The 2-3-4 Sleep Routine
I have three-month-old twins and this is my first week back at work. Now that I have to get us all up and out of the house by a certain time each day in order to drop them off at the sitter’s house and then get myself to work on time, I find myself wondering when these little people will start to get on some kind of schedule. They both sleep through the night (more or less), with one waking pretty regularly to eat around 4 or 5 am and then both of them around 7 or 8. They also both usually have their last feeding of the evening around 9 or 10. But other than the first and last feedings, it’s all kind of a crapshoot. I can’t really discern any kind of pattern to when they sleep and eat during the day. Is this something I just have to wait for? Can/should we be doing anything to help establish more of a routine? Will my going back to work and therefore setting up more of a routine for myself help the babies do the same?
Does your babysitter send home any kind of daily schedule/update thingie? Because mine did, and for my entire first week back at work I was convinced they were sending home a James Frey novel on that little handout everyday, what with the regular set nap and eating times and various other schedule-type things that did not resemble my maternity leave at all. And then Saturday came, and 10:30 am on that Saturday came, and I figured that hey! The daycare sheet says he takes a nap right now! HA HA, let’s try that out.
And…he slept. Huh.
So. First thing: the 2-3-4 schedule. Will likely change your life. It’s not universal, by any means (but what the hell IS, in the universe of little babies), but MOST babies WILL settle into a 2-3-4 schedule by six months old or so…usually around the time they start sleeping through the night. I first read about it over at Ask Moxie, while I was pregnant with Ezra, during one of those late-night panics because OMG! No daycare this time! How will I get the baby on a schedule like they did? How did they do that? Witchcraft? HALP ME INTERNET.
2-3-4, is how. I even went back and looked at Noah’s daycare schedule handouts and sure enough, it wasn’t witchcraft at all. IT WAS MATH.
Two hours after your baby wakes up, put him down for a nap. Three hours after he wakes up from that nap, put him down again. Four hours after he wakes up from the afternoon nap, it’s bedtime.
Using those sleep times as the overarching grid of your day, fill in everything else as needed. Usually, for three-month-olds, you’re talking a big feeding right after they wake up and likely a smaller “topping off” before they go down for morning nap — a few ounces, or so. They eat again when they wake up, and another small feeding before afternoon nap. The stretch between the second feeding and bedtime should contain at least another two feedings. Bedtime should include a set, consistent routine. (Bath, book, boob/bottle, bed.) Annnnnnd OUT.
The beauty of the 2-3-4 schedule is how naturally it segues into an older baby’s day, once he or she is on solids. The big post-sleep feedings become breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the smaller pre-sleep nursing sessions or smaller bottles eventually become snacks or sippy cups of water or milk. Ezra, at 13.5 months and completely weaned from both boob and bottle, still religiously follows this schedule, and likely will until he abandons the morning nap in favor of one long afternoon nap (this usually happens sometime between 16 and 18 months, but again, EH. CRAPSHOOT.). I put him down for his naps and bedtime while he’s still awake (but NOT overtired and restless), and…he just goes to sleep, like a perfectly reasonable person.
And while I KNOW I somehow managed to completely luck out and get two of the weirdest easiest sleeping-type babies on the planet and there are going to be four dozen comments on this column telling me to go straight to HELL, there was no getting their babies on a safe and healthy sleep schedule, no way no how…I really do believe that getting my boys on a DAYTIME schedule had a huuuuuuge impact on their nighttime schedule. Before the 2-3-4 thing, or some rough approximation of morning nap/afternoon nap, we never knew what would happen at night, I always fretted over how much or how little they ate, and I never could possibly guess at when I could take a shower or get any work done. I still may not necessarily have TIME to take a shower or get any work done, but at least I know when I’ll have a decent shot at it, once I hear that first morning squawk from the crib and do the nap-math for the rest of the day.
So…try it. A weekend is a good time to experiment, if your daycare provider doesn’t seem to be whipping them into schedule-shape. If your babies wake up at seven, get them changed and fed and happy and aim to have them back down in the crib by nine. 9:30 at the latest. Do whatever it takes to get them settled (milk, rocking, swaddling), but generally try to get them in bed while they’re still a little awake, if you can. This isn’t sleep-training, by any means, but getting babies to heed their own natural schedules can require a bit of gentle nudging. Don’t be afraid to start ANTICIPATING their need for a nap instead of RESPONDING to it, in other words. Let them sleep for as long as they want — hopefully for at least an hour or two. Once they’re up, change and feed them again, and spend a little more time interacting with them. Show them around the house, do some tummy time, go for a walk. If they wake up around 11, try for an afternoon nap around 2. The afternoon nap might be the same length as the morning nap or longer. Four hours after they wake up from that, it’s bedtime.
During the week your commute may impact the schedule — Noah always took extra catnaps during my drive that shifted his “real” naptimes back a bit — so ask your sitter to write down sleep and meal times for you every day, if she isn’t already. Babies really do thrive with consistency, so even if your sitter is reporting something other than a 2-3-4 schedule, go with it on your days off, and stick to it on the weekends. At three months, you’re definitely RIIIIIIGHT on the cusp of scheduleability with your babies, but if you CAN start discerning any patterns and jump on them now, you’ll all be so happy you did later on.
Photo by treehouse1977
Published November 30, 2009. Last updated March 12, 2018.