There are lots of reasons why you might be wondering how to get a newborn on a schedule.
But the chief one is likely to be you’re exhausted and you would love to get a bit more sleep – especially at night.
I’m going to get right to the point with this one and say that no, it is not possible to have a schedule with a newborn baby.
But if we refine our definition of the word schedule, and use it a little more loosely when applied to a newborn, it is possible to get your baby into a (mostly) predictable rhythm.
And most importantly of all, new parents need to accept that their baby’s short bursts of sleep, frequent need to feed and their own exhaustion is totally and completely normal.
Once you accept that your baby won’t be forced into a schedule that suits you, then you can let go of the stress you may be feeling at how hard it is trying to get by without the 7-8 hours of nightly sleep you’re used to.
Now that your expectations are a little managed, we’re going to talk some more about what a newborn sleep schedule looks like and how you can actually get your new baby on a sleep schedule.
Sample newborn sleep schedule
This is what a newborn baby’s day could look like – try not to follow the timings as a guide, more look at the pattern of how baby’s typical day may unfold. This is what both of my baby’s day’s looked like in the newborn stages.
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How to get a newborn on a sleep schedule
Getting your newborn into a rigid sleep schedule where they are peacefully snoozing by 7pm every night is not likely.
However these tips can help you to form some structure to your baby’s day and, most importantly, anticipate your baby’s needs so that they are easier to settle and cry less.
Try these tips to get started with a newborn sleep routine.
Rhythm not schedule
When it comes to a newborn sleep schedule we need to think of it more as a rhythm than a schedule with set timings.
So we need to look at their day like this: Eat, play, sleep, repeat.
Newborns just don’t follow set timings – and trying to reason with them would be pretty futile.
They are born without the same internal clock as you – night and day are meaningless – and they need to feed frequently including at night.
Your baby will also change a lot from the day they are born to when they are three months old, as they will be more active, taking more milk and you’ll have had a chance to get to know their natural rhythms.
So I’m going to take the word schedule and apply it in a way that’s much less rigid to a baby.
Here’s what your newborn schedule may look like:
- Eat – this happens when your baby wakes so that they take a full feed and don’t nod off on the bottle or boob (a baby may well still nod off, that’s OK, they’re newborns, we don’t have to be rigid).
- Play – a newborn’s wake window is very short – as little as 30 minutes. So play may just involve a cuddle, walking them around your house and talking to them, putting them on a bouncy chair, etc.
- Sleep – once your baby has been awake for their typical wake window you then put them down for a nap.
Follow your baby’s sleep cues
Following your baby’s natural rhythms will be easier when you get to grips with your baby’s sleep cues.
A tired baby will yawn, rub their eyes, cry and have jerkier movements.
Try to figure out how long after your baby has woken up they start to show these signs of tiredness. This then gives you an idea of when you should aim to put them down for a nap after they have woken up.
Once you know their wake window this can give you a much better idea of what time they will need to be put down for a nap.
Newborn babies go through very rapid changes in those first few months and beyond. They are also unpredictable and can’t be forced into a rigid set of timings.
So it’s important that you be prepared for those days where you feel like you have zero control or sense of routine at all. And to remind yourself it is totally OK and normal for this to happen.
Be prepared to roll with the punches. If your baby usually wakes for the day at 7am, but today has woken at 5am and that has thrown out their daytime naps, try not to sweat it.
As your baby grows and develops through their first year their daily routine becomes far more predictable, so accept the chaos in the early months.
Establish a sleep routine
Although settling a newborn baby to sleep can be tricky – you may try rocking, feeding and introducing a dummy but still struggle to get them to sleep when they are tired – there is something you can do from day one to help.
Having a set bedtime routine that you follow when it’s time to put them down for sleep is a really useful way to let them know it’s time for sleep.
A simple bedtime routine for a newborn baby may just involve turning down the lights, changing their nappy, giving them a cuddle and singing to them, then settling them to sleep with some white noise or similar.
Follow this every time they need a nap and they start to see the cues that it’s time to settle for sleep. Of course they need to be actually tired for this to work – trying to settle an alert baby is a bit of a losing battle.
So you commence your sleep routine with your baby at a stage when you know they will be sleepy, having calculate their wake window.
Try not to compare notes
Making new mum friends is an important way of building a support network to help you and to just enjoy this new chapter of your life.
However when you put new parents in a room together and you’ll find the discussion will inevitably turn to what their baby’s day looks like.
Comparing notes on how many feeds baby has, how much they cry and, most commonly, how many hours baby is sleeping is not necessarily helpful, especially if it makes you feel badly about your own day.
So when these conversations come up, try not to see it as a competition and instead remind yourself that every baby is different.
Of course it can be useful to gain insights into things other parents are trying that are proving effective for them, so have a listening ear, but don’t worry if your friend’s baby sleeps 10 hours at night and yours only sleeps for three. All babies sleep through in the end.
Adjust your own sleep schedule
In order to make your baby’s schedule work for you it’s important that you adjust your own schedule.
One of the reasons we new parents sometimes resist our baby’s natural schedule is that it doesn’t gel with our need for a proper night’s sleep.
Accept that you may need to sleep in the afternoons for a couple of hours every day while your baby is sleeping, so that you can handle those late night feeds.
Do newborns need a sleep schedule?
No your newborn does not need a sleep schedule. They do need regular sleep, more than you, however a set schedule is both unnecessary and difficult to enforce.
As sleep is such a hot topic when it comes to having a new baby then it’s hard to avoid the subject.
It’s likely that you’ve either considered whether you should be putting your baby onto a sleep schedule or that you’ve heard people talking about a sleep schedule being the key to better sleep.
The fact is you can just get through those newborn sleepless weeks by just muddling through as best you can:
- Follow your baby’s sleep cues.
- Put them down to nap when they are tired.
- Feed them whenever you think they are hungry – newborns may feed every two hours, sometimes more.
- Get some rest yourself whenever you can. This may involve asking for a little help from time to time from loved ones.
Can you get a newborn on a schedule?
In conclusion it is possible to follow your baby’s natural rhythms to put them on a very loose schedule that doesn’t involve set timings.
However you will likely find that on certain days your baby’s normal pattern is all over the place, and they nod off while feeding or struggle to settle to nap when they normally would.
This is all totally normal and not a sign of things to come for their entire childhood!
As the newborn phase is such a flash in the pan, try to just embrace it for what it is.
Babies tend to be much easier to put onto a schedule from around four to five months onwards.