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How to Get Your 2-3 Month Old Baby on a Schedule

Somewhere between 5 and 11 weeks old, something strange happens that has you seriously considering, perhaps for the first time, whether you should put your baby on a schedule.

Your Little Prince is no longer your sweet little docile newborn! He has radically transformed into King Crankypants, screaming the house down every evening like clockwork. It’s like he was bewitched!

Actually, in a way, he was.

Why Should I Put My Baby on a Schedule?

All children need a predictable rhythm to thrive, and newborns are no exception. A flexible routine (i.e. schedule) can help your baby learn the difference between day and night earlier.

A steady routine also prevents your child from getting overstimulated during the day, which turns into a MAJOR screamfest at the end of the day where he’s nearly unconsolable. (See? He doesn’t hate you! He’s just overtired.)

These weeks mark an important shift in your baby’s development.  Your newborn’s magical ability to habituate and tune out extra stimulations has faded away, replaced with…nothing. The new self-soothing skills he needs haven’t developed yet.

He’s in limbo. Stuck between having his OFF button pushed automatically, and learning how to do it himself.

This leaves you with an important choice:  Do you…

  • Option A: Limp along and hope things eventually work out.
  • Option B: Start putting your baby on a schedule and gently help him through the transition.

Personally, I’ve never been one to just toss up my hands and suffer. I want to fix things. As quickly as possible.

If you just said AMEN! to that last statement, you’re going to love this article. (If you didn’t, and enjoy suffering endlessly, here’s some brain-candy for you to enjoy instead.)

This is How NOT to Put Your Baby on a Schedule

We should probably begin our quest to put your baby on a schedule by defining terms.

When I use the word “schedule,” I don’t mean rigid check-boxes with eating and sleeping appointments. At this age, those kinds of “schedules” generally bring more horror than harmony.

I’m talking about a good flexible schedule that will provide him with a predictably soothing daily list of events. This rhythm will teach you how to push the “off” button at the right times, and (hopefully) avoid an overtired, overstimulated, fussypants nightmare baby right when you’re winding down for the night.

Your goals for the 2-to-3 month old age range are simple.  Here are the four things we want to focus on.

  1. Learn the proper expectations you can have for sleeping and eating.
  2. Teach your infant the difference between day and night.
  3. Pencil out a rhythm, but be prepared to adjust it throughout the day.
  4. As often as possible, start trying to put your baby down sleep-y, but not sleeping.

If your baby is hungry, feed him. Don’t hold back just because the “schedule” says feedings are at 10. We are creating a daily pattern of things that happen in rotation, not a regimented appointment book.

Your schedule should be a predictable pattern of rotating events like eating, playing, and sleeping.

Putting Your Baby on a Schedule Goal #1:
Set Healthy Expectations About Nighttime Sleep

Let’s take care of one thing right away. Every baby has a different “I can sleep through the night” timeline.  At this age, most babies are going to still need to get up at least once or twice for feedings.  They may manage a few 5-6 hours stretches (woo hoo!) but those 10-12 hour sleeping marathons are still several months away.

Besides that, if you’re breastfeeding, you don’t WANT your baby to go 10-12 hours without waking up to feed.  You need those nighttime feeds to keep your milk supply high.

If you suspect that your baby is inching closer to 7-8 hours without waking up to feed (which can happen around 12 weeks), keep a 48 hour feeding log and then share it with your Lactation Professional and Pediatrician. They can then confirm whether your baby can stop getting nighttime calories or not.

Also, there’s a growth spurt between 6-8 weeks that will make your baby hungrier than usual.  It’s very important that you feed your baby on demand during these times.   He’s sending out a message that big changes and milestones are about to be reached and he needs more fuel than before!

Most doctors recommend you feed your baby on demand for the first 3-4 months, to make sure he’s getting the proper amount of calories he needs to grow healthy and strong.  The kicker, is that sometimes babies aren’t actually hungry and so we end up feeding them when they aren’t, actually, demanding food.  If you’re struggling with understanding what your baby is trying to tell you, this article can help!

That said, let me share some of the typical eating and sleeping patterns for infants this age.  These are based on the average healthy, non-premature, baby.

Reasonable Expectations for 5 to 8 Week Olds

I hesitate to list these, because I don’t want you to take them as solid-gold truth.  Your baby is an individual.  It is VITALLY important that you use his cues and patterns to help you learn where he fits on the “standard” scale.

So read this list with a grain of salt! ALWAYS run this by your doctor, the two of you (you and your doctor) are the experts on your baby! Not even a Certified Gentle Sleep Coach like myself knows your baby as well as you do!

