Inside: Babies thrive on structure, so implementing a newborn schedule is one of the best things we can do as parents for our new munchkins.

Just like almost everything else in life, parents are responsible for teaching babies how to go about their day and how to follow a newborn schedule and routine.

I still remember those first few days with my son as if they were just yesterday. The newborn-scented skin, the small baby gurgles, the soft head nuzzled into my chest…

  • the overwhelm
  • the chaos
  • the exhaustion

I knew I had to find a way to help me and my babe get through the long days and nights that lingered in front of us.

That’s when I fell in love with our newborn schedule.

You might be asking … a schedule for a newborn?

Yes!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you live by the clock. But, by implementing a flexible newborn routine, you’ll be better able to care for your new baby and yourself.

Thankfully, it isn’t as tough as it may seem.

Keep reading to learn how to create the best newborn schedule for you and your baby.

How to Create a Newborn Schedule

You may be wondering how it’s possible to create a routine for a newborn (birth to eight weeks) whose entire day consists of eating, sleeping, and waking to eat … again.

Creating a simple newborn schedule is totally possible if you approach it as a routine instead of a rigid schedule.

Infant expert Magda Gerber encourages parents to think of a schedule as a daily sequence of events – not inflexible or on the clock, but formed together with our babies in response to their individual needs.

An infant schedule is flexible and adaptable – formed together with your baby’s natural needs in mind.

So, how can we understand our baby’s individual needs when they, frustratingly, can’t tell us?

By observing their natural routine.

Following Your Newborn’s Natural Routine

As mothers, we watch our children every waking moment. But watching and observing are two completely different things.

The trick is to note (in writing or on an app) their behavior to identify signs of hunger, tiredness, alertness, and overstimulation.

Tracking these cues will help you learn his natural rhythms and pinpoint developing patterns.

A list of things to look for when observing your baby can include:

  • When does he poo?
  • How long are her naps?
  • Does he get sleepy as he feeds?
  • Does the baby eat more after rising from a nap or before falling asleep?
  • Approximately how many minutes does it take for your baby to go from showing signs of being tired to all-out cranky?
  • what are your baby’s sleep signs? Do they arch their back, pull at their ears, rub their eyes, or cry?
  • Does your baby fall asleep anywhere, or do they prefer to be in their crib/designated sleeping spot?
  • What types of things cause your baby to become irritated or fussy? Loud noises? Extended time in a car seat? Visual stimulation such as watching TV?

Related: 5 Ways to Get an Overtired Baby to Sleep

Sound like a lot to take in?

Don’t worry, it’ll come naturally after a few days.

Observing your baby and learning their natural routines and habits is so important because this will help you craft the perfect and simple infant schedule.

For example, if your baby shows signs of tiredness after 45 minutes, then plan to feed her, change her, and put her down within that window, before she has the chance to get overtired.

If your baby tends to get in a full feed after waking, then proceed with routine #1 (noted below) instead of battling through cluster feeds.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Surviving Cluster Feeding as a New Mom

Remember, establishing a routine that works best for your child is a process. Babies are remarkably fast learners, but it might take some time to nail down.

Most experts agree that it is best to implement a schedule sooner rather than later.

This begs the obvious question of when to start establishing your newborn’s schedule.

What Age Should You Start Implementing a Newborn Schedule

The first few weeks at home with baby should be focussed on feeding.

Once feeding is on track, many pediatricians agree that babies will benefit from a gentle routine as early as four weeks old.

Pediatrician Dr. Harvey Karp agrees that flexible baby schedules–that set approximate times for feeding and sleep–can work quite well.

Related: Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying & Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer

Your baby may fall into reasonably predictable patterns long before this. If that’s the case, you can gently encourage the basic routine noted below when you feel ready.

You know your baby best, mama, so trust your gut and take your cues from their natural routine.

Benefits of Using an Infant Schedule: For Babies and Parents

The first few months after having a baby are overwhelming and exhausting. Adding a task like scheduling to your to-do list may seem like another responsibility you just don’t need.

But, hang with me, because the short and long-term benefits of following a newborn routine are many.

Benefits of Using a Newborn Schedule for Babies

Throughout the first few months and years of a baby’s life, their brains develop rapidly.

Research suggests that 90% of brain growth happens before kindergarten, with the baby’s brain doubling in size in its very first year. (source)

Babies start to make connections and recognize patterns that serve them for their entire lives, including when to eat, sleep, and play, in the early months and years.

