When they are eating
  • How much waketime they get
  • How much stimulation they receive during waketimes
  • How they are put to sleep
  • The environment that they sleep in

So let’s unpack all those things.

3. Structuring feedings

Feedings are the most important thing for us to focus on. Especially in the early days if you want your baby to sleep through naps and through the night sooner rather than later.


There are two feeding instincts or assumptions we need to correct to feed our babies well:


  1. Feed them to sleep:
    • The instinct in most women can be to feed the baby to sleep or if they doze off while eating to let the sweet cherub sleep because sleep is king! But this will destroy their sleep.
  2. Every cry means hunger:
    • We also have a habit of thinking (or our husbands and families have a habit of thinking) that every cry means they are hungry which is not true.
    • This is why “feed on demand”, although it’s fantastic advice, is misleading. We need to feed the hunger cues on demand, not feed every cry.

Instead, our focus has to be:

  • Making sure our babies eat a full meal and don’t sleep before they are finished
  • Feeding them right when they wake up

We need to be absolutely sure that our babies are getting enough calories during the day so they can sleep without waking from hunger too soon.

Eventually, they will get hungry and wake up, but not after 20… 45 short minutes.


Take a look at what happens when you feed a baby to sleep vs when you feed a baby first thing when they wake:

Feeding to sleep cycle graphic

OR…

Feeding First Cycle Graphic

So as soon as baby wakes in the morning and from every nap, they can start eating. This is the time when they have the most energy (although they may still fall asleep every few minutes!)


How do you keep them awake during a feed?

  • Do a mid-feed diaper change
  • Remove an article of clothing
  • Run a wet wipe against the back of their hand
  • Have the room bright and noisy (this can be you talking to them) during the day feeds

It’s important to know that the last feed of the day and night feeds are different. For the last feed, you will put the baby to sleep after they finish, but you still want to make sure they had enough to eat.

Also, you want those times to be calm, quiet, and dark. The more important focus here is that baby can burp or at least digest their food well by being held upright for around 10 minutes.

Every feeding marks the start of the routine cycle of “eat, wake, sleep” and these intervals should be around 2.5-3 hours from the beginning of a feed to the beginning of the next feed for the first several months.

There are times when our babies are sleeping too long. Too much time between feed-wake-sleep cycles will disturb their nights sleep or they won’t be getting the calories they need.

In these cases we need to wake them up from their naps and feed them. If that is the case please wake the baby gently. Approach them with calm, gentle love and help them wake peacefully. 

These time frames change as a baby develops so I made a free baby schedule resource for you to download that will tell you what each stage should look like and that you can customize for your family.


4. Structuring Wake Time

So your baby recently had a nap and has been fed a full meal! Now comes the wake time activities. So what does that look like for different ages?

Babies feel stressed, they feel exposure and all the sensations we bring are new to them. So do everything you do from diaper changing to nursing and everything else with a sense of calm and communication. 

Whatever you do, do it loving and gently.


How long does baby need to be awake?

Wake time lengths vary from child to child pretty significantly. Before you decide on a definite length of time, observe your baby for about two days. See after each “eat” part of the cycle your baby begins to show tired signs. 

Remember, this length of time changes every few months. 

Young babies can go from perfectly content to mildly fussy to all out exhausted in a matter of minutes. We want to pay attention to when those cues start appearing and begin the sleep routine. 

Older babies may seem perfectly chipper and fine but you know its time to sleep and they still pass out in a matter of minutes!

Learn your baby!

You will find many variations of the above chart because wake time lengths vary depending on your baby and daily schedule.


What do we do during wake time? 

Newborns are significantly different from nearly 1-year-olds. At this stage of life, it seems we have a completely new baby every month!

To know what our babies should be doing during wake times we need to look at what milestones they have hit. 


Tummy time helps them learn to roll and crawl. 

Before they can sit, prop them up on a baby mat.

When they begin to recognize you, mimic their sounds and actions to engage their learning. 

Crawling practice and pulling practice will help them learn to stand and walk. 

Give them plenty of opportunities to exercise and try things on their own.

Give them exciting things to look at, foods to smell, things to touch.

When they can pick up foods and are the right age, give them finger foods to eat. 

When they can stand give them something to push around to learn to walk.


These are examples but it doesn’t need to be complicated with lots of stuff and thirty minutes of preparation. Keep it simple and feed their natural curiosities and interests. 

