How to Create a Baby Routine

When it comes to coaching your baby into a more specific routine, there are several approaches you can take, depending on your own philosophies and your baby’s preferences. Read through them and follow whichever makes the most sense and – most of all – whichever one feels intuitively right for your baby:

Baby-led Schedules

  • A baby-led schedule is one that is basically framed by your baby’s current patterns, needs and wants, rather than one created for your own convenience.
  • For instance, you should approach a baby-led schedule with the attitude that your baby should take three naps, not that you’d like him or her to take one at 8 a.m., another at 1 p.m. and a third at 3 p.m. Follow your baby’s lead in determining the best times for the three naps.
  • Think of this as a general “go with the flow” routine rather than a strict schedule, recognizing that babies have individual needs and distinct personalities that don’t always fit neatly into a predetermined formula.
  • While it definitely requires a bit of sacrifice on the parent’s part (like skipping a lunch date because your baby decided to take a late nap), most baby-led parents accept changes in their baby’s schedule with stride, even if that means he or she sleeps in the car seat instead of at home. In fact, the lack of rigid rules makes it a more flexible option than a parent-led schedule.
  • Because a baby-led schedule requires the parents to be able to read their baby’s signals, it’s believed to foster a close bond.
  • Proponents also claim that it can create a laid-back, happy-go-lucky child by being brought up in a more adaptable environment. (Although your baby’s temperament plays a large factor in that as well.)
  • This also might be the best approach for babies who have a very unpredictable natural schedule, rather than the babies who seem to create a regular routine on their own.
  • On the other hand, this approach might simply be unrealistic for working parents. It requires basically all of your time and energy to be invested in your baby, which won’t work if you’re gone for the day. Of course, working parents can always hire a babysitter or nanny who can follow your guidelines and help to create a baby-led schedule.
  • The baby-led approach is most notably associated with Dr. Benjamin Spock – one of the first pediatricians of his time to encourage “parenting on demand.”
  • In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now supports Spock’s approach by declaring that baby-led feeding schedules are the healthiest approach, especially for the newborn phase.
  • You also might recognize this as being in sync with the “attachment parenting” philosophy made famous by Dr. William Sears. The general trademarks of attachment parenting are breastfeeding on demand, co-sleeping and baby-wearing. It’s a very primal approach, which encourages a close bond and understanding between mother and baby.
  • Although all of these experts are known to lean toward the “parenting on demand” philosophy, they do believe that parents should have a general schedule in mind, rather than letting babies sleep whenever they feel like sleeping.


How to create a baby-led routine:

  • The first thing parents should do is spend time observing their baby’s habits and getting to know his or her individual signals. If you’re going to follow your baby’s lead, then there has to be a kind of intuitive synchrony to help you recognize the “hungry” and “tired” cues.
  • While you absolutely don’t have to adhere to the “attachment parenting” philosophy (i.e. baby wearing, co-sleeping and exclusive on-demand breastfeeding), the two do seem to go hand-in-hand. The closeness (not just emotionally, but physically) helps the parent better understand his or her baby.
  • When it comes to feeding, baby-led proponents like Dr. Sears believe that breastfeeding should be around the clock and on demand, which helps establish healthy milk supply and provide babies with high-fat calories. Usually mom and baby will fall into a routine, which, of course, your baby will initiate. If you’re wondering how much your baby will eat at each age, read our basic Feeding and Sleeping Guide.
  • If formula feeding, the same advice goes: Follow a routine that your baby dictates, but keep in mind how much your baby should be eating at every age.
  • As far as sleeping schedules, baby-led parents are advised to, once again, follow their baby’s lead on when he or she is naturally tired. Although, understand that babies of certain ages should be getting specific amounts of sleep. Instead of rigid sleep training, parents should get to know when their baby needs to sleep and gently guide him or her with rocking, singing, shushing, feeding or whatever methods work best.
  • Dr. Sears and other baby-led supporters aren’t as concerned with “sleeping through the night” as they are with establishing healthy sleep habits. Keep in mind that this means your baby might still wake up one or two times a night throughout the first year, but according to Dr. Sears, this has more to do with your baby’s natural temperament than bad habits.


Parent-led Schedules

  • On the opposite end of the spectrum, parent-led schedules (created by the parents) tend to be more specific and consistent, which is believed to help regulate your baby’s internal clock.
  • The general thought process behind this approach is that the parent has to provide the structure and the baby will adhere to it.
  • Proponents say that a strict schedule helps babies to always know what to expect, leading to happy babies who generally sleep through the night at an earlier age.
  • And unlike the baby-led approach, the parent-led experts believe on-demand feeding can lead to inexperienced parents constantly offering food for comfort instead of addressing other possible reasons for crying.
  • Instead, parents should rely on – yes, hunger cues – but also a predetermined schedule and common sense.
  • It also helps parents to always know what their baby needs, just by looking at the clock.