Yes, that’s right! Your baby is a little genius, capable of adapting to a dependable routine.

Here is a full list of awesome benefits of a newborn schedule for baby:

  • Babies thrive on consistency and feel secure in knowing what to expect next. For example, babies take comfort in knowing that after eating, they will be burped and cuddled. (Source)
  • Babies, like adults, have internal clocks. By following a routine that clearly separates day and night, they will overcome day/night confusion quicker. (Source)
  • They cry less because their hunger and sleep needs are met.
  • As they grow older, they are better able to adapt to sleeping through the night.

Benefits of Using a Newborn Schedule for Parents

Parents report some impressive benefits, too:

  • They are better able to understand their baby’s needs through the process of elimination. For example, if the baby is adequately fed, it is likely they won’t cry due to hunger.
  • They can plan their day around their baby’s needs. For example, they won’t go for a walk if they know it’s almost naptime.
  • It allows for help. You might be facing an empty fridge or your last pack of wipes. The option of leaving the baby with a trusted family member or babysitter opens up when you can share a schedule.
  • Contrary to the prevailing thought that having a routine renders you housebound, many parents find the predictability liberating
  • Once set, the routine shouldn’t change drastically. It will require tweaks, but the general pattern shouldn’t change.
  • Pride in ensuring their baby is getting their needs met in a predictable, stable, and reassuring way.

Sounds like a dream, right?

It’s totally possible.

Here’s how it works.

Two Sample Infant Schedules Based on Two Schools of Thought, By Age

There are mainly two schools of thought when it comes to what the best routine for newborns is. That’s why observing your baby and adjusting to their needs is so important.

Before we look at the different schedules, let’s talk about the similarities.

Must-Have Components of Every Newborn Schedule

  1. Both schedules break the day into two, 12-hour blocks – one for day and one for the night.
  2. The blocks run from 7 am – 7 pm for the day, and 7 pm to 7 am for night.
  3. On average, newborns eat approximately every one to three hours around the clock. That’s about eight to 12 times in 24 hours. (source)
  4. Newborns sleep between 16-17 hours in 24 hours, including naps. (source)
  5. We’ve all heard the expression, “never wake a sleeping baby!” but most experts agree that naps should be 1.5-2 hours long maximum.
  6. The schedule should consist of eating, sleeping, and some form of playing. Playing can be anything from speaking to your baby, snuggling, reading a book, or taking them for a walk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests starting tummy time in the first few weeks of baby’s life, for a limited amount of time, to develop strong muscles.

Next up, the sample newborn schedules.

Sample Infant Schedule #1 By Age

This schedule follows the general pattern of wake, eat, play, sleep. You may have also heard this referred to as E.A.S.Y., which stands for Eat, Activity, Sleep, and You.

The “You” refers to the essential practice of self-care while your baby sleeps. Take a nap, read an article, shop online, or shower; do whatever is restful.

Routine #1 is based on the belief that by separating eating from sleeping with a little play, babies won’t rely on food to fall asleep.

Weeks #1 – #2

  • 7 am aka “Day Start” – wake, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 7:50 am – wind-down routine (see below)
  • 8 am – nap
  • 10 am – wake, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 10:50 am – wind-down routine
  • 11 am – nap
  • 1 pm – wake, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 1:50 pm – wind-down routine
  • 2 pm – nap
  • 4 pm – wake, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 4:50 pm – wind-down routine
  • 5 pm – nap
  • 6 pm – wake and start bedtime routine (see below)
  • 7 pm – feed, burp and put to bed
  • 10 pm- “Dream Feed” and bed
  • 1 am – 7 am – feed on demand (no light or very dim light), burp, put back down
  • 7 am – Day Start

Weeks #3 – #5

  • 7 am aka “Day Start” – wake, allow natural light into the room, feed unswaddled, burp, diaper change, play (click here to learn how to keep baby occupied during diaper changes)
  • 8 am – 8:15 am – wind-down routine, down for nap awake but drowsy (first nap of the day is the most important!)
  • 10 am – wake up, full feed un-swaddled, burp, diaper change, play
  • 11 am – 11:15 am – wind-down routine, down for a nap
  • 12:30 pm – wake up, full feed un-swaddled, burp, diaper change, play
  • 1:30 pm – wind-down, down for nap awake but drowsy
  • 3:30 pm – wake up, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 4:30 pm – wind-down routine, down for a nap
  • 5:30 pm – wake, feed, burp, quiet activity (click here for fun activities to do with baby at home)
  • 6:30 pm – bedtime routine, full feed, burp
  • 7 – put down to sleep
  • 9:30 pm – 10 pm – “Dream Feed,” swaddled (no light or very dim light), put immediately down to sleep
  • 10 pm – 7 am – Feed at night as baby wakes up
  • 7 am – Day Start

