Finding The Hidden Schedule In Your Baby’s Day
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.
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.
Published July 23, 2014. Last updated October 29, 2017.