Wake time is also when we take care of their hygiene needs with baths, nail cutting, etc. Give them a baby massage!

And lots and lots of cuddles. If this is the only time you have to hold your baby because they sleep in their own bed, then take advantage of it!

Communicate by reading them a book! Talk to them (about anything and everything, babies are great listeners!) 


What to avoid:

Rushing and fussing! Take things slow and keep them calm.

Avoid too much time in “bucket seats”, aka anything that limits their ability to move: Car seats, boppy pillows, bouncers. These are great to have and use but make sure your baby isn’t in one their entire wake time.

Try a playpen if you need them to stay contained. High chairs can be better than other chairs because the baby can use their tummy muscles to sit up and move. Play mats on the floor are great, just give them the space to develop!

The baby whisperer suggests “Put away anything that shakes, rattles, jiggles, wiggles, squeaks or vibrates.” To help keep your baby from being overstimulated and help them stay calm. Chairs that vibrate, play mats with lights and sounds, singing toddler toys, all of these things combined can create an overstimulated baby.


Observe more than you guide

Parents are not un-paid entertainers coming up with activities to fill every minute of the day.

Children are natural explorers and develop best when they are allowed to be creative with pretend games and their own unique ways of play.

The more we supply the ideas and play boundaries, the more we take away from their natural abilities and the more dependent they become on us to supply the entertainment. 

Give them a safe play space and let them explore!

5. Structuring sleep

“Sleep is a learned process that is initiated and reinforced by parents. Hence, they have to teach their babies how to get to sleep.” – The Baby Whisperer

Keep the process of getting to sleep predictable and repeat the activities every time your baby is going to bed. 

Nothing works for every baby and that’s where knowing your child is key. How do they enjoy being put to sleep within reasonable limits? Maybe they enjoy having their hands held, being sung to, having their face stroked, or a gentle back massage, these things are all fine. Being held, bounced or fed to sleep…not fine. 

Keep in mind that parents need proper rest and time to connect as much as children. Happy mom, happy munchkin. 

Look for cues, get ready for bed, put down.

  • Yawning
  • Turning away from objects or people
  • Rubbing their eyes
  • Pulling at their ears
  • Losing interest in activities or toys
  • Losing coordination

Remember that fussiness can often increase before they finally cave in and calm towards sleep. 

If you’re looking for a gentle method of putting your baby to sleep read about getting your baby to sleep on their own.

Short Naps

If your baby is waking after a short nap see if any of these issues may be part of the problem.

Did they ever fall asleep in the first place?
What can happen is that babies will stay awake in bed and fuss after a short time. Check with a monitor to see if they ever fell asleep to begin with. If not then their wake time length needs to be adjusted. 

Was there an environmental disturbance? 
Is it too bright, too loud, too stimulating (*music machines, TV, chatting in the background) Is their swaddle too tight or too loose, is it too hot or too cold. Does the binky fall out and they can’t put it back in? Take a look!

Were they awake too long during their wake time?
Reference the chart above to see how much wake time your baby needs.

Were they overstimulated during a wake time?
Sometimes they wake and if you can pause, sometimes they go back to sleep. If your baby is complaining and not in distress, try to wait around 5 minutes before rushing in. 

Do they have their pacifier, swaddle and white noise to help keep them soothed?

Were they fully fed at the beginning of their feed-wake-sleep cycle? Are they hungry?
“Be aware that some sleep advocates advise moms to keep their babies on fixed schedules, even if their babies wake early from their naps. Their advice is to allow the baby to “cry it out” until the next feeding, but this ignores the potential needs of the baby. A hungry baby should always be fed! Withholding food is never a way to fix a sleep problem.” -The Baby Whisperer

Free Sample Schedules

Schedule-Promo

We as parents are here to manage our baby’s day and make it predictable. At the same time, the day must be flexible enough to change and grow as our baby’s needs change. First, we create a structure and then we introduce flexibility.

I have put together a free, beautiful schedule for you to download and print. It allows you to see every part of the day and year streamlined and simplified with important details added.

All the week-to-week baby sample schedules can also be found for free on babywise.life.

These sample schedules are invaluable resources because there are several times in a baby’s first year when you think you are in a great rhythm then suddenly it’s not working anymore and you’re not sure why. Usually, the answer is the needed schedule adaption or adjustment. Perhaps your baby is eating one time too much or the feeding intervals need to be updated.


Baby schedule pinterest pin

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