Week #6

  • 7 am aka “Day Start” – wake, allow natural light into the room, feed unswaddled, burp, diaper change, play
  • 8 am – wind-down routine, down for nap awake but drowsy
  • 9: 30 am – wake up, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 10:30 am – wind-down routine, down for nap awake but drowsy
  • 12 pm – wake, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 1 pm – nap
  • 2:30 pm – wake up, full feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 3:30 pm – wind-down routine, down for a nap
  • 5 pm – wake, feed, burp, quiet activity
  • 6:30 pm – bedtime routine, full feed, burp
  • 7 pm – put down to sleep
  • 10 pm – dream feed, swaddled (no light or very dim light), put immediately down to sleep
  • Feed at night as baby wakes up

If this routine of eating upon waking doesn’t work for you and your baby, you may like Schedule #2 better.

Sample Infant Schedule #2 By Age

The only difference between Schedule #1 and #2 is the order. Dr. Karp believes that parents should follow a routine in which the baby eats before napping instead of upon waking.

Why?

Because many infants naturally get sleepy after eating, despite your efforts to keep them awake.

Weeks #1 – #2

  • 7 am aka “Day Start” – wake, feed, burp, diaper change, play
  • 7:50 am – wind-down routine (see below), feed, burp
  • 8 am – nap
  • 10 am – wake, diaper change, play
  • 10:50 am – wind-down routine, feed, burp
  • 11 am – nap
  • 1 pm – wake, diaper change, play
  • 1:50 pm – wind-down routine, full feed, burp
  • 2 pm – nap
  • 4 pm – wake, diaper change, play
  • 4:50 pm – wind-down routine, full feed, burp
  • 5 pm – nap
  • 6 pm – wake and start bedtime routine (see below)
  • 7 pm – full feed, burp, and put to bed
  • 10 pm- “dream feed” and bed
  • 1 am – 7 am – feed on demand (no light or very dim light), burp, put back down
  • 7 am – Day Start

Weeks #3 – #5

  • 7 am aka “Day Start” – wake, allow natural light into the room, feed unswaddled, burp, diaper change, play
  • 8 am – 8:15 am – wind-down routine, full feed, burp, down for nap awake but drowsy (first nap of the day is the most important!)
  • 10 am – wake up, diaper change, play
  • 11 am – 11:15 am – wind-down routine, full feed, burp, down for nap awake
  • 12:30 pm – wake up, burp, diaper change, play
  • 1:30 pm – wind-down routine, full feed, burp, down for nap awake
  • 3:30 pm – wake up, diaper change, play
  • 4:30 pm – wind-down routine, full feed, burp, down for nap awake
  • 5:30 pm – wake, quiet activity
  • 6:30 pm – bedtime routine, full feed, burp
  • 7 pm – put down to sleep
  • 9:30 pm – 10 pm – “Dream Feed,” swaddled (no light or very dim light), put immediately down to sleep
  • Feed at night as baby wakes up

Weeks #6 – #8

  • 7 am aka “Day Start” – wake, allow natural light into the room, feed unswaddled, burp, diaper change, play
  • 8 am – wind-down routine, down for nap awake but drowsy, feed, burp
  • 9:30 am – wake up, diaper change, play
  • 10:30 am – wind-down routine, feed, burp, down for nap awake but drowsy
  • 12 pm – wake, diaper change, play
  • 1 pm – wind-down routine, feed, burp, down for a nap
  • 2:30 pm – wake up, diaper change, play
  • 3:30 pm – wind-down routine, feed, burp, down for a nap
  • 5 pm – wake, quiet activity
  • 6:30 pm – bedtime routine, full feed, burp
  • 7 – put down to sleep
  • 10 pm – dream feed, swaddled (no light or very dim light), put immediately down to sleep
  • Feed at night as baby wakes up

Important Notes About the Schedules

  1. Full Feed – While it may not always be possible, a complete feed is ideal. What counts as a full feed varies from baby to baby, but 20 – 45 minutes is the average. If your baby feeds for a short amount of time and then starts rooting soon after, that’s a sign that they have not eaten enough.
  2. Dream Feed – Gently rousing your baby around 10 pm to feed him in the hopes it will sustain him for more extended periods of sleep.
  3. Nap #1 occurs an hour after waking. It may seem counter-intuitive, especially if your baby has slept well during the night. However, sleep begets sleep. The more rested a baby is, the better poised they are to have restful naps.
  4. Wind-Down Routine – Newborn babies tend to fall asleep naturally, but establishing a wind-down routine will serve you and your children for years to come. Why? Because, in time, a simple wind-down routine will signal to your baby that it’s time to sleep.

