Note from Hint Mama: With baby number two set to arrive in a little over a week, I’m prepared for my life to turn a bit chaotic again when there’s a newborn in the house. However, this time around, I’d like to get my baby on a sleeping and feeding schedule as soon as possible. With a toddler to take care of, I won’t have time to sit on the couch for hours and let baby dictate my day. So, as I’m a bit rusty regarding scheduling babies, I turned to Nicole Johnson, a sleep coach and founder of The Baby Sleep Site, for help. In today’s hint, she shares seven tips for setting up ideal baby and toddler schedules, and after reading her guest hint, be sure to enter to win a 1-year membership to The Baby Sleep Site.
Creating the ideal nap and feeding schedule is no small task – you have to factor in age, morning wake time, how much awake time your kiddo can handle between naps, feedings . . . and when you figure that your little one’s sleep patterns change dramatically in the first 12 to 18 months of life, it may start to feel downright impossible to find just the right daytime schedule for your baby or toddler.
That’s where I can help. Based on The Baby Sleep Site’s years of experience helping parents find the ideal schedules for their children, here are my top seven scheduling tips.
1. Early bedtimes actually help babies sleep longer, and better. You might think that a later bedtime will help your baby sleep better at night (and possibly sleep later in the morning), but that doesn’t usually work – instead, you end up with an overtired baby who’s up all night and wakes way too early. You can check out our recommended bedtimes by age here.
2. Speaking of early – be aware that babies and toddler do tend to wake pretty early in the morning. This is normal – a 6 a.m. wake time may feel too early to you, but provided your kiddo is getting enough sleep, this is considered a healthy wake time. So keep your expectations reasonable when it comes to morning wake times.
3. Your baby’s “nap gap” (that is, the time between sleep periods) is short at first, but will gradually get longer. Newborns can handle just 45 to 60 minutes of wake time between naps (no wonder it feels like all newborns do is sleep!). But as your child grows, the wake time will gradually stretch. By 12 months, your little one will be able to stay awake for about three-hour nap gaps, and by toddlerhood, your child will be able to manage five-hour nap gaps.
4. Work toward restorative naps. Short catnaps are normal for the first few months of a baby’s life. They’re also normal during a nap transition, when your child is working on dropping a nap (in those cases, the last nap of the day may slowly become a short catnap). However, by the time your baby is about 4 months old, naps should be close to an hour in length, since that’s what constitutes a truly restorative nap.
5. It can be tricky to time feedings around naps. It’s best if you don’t feed RIGHT before a nap, as this runs the risk of feeding your baby to sleep for each nap, which in turn will likely create sleep associations that can be problematic. However, it’s best to feed close to naptime, so that your baby falls asleep with a full belly. Try feeding your baby and then engaging in some kind of activity (a bath, reading a book, tummy time, etc.) and then put your baby down for a nap.
6. Watch your toddler’s bedtime. While babies benefit from earlier bedtimes, your toddler may actually need a later one – particularly if early rising is a problem for you. (Think a 7 p.m. bedtime for a baby that wakes up at 7 a.m. vs. an 8:30 p.m. bedtime for a toddler with the same wake time).
7. Be careful about the timing of your kiddo’s last nap. In some situations, you may need to wake your older baby or toddler from a nap that’s going late, in an effort to preserve bedtime. This shouldn’t be a regular occurrence (if it is, then you’ll need to adjust the overall schedule), but during a nap transition, a vacation, or possibly illness or teething, you might need to use this technique.
This is a lot of information to digest, but don’t be overwhelmed. The Baby Sleep Site has more free scheduling tips on our site you can check out, including our free scheduling help page. It contains sample sleep and feeding schedule templates, along with our free schedule maker – just input your kiddos age and usual morning wake time, and you’ll get a customized nap schedule.
In addition, you can download a copy of our free guide, 5 Ways To Help Your Child Sleep Through The Night, and enjoy up to $50 off all Baby Sleep Site products and services during our limited-time More Sleep For Moms campaign. And you’ll also want to be sure to enter Hint Mama’s giveaway for a 1-year membership (an $85 value) to The Baby Sleep Site – members gain access to special members-only content and services.
Above all else, keep perspective. Yes, an ideal sleep schedule can go a long way toward helping your family sleep better, but don’t let the quest for a great nap schedule become so overwhelming that you forget to enjoy your little one.
What’s your top baby or toddler scheduling tip?
Nicole Johnson is a married mother of two wonderful boys and owner of The Baby Sleep Site. When her eldest son was born, he had a lot of sleep problems – he would wake every one or two hours, all night long! She got busy and thoroughly researched literature and scientific reports until she became an expert in sleep methods, scheduling routines, baby developmental needs, and more. She overcame her son’s sleeping issues in a way that matched her own parenting style, and knew it was her mission to help other tired parents “find their child’s sleep”. If you have your own sleep issues, maybe she can help you, too.