These schedules also help parents define a predictable daily routine and provide reassurance that their baby is getting enough sleep and nutrition.

  • Parent-led experts feel that letting a baby dictate when he or she eats and sleeps might lead to unnecessary feedings and a lack of deep sleep.
  • On the other hand, sticking to a strict schedule can be tough on a parent, especially if there are older siblings to tend to as well. Other possible downsides to this method include:
    • Consistency is the key to parent-led schedules, often with rules that are vigorously adhered to. For instance, say there’s a special event scheduled during baby’s naptime. Instead of winging it and hoping their baby sleeps in the car or in a stroller, parents following a parent-led schedule would stay home to make sure their baby sleeps in his or her crib.
    • The same goes for bedtime, which often causes parents to rush home from whatever is going on in order to stick to the same routine at the same time.
    • Another complaint of parent-led schedules is that, although children feel safe and secure in their daily routine, any unexpected divergence (like a family vacation, unexpected traffic or starting daycare) can be hard for these babies to adjust to.
    • It’s also important that a strict schedule doesn’t skew parents’ instincts on their baby’s individual needs – like if he or she is sick or going through a developmental growth spurt. Sometimes babies need a little extra sleep, food or attention – which should never be withheld for the sake of a schedule.


How to create a parent-led schedule:

  • The parent-led philosophy encourages parents to start scheduling as soon as they can, even in the first couple of weeks home. (Keep in mind that the AAP advises against scheduling a newborn’s feedings, encouraging parents to feed on demand.)
  • There are several books that give step-by-step scheduling outlines, like Gina Ford’s Contented Little Baby Book, which gives specific schedules for babies as young as one week old.
  • Ford advises readers to stick to the age-appropriate schedules with a maximum of 30 minutes leeway. According to her, any inconsistencies can throw off your baby’s learning process.
  • Another parent-led supporter is Gary Ezzo, author of Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the Gift of Nighttime Sleep, who says that parents should establish a feeding pattern first, then a wake-up schedule and then a nap schedule.
  • The most important aspect of the parent-led schedule is consistency, which requires parents to constantly stick to the exact schedule.
  • So basically it’s up to you to come up with a reasonable schedule (see how much your baby should be sleeping and eating here) and stick to it every day.


Combination Baby Schedules

For parents who don’t feel completely comfortable with either the baby-led or parent-led approach, a combination baby schedule borrows ideas from both.

  • A combination schedule follows a general everyday routine (like a parent-led schedule does), but relies more heavily on baby cues, such as with a baby-led schedule.
  • Think of it as being like a flexible parent-led schedule or a more consistent baby-led schedule.
  • If interested in this method, check out Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Healthy Child, Jo Frost’s Jo Frost’s Confident Baby Care and/or Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, all of which outline sample schedules and routine ideas.
  • For example, Jo Frost (a.k.a “The Supernanny”) outlines a plan that is consistent but not in a minute-for-minute type of way. She also recommends starting a two-to-four-hour feeding schedule at four weeks, as opposed to strictly feeding on demand. However, Frost advises parents to follow their baby’s lead in determining the timing.
  • In a similar combination approach, Hogg suggests that every day consists of the following routine: eating, then activities and then sleeping (known as the E.A.S.Y method), but to not worry if they’re at the same time every day.
  • This approach gives babies the reassurance and comfort of a predictable schedule, yet helps them to be adaptable if plans slightly change.
  • This is also a convenient approach for parents of older children as well, seeing that it’s not always realistic to stick around the house for every nap.
  • One possible downside to a combination schedule is that a lack of consistency can be confusing to both your baby and yourself. While flexibility is a good thing, it’s important to try and get your baby’s routine back on track when minor changes come up.
  • Besides reading the aforementioned books, a combination schedule often comes natural to parents who are having a hard time enforcing their strict parent-led schedule or those who realize their baby needs more structure than their baby-led approach.


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One thought on “Baby Schedule Guide: Feeding and sleeping routines for baby

  1. Ilana says:

    I wonder if there was a mistake made in how many naps newborns should take versus when they are 6 to 9 and 9 to 12 month.
    3 to 6 month guideline suggests:
    14.5 hours of sleep: 11 hours at night; 3.5 hours in two naps.
    6 to 9 month guideline suggests:
    15 hours of sleep: 10 hours at night; 5 hours in two naps.
    9 to 12 month guideline suggests:
    14 hours of sleep: 11 hours at night; 3 hours in two naps.
    I wonder why under 6 month infant would need to get less nap time total hours than 9 to 12 month old, and why 6 to 9 month old would get more in nap time than under 6 month AND 9 to 12 month old?

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