Wind-down routines can include:

  • Retreating to a quiet place where the baby will sleep 2) Dimming the lights
  • Turning on a sound machine with white noise. Babies find this comforting as it mimics the sound of the womb.
  • Diaper change and swaddle/sleep sack to prepare for sleep.
  • Cuddling for a story or lullaby.

Timings will likely differ. The most important things to focus on are consistency and responding to your baby’s needs, rather than the clock.

Signs Your Newborn Schedule Isn’t Working + Some Common Challenges

If you have a happy, satiated, and well-rested baby, you’ll know it. If you don’t, know that you’re not alone.

Below you’ll find helpful suggestions to common challenges parents face when trying to implement a newborn schedule.

Challenge #1 – Baby falls asleep before they get in a full feed.

Suggestions:

  • Rub his feet
  • Gently talk to him
  • Unwrap the swaddle or undress him partially
  • Burp him often during feeds
  • Wipe a wet washcloth along his hairline or on his cheeks
  • Gently squeeze his hands.

Challenge #2 – Short naps

Suggestions:

  • The baby may be hungry, so if you are feeding baby upon waking, try the alternate schedule to see if your baby sleeps longer if they eat before sleeping.
  • Implement the wind-down routine if you haven’t already.
  • Check the temperature of the room – cool is best.
  • Gas might be the issue. Try burping your baby.
  • Check their diaper. It may be full!

Challenge #3 – Resisting naps due to overstimulation/overtiredness

Suggestions:

  • Dull it down. Babies get easily overstimulated. Something as mundane as the television is a visual and auditory assault on a newborn just out of a dark, familiar place.
  • Follow the wind-down routine to create a safe, quiet atmosphere so the baby can easily fall asleep.
  • Put the baby down when he starts to show sleepy signs, despite the schedule.
  • Limit stimulating activities between naps such as trips to the store, visitors, loud sounds, etc.

Challenge #4- Persistent crying/fussiness interfering with naps and feeds

Suggestions:

  • Consider using some or all of Dr. Karp’s “five S’s” — swaddle, side or stomach position (only when awake), shush, swing, and suck.
  • If you prefer not to introduce a pacifier, offer your thumb or finger.
  • Try a different feeding position with your baby.
  • Take multiple breaks while feeding to burp baby to eliminate gas as a source of discomfort.
  • Check your milk supply if breastfeeding.

Challenge #5 – Baby abruptly veers off schedule

Suggestions:

  • Observe any behavioral differences. Are they attempting to learn a new skill, such as rolling over? Are they hungrier than usual, signaling a growth spurt? Cutting teeth?
  • Be flexible and pay closer attention to their cues, to avoid overtiredness, and focus on the sleep portion of the schedule.

These suggestions will help you troubleshoot, but if you find yourself at a loss, seek your pediatrician’s advice.

Are you still with me?

I hope so because the next section may be the most exciting of all.

This magical part of the newborn routine may just help you achieve the ultimate goal of every parent everywhere – a restful night’s sleep.

Incorporating a Bedtime Routine Into Your Newborn Sleep Schedule

You’ve laid solid foundations for sleep with your wind-down routines before naptime. Subsequently, attempting a bedtime routine should come more naturally to you both.

Related: The Best Bedtime Routine That Will Get Any Baby to Sleep

Before implementing the bedtime routine, it is essential to help your little one overcome their day and night confusion.

Fixing Day and Night Confusion

Having a baby that has their days and nights mixed up is exhausting. Here are some tips to help you straighten it out:

  • Keep rooms very bright during the day and very dark at night (you may want to invest in some blackout curtains).
  • Use a sound machine at night and during naps to signal sleep time.
  • Carry your baby a lot during the day to signal the difference between day (in your arms) and night (safe sleep space). (Use a baby carrier to allow yourself to get things done while carrying baby. This is the brand I use and love.)
  • Limit naps to two hours so the body’s circadian rhythms – the internal clock that causes you to be sleepy at night and wake in the morning- are not disrupted.
  • Play with your baby during the day, and partake in quiet activities as bedtime approaches.
  • Be consistent with the bedtime routine so that baby can anticipate nighttime.
  • Keep feedings calm and quiet during the night.
  • Use verbal cues to explain to the baby what is to come. For example, “we are going upstairs now to have our bath. Then I will give you a massage, and we’ll get you cozy in your P.J.s and put you down to sleep. I love you. Good night.”

