Should My New Baby Be On a Schedule?
Should My New Baby Be On a Schedule?
Have you noticed your baby likes to keep you guessing? As soon as you figure out the best way to get him to sleep (say: football hold, bouncing on a yoga ball, under a burp cloth while playing classical music?) your little darling will change things up on you.
Recently a friend asked me if she should be getting her one month old on some sort of a schedule. There are two parts to this answer. First of all, the first 3 months are challenging, and sometimes you just need to do whatever you can to come out of it sane. That said, for most babies, even very young ones, working on a flexible routine will truly make things easier because it enables you to better read his cues – which is better for baby too!
Consider the following suggestions for adding some predictability to your day:
1. Make feeding time a meal, not a snack. Feeding in short spurts every 90 minutes throughout the day may actually shorten baby’s naps and will leave you feeling like a glorified milk maid! Offer your little one a full feed at regular (yet flexible) intervals during the day. This means keeping baby awake to ensure a good feed every time – which allows him to last a bit longer until next time. It may also mean waking baby up from a nap if he’s long over-due for a feed. Keep in mind baby is still being fed when truly hungry, day or night. But getting full feeds at regular intervals during the day will, in time, lead to longer stretches of sleep at night. (Full feeds may not be possible if your baby has tummy issues. As always, if you have questions or concerns, ask your doctor first.)
2. Babies get over-tired and over-stimulated easily, which can cause their body to fight sleep. Watch baby closely for tired cues. Newborns often need to sleep again within 45 minutes of waking, and a 12 week old will be tired again within around 90 minutes. Keep in mind, tired cues are similar to hunger cues. If you know your baby’s last feed was a good one and he is giving ‘hungry’ signs again a short while later (eg. an irritated ‘cough-like’ cry, rooting, or sucking his fingers), remember there’s a good chance he’s just tired!
3. New babies need help learning the difference between day and night. Keep him in bright rooms and get a bit of outside time while he’s awake during the day; engage with him as you go about your daily routines. Then dim the lights an hour before bedtime, and keep lights dim when you go in at night to feed. This takes time but it is worth it.
4. Finally, your baby may be too young to ‘sleep train’, but the sooner he can get a little practice falling asleep without your help, the better. It may seem like your baby is incapable of sleeping without being rocked or held, but I still recommend trying once a day to put baby down drowsy but awake (even just for a few minutes). He may surprise you! This should be at a time when your baby’s last feed was a good one, and you feel confident he is sleepy but not overtired. Try to catch him at his first yawn. If baby is very upset then it is not a good time: full crying may mean he’s already reached that overtired point.
Of course, every baby and every situation is different. Some babies seem to start sleeping longer night stretches (4-6 hours-ish) within the first few weeks – others can’t seem to sleep longer than 2 hours, day or night. If your baby has colic or reflux you will probably find that sleep is extremely challenging. Let yourself off the hook for the first few months and do what you can to help baby sleep. Once the fussiness and/or tummy issues improve you’ll be able to determine what a flexible schedule might look like for your family.