Scheduling is a modern concept. In ancient times, parents didn’t feed their babies or put them down for naps according to the time on the sundial. No one was following wake windows or charting their little one’s feeds on an app! But today’s parents live very differently than they did back then. Now, staying organized and adopting a schedule that works for your family can be a lifesaver. But how do you start—and when? Here’s my take on how to approach setting up a baby schedule.

Do babies need a schedule?

I believe in baby schedules. Of course, a rigid baby schedule that ignores a baby’s cries and changing needs is unnatural. But following a flexible baby schedule that sets approximate times—and realistic expectations—for feeding, sleep, and more can work quite well...and help bring peace to both Baby and parent.

When to Start a Baby Schedule

If you are going to try a baby schedule, I suggest you wait until they are about a month old—or until feeding is going really well. Trying to implement a baby schedule earlier is, well, pointless. Fresh-to-the-world babies are just getting used to life outside of the womb. Day is night. Night is day. Plus, newborns don’t crave schedules yet. Instead, all they want is to experience the sensations they’re used to from the womb. Your job? Be an A+ womb impersonator by offering a healthy dose of the 5 S’s, which are designed to transition babies into their fourth trimester. The 5 S’s include Swaddling, Shushing (aka white noise, Swinging (or rocking), holding in the Side or Stomach position, and Sucking.

What’s a good baby schedule?

Once your baby is roughly a month old, I suggest you do the following:

  • Carry your baby a lot. During-the-day babywearing helps little one’s learn the difference between day and night—and they get to enjoy an essential element of the 5 S’s—swinging.

  • Establish predictable feeding times. During the day, feed your love bug every hour-and-a-half to two hours then put them to bed…safely on the back in their own, empty sleep space, of course.

  • Feed in a quiet room. This helps Baby stay focused on the task at hand! Distracted babies often refuse to eat.

  • Tune into sleep cues. The goal is to start your baby’s nap before they’re yawning and droopy-eyed. (For help zeroing in on that sweet spot, learn all about wake windows.)

  • Turn white noise machine onAnd dim the lights 20 minutes before naps and bedtime. This quiets your baby’s nervous system and gives a clear signal that sleepytime is coming. (White noise is an integral part of the 5 S’s for soothing babies, designed to activate their innate calming reflex, which is nature’s “off switch” for crying and “on switch” for sleep.

  • Use the wake-and-sleep technique. After you feed and burp your baby, allow them to fall asleep in your arms before you lay them in their bassinet. BUT after you put your bub down, gently rouse them with a light tickle on their feet until they open their eyes. After a few seconds, your baby will close their eyes again and slide back to sleep. This helps teach your baby how to self soothe. (If your little one fusses, pick them up for a feed or a cuddle, but then wake your baby again when you put them back down.)

  • Monitor naps. If your baby naps for over two hours, wake them up for their next play/feed period. (Long naps cause less daytime eating and more hunger at night.)

  • Offer a dream feed. Between roughly 10pm and midnight each night, gently rouse your baby—without fully waking them up—to feed them one more time before you turn in for the night. Filling Baby’s belly prepares them for a longer sleep period.

  • Don’t rush to respond to every noise. Babies are noisy sleepers! (Find out why babies make so many sleep sounds.) Try not to rush to respond to each grunt, moan…even cry. You little one may simply be moving through a sleep cycle. (Nighttime noises don’t always mean your baby is hungry.)

Keep your baby’s schedule flexible.

For most parents, a flexible eating and sleeping schedule is super-helpful. But the key word is flexible. If you’re planning a 1pm nap, but your little one is exhausted at 12:30pm, it’s fine to bend the “rules.” Just feed your baby and put them down early. And if your bub gets hungry before their “scheduled” feeding time, try distracting them, but respond with promptness and love if the fussing persists…and return to the schedule later. Rigid and strict schedules where you never deviate even if your baby is crying with hunger are contrary to our natural instincts. It makes us constantly watch the clock and can lead to underfed babies.

How a Baby Schedule Can Boost Sleep

Getting into a predictable daily rhythm has been shown to be good for Baby’s sleep. A study of breastfed babies featured in the journal Pediatrics found that two simple scheduling tweaks yielded a big improvement in sleep in the first two months:

  • Scheduling hack #1: Implement a dream feed. Between 10pm and midnight each night, gently rouse your baby—without fully waking them up—to feed them one more time before you turn in for the night.

  • Scheduling hack #2: Responding to nighttime cries this way. When your baby wakes and cries in the middle of the night, always hold or change them a few minutes before feeding them.

Within three weeks, 100% of the breastfed babies studied were sleeping five-hour stretches with these two steps, versus 23% of infants where no scheduling was tried.

All About the “Eat, Play, Sleep” Baby Schedule

Some experts advise an “eat, play, sleep” baby schedule. The idea here is, when your little one wakes up from a nap or night sleep, you feed them, play with them…then when the time comes, put them down for sleep again. You continue with this pattern throughout the day. The hope is that having a little play time separating the eating from sleeping will help babies learn to fall asleep without a feeding when they wake at 2am.

While this sounds logical, the “eat, play, sleep” baby schedule actually goes against your baby’s biology. Infants get sleepy after feedings, no matter how much you prod and play with them. Also, before bedtime, you want to fill your little one’s tummy to prolong their sleep!

A Bedtime Routine To Complement Your Baby Schedule

Most babies are very receptive to a bedtime routine at around 6 to 8 weeks. Establishing a bedtime routine for your new baby helps to calm them and ease them into a good night’s sleep. Follow the same reassuring sample baby routine every night:

  1. Dim the lights. Exposure to bright light in the hour or so before night-night makes falling asleep more difficult.

  2. Play soft white noise in the background. White noise is not bird sounds, waves, or lullabies. White noise is continuous, monotonous, and low pitch. And the ideal white noise mimics the loud rumbly sounds Baby heard in the womb. (SNOO and SNOObear both feature the best white noise for sleep.)

  3. Offer a toasty bath. A baby’s body temperature drops a few degrees post-bath, which signals the body that it’s time for night-night.

  4. Give a loving massage. Research shows that baby massage can improve the quality of baby sleep—even more so for a little one who has poor sleep quality. I like to use warm massage oil, too, like coconut, grapeseed oil, or safflower oil. Warm the oil by leaving it at room temperature and rubbing your hands together.

  5. Swaddle your baby. I like to swaddle babies before a feed, but some babies prefer to be swaddled afterward…so see which works best for you! Either way, swaddling is an important S in the 5 S’s that helps bring on sleep.

  6. Feed your baby. Babies are designed to snooze after drinking yummy milk!

  7. Play a soft lullaby. A 2021 Harvard University study found that when babies listened to lullabies, they became more relaxed than when they listened to other music. While lullabies should not replace white noise, they are a great addition to a calming bedtime routine. (Here are some great: lullabies for babies.)

Within a week, this bedtime routine will begin to work like hypnosis. Soon, you’ll find that both you and your baby will be getting more sleep!

More help getting your baby on a schedule:

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.