I know – it’s a little dramatic, saying that something like a baby sleep schedule actually changed my life – but it did.
A few months ago, things were very different.
I had just had a baby and that baby was very hard to get to sleep. Most nights, she was up until after 11pm and very frequently I gave up trying to get her to sleep and went to bed with her.
But eventually, I had to make a change – I NEEDED an evening – some time away from my tiny girl. Time for myself – but for the rest of my family, too.
A sleep routine helped me do that – within just a few days.
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It’s hard to have a routine with a newborn baby
Those first few months with a new baby are HARD.
The tiredness, the constant feeding, the sudden bursting into tears….I often felt like like I was doing it all wrong.
And having a routine when you’re breastfeeding on demand is hard to marry up. If the schedule says ‘nap’ but baby is looking for the breast, what do you do?
I actually found a solution to this and it’s below where I talk about how I made the routine work.
To begin with, I let baby dictate my day
Initially, I decided to go with what my baby wanted and forget routine while she was exclusively breastfed.
This meant that for the first six months of her life she was with me nearly all day long. I hardly ever put her down for a nap in the cot because I didn’t want to listen to her crying.
Well, no wonder I was exhausted! And did not shower much.
At six months old, I got my daughter onto a sleep schedule
After six months, it was all getting a bit much. All I wanted was to be present for my baby and give her my love when she needed me. I didn’t notice that it wasn’t doing me or her any good.
It was at that point, just as she began to eat solids, that I decided enough was enough. We HAD to start her on a sleep schedule.
The first thing I did was create a plan of when I wanted my daughter to sleep during the day and at night.
(You can download the schedule we used at the bottom of this post.)
How to establish a baby sleep schedule
Just creating or printing off a baby sleep routine will not make it work for you.
For real success, you will have to prioritise your new schedule and work to get it established.
How to establish your baby’s new routine:
1. Choose or create a sleep schedule that fits your baby’s age and needs and your lifestyle
2. Prioritise implementing the schedule – do less other stuff for a week or two and focus on embedding the routine
3. Be consistent – choose your times and stick to them as closely as you can
4. Have a bedtime / naptime routine – to give baby cues that it’s time to sleep
5. Plan to succeed – or how to have a routine when you breastfeed on demand
6. Get some support – I honestly believe that support is the difference between success and failure when I try to establish a new routine of any kind.
This might seem like too many steps but you’ll get a LOT back for your effort.
1. Choose or create a sleep schedule that will work for you and your baby
Babies need different things at different ages – more naps and feeds when they are tiny than once they are on solids, for example. And we all have different lives and commitments – dogs to walk, jobs to go to, children to take to / collect from school.
Life is complicated enough, so for an easy baby sleep schedule, focus only on what you really NEED to do. The less complicated, the better.
The only sleep schedule that will work for you is one that fits with what you can reasonably achieve and what your baby needs.
2. Prioritise establishing your routine
Trips away from home, coffee dates and appointments happen – but the more you can stick to that routine, the better it will work for you.
If you want your baby to get used to naps at 2pm, put them down for a nap at 2pm every day. For at least a couple of weeks. Even if your best friend wants you to go for coffee. She’ll understand.
Once the sleep schedule is well established, you will be able to be a little more flexible but for now just be really focused on your baby’s routine.
3. Be consistent
Yes, it really is worth being boring and predictable in the name of getting your baby to sleep.
When I first saw routines like this, I thought it was all a little OTT. What does it matter when we eat lunch? Now I’ve tried it, it makes sense. The routine is not restricting me – it’s giving my baby consistency and she is thriving on it.
Doing the same things at the same time each day helps baby to be ready for what happens next. I began to notice that my baby would look sleepy just before nap time or hungry when she was due food.
Even once your routine is well established, it will work best if you are consistent from day to day and week to week. Plan as many events as you can AROUND your baby’s nap times so you can be sure they are getting the sleep they need.
4. Have a bedtime / naptime routine to help baby get ready to sleep
It helps to have some bedtime rituals to help baby realise it’s time to sleep. Even at such a young age, babies will benefit from the soothing familiarity of a set bedtime routine.