These tips will help with righting your baby’s’ internal clock, but don’t worry if it takes longer than you anticipate. As your babe grows older, she will naturally fall into the day/night pattern.

Now comes the fun part… I mean, what’s more adorable than a baby in his bath?

Adding Bedtime Elements Into Your Infant Bedtime Routine

The bedtime routine will look much like the wind-down routine. You can add in a bath, story, or another calming activity specific to bedtime.

While babies don’t need to be bathed daily, most babies love the water as it reminds them of the womb. Toasty, warm baths where they are physically supported make for a great transition from day to night.

Whatever you decide, factor in the additional time it will take to ensure your baby is not overtired when you put him down – hopefully for the night.

Related: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating the Perfect Bedtime Routine for Your Baby

Teaching Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night

You’ve probably heard this urban myth about babies, as young as a few months old, who sleep through the night.

Turns out, it’s not a myth for everyone. Wouldn’t it be amazing if it was true for you?

While you can’t will your baby to sleep, you set up a dependable newborn routine in those early weeks to ready your baby for a blissful 11-12 consecutive hours of rest.

These tips will help you to encourage your baby to sleep longer at night:

  • Keep naps short, about one to two hours.
  • Add as much predictability as possible to baby’s day. Give him meals, baths, walks, visits to the park, and bedtime on a consistent schedule.
  • Follow the same wind-down routine every night.
  • Put him down to sleep while drowsy, not asleep. If he wakes and realizes he is no longer in your arms, he may become scared. Rocking them to sleep also establishes a pattern that will be hard to break as he ages.
  • Use blackout curtains and a sound machine. (This sound machine cues to baby when it’s time to rise and time to sleep, and you can control it from your phone.)
  • It’s ok to let your baby fuss for up to a minute if she is not hungry or soiled. They may need to exert that last bit of energy before falling asleep or wake during a R.E.M. cycle.

Pausing for a minute allows them to naturally fall back asleep on their own before you rush in.

However, pediatricians and sleep coaches do not recommend formal sleep training until at least four months of age.

Printable Baby Sleep Cheat Sheet

Help your baby to learn how to sleep by focusing on wake times, following a pre-sleep checklist, and crafting a solid bedtime routine. These three things will help your baby sleep like a… baby… all night long. Here’s how to get your free checklist:

  1. Download the printable baby sleep cheat sheet. As a bonus for joining my newsletter, you’ll get the free printable checklist to master your baby’s sleep. You can click here to download and subscribe.
  2. Print it off. Print the checklist off. Any type of printer paper works, though I suggest using card stock to keep the checklist from bending or ripping. (You’ll be using this cheat sheet a lot, so this is an important step.)
  3. Use it. Put the cheat sheet to work by using it with your baby every day.

Conclusion

Those early months with your baby can be chaotic and stressful.

Wouldn’t it be helpful to take some of the guesswork out of your day by following a newborn schedule suited to your babe’s needs?

While all babies and caregivers have individual needs, pediatricians and sleep experts agree that babies who follow a flexible schedule will benefit in the short and long term.

Takeaways

I know we’ve covered A LOT of information in this post. Here are some key takeaways:

  1. Feeding is your #1 priority in the first weeks of your baby’s life.
  2. Observe your baby and take cues from their natural routine when setting up your newborn schedule.
  3. Start implementing a flexible schedule at the 4-week mark or when you feel ready.
  4. Understand that implementing a routine is a process.
  5. Try different schedules to see which suits your baby best.
  6. Limit naps to 2 hours.
  7. Be consistent with all aspects of the newborn routine.
  8. Expect challenges, and do your best to overcome them while prioritizing sleep.
  9. Think about implementing a flexible schedule as a sequence of events. You are doing the valuable work of teaching your babe how to thrive outside the womb.
  10. Bedtime routines will help with longer stretches of sleep in the short and long term.

Your Turn

Do you have a schedule that works for you and your baby? We’d love to hear about it! Comment in the section below.

If you are looking for more helpful information and tips about your baby’s routines, join my mailing list to get your free copy of the Baby Sleep Cheat Sheet.