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Newborns may be cuddly and adorable – but predictable? That’s not a word most parents associate with their newborns! And that’s to be expected, really – newborns need to eat around the clock, which means you can’t depend on hours of sustained nighttime sleep, or lengthy naps. But what’s more, your newborn baby is growing and changing at a phenomenal rate in the first few months of life. Your newborn will go through four growth spurts in the first 3 months alone! No wonder, then, that your newborn’s sleep and feeding patterns may seem erratic, and may change from one day to the next.
That said, I’ve learned in my years of sleep consulting that many new parents crave some kind of predictability – some kind of order – in their days. Fortunately, that doesn’t have to be a pipe dream; while your newborn is certainly not ready for a rigid, by-the-clock sleep and feeding schedule, you can create routine “shells” that help you organize your baby’s naps and feeds.
4 Ways To Gently Organize Your Newborn’s Daily Naps and Feeds
1. Log your baby’s sleep to determine natural patterns.
Your baby’s sleep may seem all over the map to you, but many parents with whom I’ve worked have been pleasantly surprised to discover that, when they spend some time logging all their babies’ sleep and feeding sessions, there are some consistencies that emerge. For that reason, I recommend that you try logging your newborn’s sleep for at least a week (maybe two), and then look for patterns. If you see any, those will be the starting points for creating consistency from day to day. For example, if your baby usually goes down peacefully for the first afternoon nap of the day, then you know you can build that in as a consistent nap each day, and work in other naps and feedings around that fixed point.
2. Create one or more “fixed points” in your newborn’s day.
Speaking of fixed points – if your newborn doesn’t have any consistent moments in his schedule, then you can create them for him. Simply put, a “fixed point” is feeding or a sleep time that you make sure happens at roughly the same time each day. For instance, I often urge my consultation clients to make the morning wake-up a fixed point. To do that, you would simply wake your baby within the same half-hour window each morning. The morning wake-up time really sets the schedule for the rest of the day, so if you ensure that it happens at about the same time every morning, you are well on your way to establishing some consistency. The start of the first morning nap is also a great fixed point to establish; bedtime is another.
3. Use routine “shells” to organize sleep and feedings (but make large allowances for growth spurts and developmental leaps).
Truth be told, routines are much better for newborns than are schedules. Routines allow you to organize your newborn’s typical activities (sleep and feeding) into predictable patterns, which means that they provide a semblance of order to your day – but they aren’t clock-based, which means they’re highly flexible. If one of your goals is to help your baby or toddler learn to fall asleep alone, when it’s age-appropriate, then an Eat-Play-Sleep schedule is a great idea, as it makes it easier to put your baby down in the crib drowsy, but awake.
However, you may need to change up your usual routine when your baby is going through a growth spurt, or a developmental leap. During growth spurts (which will happen at 7-10 days, 2-3 weeks, 4-6 weeks, and 12 weeks), you may find that your baby is extra sleepy; for that reason, a Sleep-Eat-Sleep routine may be necessary much of the time. During developmental leaps, you may find that your newborn is extra-fussy (the 6 week fussy spell tends to be very tough in particular); at those times, an Eat-Sleep-Play schedule is a good idea, as it allows you to feed your baby to sleep.
4. Create a general clock-based schedule, but be prepared to be flexible.
Now, all this said, you can establish a loose by-the-clock schedule for your newborn, as long as you’re ready to be very flexible from one day to the next. Just keep in mind that some newborns are utterly unpredictable (my eldest son was that way as a newborn), so a clock-based schedule may prove more frustrating than helpful, depending on your newborn’s temperament. If you do try a clock schedule, be sure to build it around feedings in the first 8 weeks; ideally, your baby will eat frequently during the day, in order to allow for one longer (4 hour or so) stretch of sleep at night. You can see a few sample newborn sleep and feeding schedules here.
Regardless of how you choose to organize your newborn’s day, keep in mind that your baby’s newborn phase is short indeed. As I advise all my clients, it’s a good idea to balance the “work” you do on your baby’s sleep with time spent enjoying and cuddling with your little one! After all, years from now, you won’t look back fondly on your newborn’s sleep routines and schedules – but you will have fond memories of times spent simply enjoying your baby.
Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site®. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, maybe she can help you, too! For more free tips to help your newborn build healthy sleep habits right from the start, download 15 Baby Sleep Facts New Parents Need To Know. It’s a free e-Book designed to give you the practical, actionable tips you need to help your newborn sleep soundly!