Want to create daily consistency with your baby? Learn how a newborn schedule based on rhythms can help him adjust to life outside the womb.
As any new mom can tell you, babies do things on their own terms.
Forget long stretches of sleep—they’ll gladly sleep in spurts, waking up periodically to eat. Peeing and pooping happen at all hours, no matter how inconvenient to clean. And days and nights are mixed together, with no structure in place.
Unfortunately, for any sleep-deprived, exasperated parent, this is all normal, and for so many reasons.
Babies don’t yet have the digestive systems to process food the way you and I (or even older kids) do. Their tummies are smaller and can only take so much. And they slept snuggled in your womb for months, oblivious to your schedules and routines.
That’s why you end up with a baby who sleeps well during the day but wakes up every hour or two at night. Or he sleeps so much you wonder whether he should be awake or more alert longer. Still at other times, it takes ages to get him to fall asleep, only for him to wake up minutes later.
Using a newborn schedule to help your baby adjust
Before you write off the newborn stage as hopeless, rest assured you can still help your baby adjust to life outside the womb. And it all happens with establishing a newborn schedule.
Now, this isn’t the kind of “schedule” you might use for yourself. We’re not talking about sticking to the clock, or expecting him to abide by your schedule no matter what.
Instead, it’s simple—but effective—ways to structure your day so that he can acclimate to his new life. Take a look at how using a daily newborn schedule can help him adjust:
1. Keep nighttime subdued
In the womb, your baby only knew one environment, with no idea whether the rest of the world was asleep or awake. Out in the world however, you can help him sleep longer at night and stay more awake in the day by the activities you do.
When he wakes up throughout the night, stick to feedings and diaper changes only. As alert as he might try to be, don’t engage in play, so that he can learn to sleep in longer stretches. You don’t have to be “cold” (you can still look him in the eyes!) but keep your body language soft and subdued.
Meanwhile, use the daytime to encourage play and attentiveness. This is when you should coo and smile, sing songs, and keep your environment bright. He’ll then begin to associate daytime with being awake and alert, and nighttime with being dark and subdued.
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2. Feed your baby after waking up
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With a newborn, don’t base your activities by the clock, but rather on a general flow to your day. One of the best ways to establish this rhythm is to feed your baby after waking up.
In Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Tracy Hogg talks about the “E-A-S-Y” routine, which stands for “eat, awake, sleep, and you” (with “you” being time to yourself while the baby sleeps).
Once your baby is awake for the day, you’d then feed him, followed by awake time. After he’s been awake, then it’s back to sleep, followed by eating, and so forth.
3. Have a consistent bedtime and wake up time
A newborn schedule is less about following a strict timeline as it is about following a general flow to your day. That said, two time frames I do recommend you stick to are bedtime and wake up time.
Try to put your newborn down to sleep for the night at the same time every night, even if you have to adjust the activities beforehand. Similarly, have the same “official” wake up time every morning.
A consistent bedtime allows him to get used to falling asleep at the same time every night. You also benefit from putting him down at the same time each night, having one less thing to think about. Find ways to adjust your early evening activities so you can put him down to sleep by bedtime.
Meanwhile, start your day at the same time each morning, regardless of when he wakes up. For instance, you might have a 6am start to your day. If he wakes up at 4am, continue to keep your environment subdued for the next two hours until wake up time.
4. Create a bedtime routine
Just as you have a general flow to your day to help your baby know what to expect, so too should you have a bedtime routine.
A bedtime routine doesn’t have to be fancy—think of it as doing the same things in the same order every day. Maybe that means starting with a soothing bath at 6:45pm, followed by a baby massage and changing into pajamas. You’d then read a few books in bed, feed him milk, and put him down to bed by 7:30pm.
Bath, massage, pajamas, books, feeding, bed. Same order, around the same time, every day. A bedtime routine lets him know which activities are coming up and provides a comforting familiarity.
5. Feed on demand
As much as we wish babies would always eat, play, and sleep in set hours of the day, that’s simply not how they function. In fact, you might have some days where they wake up, eat, stay awake for 10 minutes, and go right back to sleep. Or perhaps they’ll eat, only to want to eat more 30 minutes later.
Such is life with a newborn.
So, do what you can to get your baby onto a newborn schedule, but also be open to fidgeting with it, including feeding on demand. This means feeding him when he’s hungry, regardless of how long ago (or how recently!) he had just eaten.
This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding, since your supply depends on his demand for it. Feeding on demand allows you to nurse frequently, especially in the first two weeks, to encourage milk production.
As you can see, a newborn schedule isn’t about getting your baby on a strict timeline. Instead, it’s about following a general flow to your day and abiding by simple hacks to help him better adjust.
Keep nighttime subdued, saving all your active play time for the day. Feed him after waking up so he’s more alert when awake (and less likely to need to feed to sleep). Create a bedtime routine so he can transition into a long stretch of sleep.
Feed on demand, especially in the first two weeks, to keep your supply up and accommodate his frequent hunger. And while you can keep your timeline flexible, try to stick to the same wake up and bedtimes every day.
It may take a few more months to establish a set timeline for him. In the meantime, do your best to create a newborn schedule that works—even on his terms.
Get more tips:
- 12 Things to Do When Your Newborn Fights Sleep
- Newborn Life: Expectation vs Reality
- 5 Useful Tips for New Dads in the Newborn Stage
- When Do Newborns Get Easier?
- How to Survive the Newborn Stage
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