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I have had several new mommy friends come to me recently asking how to actually get started with establishing a schedule with their newborns. Babywise recommends feeding on demand until 2-3 weeks old.
I totally agree with this, but I also started from birth (yes, while at the hospital!) with introducing Babywise techniques with my daughter. You can read my tips for starting from birth in this post.
Once the baby turns that magical 2-3 weeks old…then what?
Here is how I always recommend starting to set up the baby on a schedule:
Pick a start time. It’s crucial to have a start time to each day. I like to go by the book so I chose 7 am for my children since it is what all the Babywise books use in the sample schedules. It can be any time you choose, but your entire schedule revolves around this time. If your baby wakes before the awake time then it is considered a “middle of the night” feeding. Mine would often wake at 5:30. I’d feed, put back to bed, and re-wake at 7 to start my day.
Wake to eat. It is okay to let the baby sleep an extra 15 min, when needed, but if it’s time to eat then you need to wake the baby! I know how hard it is but it’s important in order to establish the routine! Same with feeding early.
It’s okay to feed early if you think your baby is hungry but then adjust your schedule accordingly. I always tried to hold my babies off to eat until I was within the 15 min time window of their next scheduled feeding time. Remember that with nursing you need to have 8-10 feedings a day!
Eat-Wake-Sleep cycle. When the baby wakes feed him or her then keep the baby awake for some awake time. In the early days it can often be only just a few minutes but still have some awake time before putting them back to sleep. The only time you don’t do this is in the middle of the night.
After the last scheduled feeding for the day then put the baby to bed for the night and cross fingers they let you sleep! When the baby wakes for the night feeding keep it dark and quiet and try to keep them in sleepy mode as much as possible. Don’t do any awake time before putting them back to their nighttime sleep!
Continue to focus on full feedings. During the first few weeks I always encourage new moms just to work hard to get the baby to take a full feeding. Do whatever you have to in order to keep him or her awake while they eat!!! It’s important to continue to do this once the schedule is in place. It will help make sure the baby will stay nice and full (and happy!) until the next feeding time! By this age most babies fall into a natural 2 1/2 – 3 hours between feedings (you calculate that time from the start of the first feeding to the start of the next one).
Keep the sleep hierarchy in mind. This is a big thing for me! Reading this post from Valerie’s blog was truly a life saver. The most important goal is for the baby to SLEEP during sleep times. Ideally you want the baby to be in their crib to sleep but if you have to use the swing, help hold the baby to go back to sleep, etc then do it at this age in order to make sure sleep happens!
My goal was to always keep the baby in the crib if I could so if they woke early I’d go in and simply touch them or make a quiet sound (“shhh”). If that didn’t work then I’d pick up and comfort and put back down once they stopped crying. If that didn’t work then I’d try the swing. If that didn’t work then I’d try me holding them until they went to sleep. I tried to “interfere” as little as possible but kept the ultimate goal of sleep in mind!
Know the “sleepy cues.” My daughter was a slow nurser and would, literally, only have a few brief minutes of awake time after nursing before she went back to sleep. If your baby yawns, gets fussy, rubs eyes, etc (here is a great post on sleep cues!) then it means get them to the bed and fast! If you miss the sleepy window then you have a baby who is overtired and overstimulated and who probably won’t sleep.
Have a good sleep environment. Make the place where the baby sleeps for naps as much like the night sleep conditions as you can. Get black out curtains to keep the room dark. Use a swaddle if you use one at night. Do the same routine before each nap (such as sing a short song, etc).
Have a form of white noise that you use every time the baby is sleeping. By keeping the pre-sleep ritual consistent at all sleep times the baby will learn when they get swaddled and you start singing that song then it’s time for them to sleep!
Stay home. I know for many people it’s a big sacrifice not to be out and about. I tell family and friends to get their fill of our new babies during the first couple weeks because once it’s time to set up the schedule, we get strict about it!
Just like with anything else in life, the more consistent you are with keeping the routine for your baby, the more successful you will be. At this stage the goal is sleeping through the night and it will happen sooner if you work hard these early days to get the schedule in place!
Don’t Cry It Out. I think often Babywise gets a bad wrap about cry it out but at this age it’s not something you need to be concerned with at all. If your baby is crying at the start of nap then 90% of the time it’s probably because the baby is overtired/overstimulated. Help the baby get to sleep (although it’s fine to let them fuss a bit and see if they will fall asleep on their own too!) and know that next nap to make sure to put them to bed earlier!
I like to write down when my baby shows sleep cues and try to actually start the bedtime routine process prior to the time when they start to show signs of being tired. That way they are ready to get in the bed exactly at the right time! You also don’t need to do cry it out mid-nap yet. Again, the sleep hierarchy! If the baby wakes mid-nap then go in and soothe to get them back to sleep!
Know the Wonder Weeks. If you’ve never heard of Wonder Weeks then you will be SO glad I just told you about them! It’s so, so accurate! It is times when your baby is going through developmental leaps and knowing when they occur helps to know when your baby might struggle with sleep and be fussier than normal. During Wonder Weeks I did a lot more comforting than usual and just helped my babies get through the stage, once it passed things went back to normal with no issues.
Cluster feed and dream feed. I do a combo of Babywise schedule along with the scheduling recommended in the book The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems. I have my feeding times in the evenings closer together. This is typically a fussy time of the day any way for little ones so why not just keep them happy and fed? Plus by “stocking up” on eating close to bedtime, it helps the baby stay full longer in the night.
The sample schedule in Babywise has a “late evening” feeding. This is also known as the “dream feed.” You wake the baby to eat, but you don’t have any awake time following this scheduled feeding. While I do a dream feed when first starting to schedule, I do think at a certain point it can cause issues with solid sleep. Both of my children, so far, slept through the night at 8-9 weeks old and it happened for the first time on nights I accidentally slept through the dream feed. Therefore, I typically stop doing them around that age!
Here is a sample schedule from when my daughter was two-three weeks old:
7:00: start of the day, eat
8:00-8:30: awake time then down for nap
11:00-11:30: awake time then down for nap
2:00-2:30: awake time then down for nap
5:00-5:30: awake time then down for nap
6:00: eat (this is a cluster feed, I would feed her close together in the evenings to help her load up on food and stay full for the night time. The evenings are also THE fussiest time of the day at this age so it makes sense to feed her and keep her happy!)
7:00-7:30: awake time then down for nap
8:00: do bedtime ritual (massage or bath) then eat. Put her straight to bed after this feeding
10:30: wake her up for her “dream feed” (this is one extra feeding before we go to bed to, again, help her stock up and hopefully sleep through the night).
Feed whenever wakes during the night (typically around 3:30ish)
When I first started Babywise with my first baby I had such a hard time because I felt like the book didn’t go into enough detail. I didn’t have a lot of people I knew personally who used Babywise principals to help me so I’m very thankful I found resources online.
Here are some other blog posts that may also help you get started: