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Finding The Hidden Schedule In Your Baby’s Day

Jul23

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Hi! First off, I know you address infant eating and sleeping questions all the time, so feel free to just direct me to a previously written column, etc.

I have a beautiful seven week old — our first, so I’m deep in the throes of reminding myself to chill out because I can’t do everything JUST RIGHT or even semi-okay, and as long as the baby is alive and relatively healthy, I’m doing what I’m supposed to. Anyway, she’s eating exclusively formula, according to a schedule only known to her. I’m still in the mode of following her cues for the most part, which generally means eating every 3-4 hours during the day, and one feeding in the middle of the night (so…5-6 hours between feedings at one point). Although she tends to follow this pattern, she is by no means predictable and her patterns still vary from day to day. I’m still pretty much going off of her cues for eating and sleeping at this point, except I wake her up during the day if it’s been 4 hours since she ate last so she eats enough during the day and possibly stays awake enough to realize the difference between day and night.

Now that I’ve set the stage, I have two questions: First, my plan was to not start pushing a schedule until 12 weeks. Except, that’s exactly when we’ll be in the middle of moving to another city. So should I still go with the mostly chill method until after the move? Or try to push a schedule earlier? She was three weeks early, if that makes a difference in her readiness. Second, I’m wondering how eating and napping will work together once her naps are more scheduled and consolidated, especially early on. I like the 2-3-4 schedule you’ve talked about before, but just wonder how eating works into that best.

Thanks!
Amanda (Hey I’m New Here)

Let me manage some expectations here, right off the bat: When we use the word “schedule” about babies, it’s really NOT some kind of rigid, set-in-stone thing, with naps and feedings happening with military precision. It’s still more like a…rough outline to your day.

And at 12 weeks, that rough outline STILL looks a lot like what you’re doing already. Bottles every three to four hours during the day, with (hopefully) increasingly longer stretches at night. Sleep should sort of naturally fall around that feeding frequency. Both are just as important, neither are to be messed with just to favor the other.

For the 2-3-4 schedule, the second bottle of the day happens right after the morning nap, since it assumes the first bottle happens not long after the baby first wakes up. For example:

7 a.m. Baby wakes up. Bottle/nurse.

7:30 Get dressed, playtime, etc.

9 a.m. Nap. Ideally should be 1/1.5 hours.

10 – 10:30 a.m. Baby wakes up. Bottle/nurse

See? Second bottle stays at the 3/3.5 hour spacing. The morning nap can also be where you start establishing that sleep can happen without a bottle, which is always a good thing, if you can manage it. (If milk is crucial to the sleep routine, however, an extra couple ounces here isn’t the end of the world.)

Now, the afternoon nap can be tricky. Some babies don’t settle into the two naps a day pattern right by 12 weeks — you might get more of a series of catnaps throughout the afternoon and early evening. That’s okay. Just keep feeding every 3/4 hours and try to read her cues and learn her signs that she’s getting sleepy so you can get her in the crib while she’s awake. When she IS ready for a two-nap schedule, it will ideally look something like this:

11 a.m. Playtime, errands, just being up and awake and alert, etc.

1 – 1:30  p.m. Bottle/nurse, down for afternoon nap (three hours after waking up from morning nap)

3:30 – 4:30 Baby wakes up. 2-3 hours is a good afternoon nap. Four hours is okay, but you’ll want to wake her up at that point. Diaper change, bottle/nurse.

And then you basically plan on your baby staying awake until bedtime, which will be four hours after whenever she woke up from the afternoon nap (so 7:30/8:30, in our hypothetical dream schedule above). You give one more bottle 3/4 hours later, so it typically coincides with bedtime and the bedtime routine. And then it’s up to your baby to see how long she’ll sleep at night — obviously don’t wake her up, but if she does wake, give her a bottle and try to settle her back down quickly.

Now, your question about moving and when to start implementing all this. It’s not like flicking a light switch. It doesn’t happen all at once, or is a system you suddenly execute, like say, sleep training. I imagine, if you started writing down when your baby eats and sleeps now, you’ll see the beginnings of a pattern forming already, anchored around her feedings. You could start working off your notes and see if you can nudge her towards a little predictably now, if you wanted. Note that you’re in for a growth spurt in the next couple weeks, however, and some babies can start experiencing teething pain by 12 weeks, so sleep might get wonky for awhile, before it gets “better.” But it’s not like 12 weeks is some perfect magic number when you can just declare I HEREBY PUT THEE ON A SCHEDULE and make it your project for the week.

You can probably start playing around with a set morning nap two hours after she wakes up now, if you want. (The morning nap, for whatever reason, seems to be the “easiest” to set and predict for most babies. It’s in the afternoon when things get kinda hairy, in the “real” nap vs. “dozing off a bunch of times in 15-minute increments followed by a witching hour/clusterfeeding through the early evening.”) I once had a doctor scold me for not having my FOUR WEEK OLD on a schedule, so…okay. I guess it can be done? If the morning nap continues through her growth spurt and your move, great. If it doesn’t happen some days, whatever. If you don’t feel like paying attention to any sort of schedule until after your move, that’s fine too. You won’t be missing some critical crucial window or anything; you’ll just go a little longer feeling like you do now, when you’re not really able to predict when she’ll nap and when you can get stuff done.

Good luck! And may the nap gods smile upon thee both.

 

 

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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8 Responses to “Finding The Hidden Schedule In Your Baby’s Day”

  1. Myriam Jul 23 at 11:26 am Reply Reply

    I finally put my baby on a schedule at 7 months, at the same time as sleep training… So if you don’t need her to be on a schedule (work related for example), or if she isn’t overtired and cranky all day long, you can keep doing what you are doing just fine.

  2. slydegirll Jul 23 at 1:13 pm Reply Reply

    I was pretty strict about a feeding schedule, mostly for my own sanity while nursing, with both my tinies. The nap schedule, though, I never bothered about. If they fell asleep – great! I never woke them up except to nurse, unless it got to be after 5 p.m. with a 7:30 bedtime. If they didn’t sleep all morning and only took one nap in the afternoon, OK, that worked for today. But eating was always, always at 3 hour spaces from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and later 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Both my kids started sleeping in 8-hour sections at right about 8 weeks, and I have no one thing or person to credit that to, but maybe my eating schedule contributed to it?

  3. Rachel Jul 23 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    I recommend Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. It totally changed how I looked at my baby’s sleeping. I read it when he was 8 weeks old. It says that until around 5 months you should focus on keeping baby’s “window of wakefulness” short, around 1.5-2 hours. So, wake up for the day at 7, nap around 8:30 or 9, wake up around 10, nap around 11:30-12, wake up around 1, nap around 2:30-3 etc. Baby won’t be ready for 2-3-4 scheduling for several more months. It’s tempting to try for that 4 hours of awake time in the afternoon, but I found that keeping that window really short meant my baby was a non-fussy delight to be around. His naps gradually got longer and less frequent and we are 2-3-4-ing now at 7 months.

  4. Courtney Jul 23 at 2:34 pm Reply Reply

    To answer her question, yes, it does matter that her daughter was born 3 weeks early. That means that yes, she should push back trying to enforce a schedule until she’s 15 weeks (or later)–that will be true of all milestones until she’s about one, FYI. 

    For us, 2-3-4 really didn’t click until about 6 months (before then both my kids took 3 shorter naps), but once it did click it was awesome for a long while.

  5. Anna Jul 23 at 7:10 pm Reply Reply

    We moved to a new state when our baby was 14 weeks old, and up until the move I told myself just follow his cues and do whatever it takes to maximize sleep & relaxation / minimize stress until the move. After we were settled in I started to get more serious about naps happening in the crib, feeding times being more predictable, etc.

    As previous commenters said, he didn’t really fall into the 2-3-4 schedule until about 7 or 8 months- before then a 4 hour wake time before bed would have been a recipe for a cranky guy. I always made sure to focus on short intervals of wake time over a schedule for the first 5 or 6 months, and we never dealt with a witching hour or late afternoon crankiness, so that was a relief!

  6. Anna Jul 26 at 12:46 pm Reply Reply

    Most baby schedules (including 2-3-4) tend to assume that your baby takes day sleeps of at least an hour. If you’ve got a young catnapper like mine, they don’t really work. I find it more useful to aim for an awake time that’s appropriate for baby’s age (2 hours for us at 4 months old) and use it as a guide for when baby is likely to need sleep, using bub’s tired signs as the ultimate determiner of sleep time. Like others have said, I think 2-3-4 will come in handy when my daughter is older and taking more significant naps.

  7. Melanie Jul 27 at 5:35 pm Reply Reply

    With my first we noticed she started to get cranky around 7:30pm so around 3 months we set bedtime at 7 with pjs then nursing then maybe a little rocking if she wasn’t in the sleepy zone. Everything else for the 2-3-4 schedule just fell into place after that. Number two just got here so I’m sure that she will require something completely different because… Well babies! :-)

  8. Tbird Jul 28 at 5:13 pm Reply Reply

    Seven weeks old is so, so tiny. SO TINY. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but it’s such a short stage, and omggggg even when you do get schedules set in the first year everything just seems to be a Phase until you move onto the next Phase four weeks later! Just enjoy her newbornness! Only one night feed is AWESOME for a seven week old!!

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