Read this post for tips on establishing a great bedtime routine and download the free printables to help you.
We already did bath, pjs, milk, story & bed, so it wasn’t hard to add a few more cues.
Music or white noise
I play the same sleep music every time I put my baby to bed. Gentle lullabies or white noise will block out the noises of the rest of the world and help let baby know it’s time to sleep. Use the same tune or sound every night and naptime to make it a sleep cue.
Darken baby’s room
I always make the room darker for naptime and at night I use this blackout blind, which is really helpful, especially in the summer when it’s light here until 10pm! Softer light and darkness tells baby that it’s sleepy time.
Choose a phrase that you will always say to your baby at bedtime. ‘Sleep tight’ is ideal but it doesn’t matter what the exact words are – you are creating another sleep association. When baby hears your magic phrase, they will know that bedtime is coming.
Keep baby warm enough
Consider using a baby sleep sack to help your little one keep warm without the suffocation risk of loose blankets.
My little girl really didn’t like them to begin with, but with a few days’ persistence she got used to it and now makes no fuss at all.
Or try this adorable elephant themed version in lightweight microfleece for summer sleeping.
You totally DON’T have to sleep train
So if you’re thinking that you need to start thinking about getting your baby to go to sleep independently, that’s really not the case. You can just mom your own way and decide what’s best for you.
I liked using a schedule while nursing to sleep. Yep – you can do both.
5. Plan to succeed – how to make a routine work when you breastfeed on demand
So getting my daughter off to sleep meant nursing her to sleep – which I had been doing all along.
When naptime or bedtime came around, she would nurse to sleep in 10-20 minutes and stay asleep for much longer than ever before.
Gone were the long evenings of her nursing and snoozing and nursing again in my arms. It was amazing!
But why was she suddenly sleeping at regular times and not demanding to be fed the whole time?
I think that the reason why the sleep schedule made such a huge difference – even though I was still nursing to sleep – is because I planned for success.
Don’t just let your baby sleep on you the whole time
I know – it’s so tempting – they aren’t little for long! But the whole idea of a sleep routine is to reach a point where your baby can sleep without you.
Once I started to make a point of putting her in her crib, my baby started to sleep for longer periods – and I was not trapped under a baby.
In her crib, she didn’t have the distractions of the TV and the bright lights to rouse her so she settled for longer.
Offer a feed before your baby starts to ‘demand’
This is what made the difference for us because it was a shift from letting my baby dictate our days to me being in charge and achieving so much more.
Breastfeeding on demand does not have to mean waiting around for your infant to show hunger cues.
You can take the initiative and offer your baby a feed before they start to look like they need it. For me, so long as I don’t refuse a feed, this is still on-demand breastfeeding.
If you know your baby likes a long mid morning feed but nap time is 11am, don’t start the feed at 1050. Start at 1030 or 1020 or whenever makes sense for your baby’s feeding habits. When nap time comes around, the feed will be over and you can focus on your naptime routine.
Feeding my baby at a time that worked well with her schedule suited both of us – and I think I might have got a little more sleep in her early months if I’d tried this approach sooner.
6. Get some support
If you haven’t tried to follow a sleeping and waking routine before, this will be a major shift for you and your baby. At times, your baby may fight sleep and need a lot of comfort.
A support network can really make a difference – especially if you have someone to help you who has been there. Ask a friend or relative who has successfully implemented a sleep schedule in the past if they would be willing to support you on any difficult days.
Often, just a little reassurance from a voice that you trust is enough to keep you going.
The difference a sleep schedule made to the whole family
It took a week of pretty serious and single-minded effort to get our routine established but it made a huge difference right away.
Almost immediately, I was no longer exhausted. My eldest child was no longer a stranger. My partner and I had an evening together (well, once the 2 year old was asleep – we fixed his sleep later!)
And I was no longer too tired to do the fun stuff with my kids that I always wanted to do.
Ready to get started?
Get your sleep schedule here
You’ll find a whole selection of baby sleep schedules (because it had to change as she got older). There are bedtime routine resources too.
More baby & toddler sleep tips