Babies 5-to-8 weeks old generally sleep about 15.5 – 17 hours every day.  Their typical daily pattern looks like this:

  • 8-10 hours of sleep a night (interrupted by multiple nighttime feedings)
  • 6-7 hours of sleep during the day (divided into 4-5 naps)

A breastfed baby will typically still be eating every 2 .5-3 hours.  It’s normal at this age for a baby to have 8-12 feedings in a 24-hour period. Formula fed babies usually polish off about 4 ounces every 3-4 hours.

REMEMBER!  A high needs baby (colic, acid reflux, premature, etc.) will probably not fit ANY of these expectations!  That’s okay, because he’s not feeling well.  He’s a sick little guy and may need more feedings and cuddles than other babies.  Just remember to keep good records, brush up on your soothing techniques, and be flexible.  

Reasonable Expectations for 9-to-11 Week Olds

Somewhere around the 9th week, you’ll see his “sleep time” begin to shrink.  Instead of sleeping 17 hours a day, he starts sleeping only 15. Again, normally the pattern that emerges looks like this:

  • 8.5 – 9 hours at night, usually interrupted with feeding sessions. (Bedtime is usually around 9pm…something that will move closer to 7pm as he gets older.)
  • 5 hours of sleep during the day, split into three or four daytime “nap” periods

In regards to calorie consumption, a breastfed baby usually nurses every 2.5 to 3 hours at this age, while a formula fed infant can drink up to 4 – 5 ounces every 3-4 hours.

Scheduling Secret: Take Notes!

Like I said before, these are estimates!  The only way to really know what your baby’s natural rhythms are is to write crap down.  (Don’t try to remember anything. If you can’t remember the last time you showered, how are you going to remember how many ounces he drank last night at 2am?)

After you’ve taken notes for a few days, start looking for patterns by asking yourself…

  • Can I see a rhythm in how often he is eating?
  • Can I find a rhythm in how soon after he wakes up he’s ready to go down for a nap again? (Usually between 1 and 1.5 hours after waking.)
  • Can I see a rhythm in how long he’s napping?

You want to uncover what your baby’s unique rhythms are, so you can know better what your expectations should be.

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Putting Your Baby on a Schedule Goal #2:
Teach “Night” and “Day”

Our second goal to work towards is to teach your infant between day and night. Again, let’s start by defining our terms.

  • Whenever he is going to sleep, it is officially “night”. (Even if that’s two in the afternoon.)
  • Whenever he is going to be awake and play, it is officially “day”

When you pick him up for the morning feeding, welcome him with a bright smile.  Throw back the window shades, whistle a Mary Poppins duet with windowsill birds, or any other happy morning activities.  (Don’t feel chipper? Fake it.)  

You want him to associate “day” with a brightness, noise, and swift movements.  Then, when you start seeing his sleepy cues for a nap (usually around 1 to 1.5 hours later), shut the shades, talk softly, sing quietly, and move slowly to demonstrate the change.

By doing these things, you’ll help his brain to start to notice that there’s a real difference between “bright playtime” and “dark sleeptime”.

Btw, “dark sleeptime,” means pitch black.  Either put sheets on the windows or grab some good travel blackout curtains.  A dark room is a HUGE step in helping your baby be a champion sleeper!  Don’t make the common sleep training mistake of having a cute nursery that’s utterly sleep dysfunctional.  That room’s purpose is for SLEEPING.  Forget that to your bleary-eyed peril!

Putting Your Baby on a Schedule Goal #3:
Pencil Out Your Daily Rhythm

Using the notes you’ve taken before, and my suggestions on what reasonable expectations are for your baby’s age, it’s time to pencil out a probably rhythm for your day. You should plan on doing this every day, since the exact times will vary daily.

Take the time he woke up, then write down an estimation of when you should start putting him down again. (Usually, for this age, the daily waketime window for naps is about 1 to 1.5 hours).

For example, if woke at 6:30am, then you should begin to see him get ready for nap around 7:30am.  Then re-adjust the schedule every time he wakes.  Never let him nap more than 6 hours during the day.  You want his BEST sleep to be at night!

Feeling a little overwhelmed? No problem. I’ve created a worksheet to help you pencil everything out. Just fill out the form below and I’ll email it over!

Napping at This Age: It’s Not You. It’s Him.

Don’t get discouraged about napping. It’s going to be all over the map at this age. Some days he will be a rock star napper. Other days he’ll flatly refuse.  Every day is going to look a bit different.  You will have to adjust your rhythm every few hours to match his cues, or he will get overstimulated and have a meltdown.  If that happens, do your best to get through the day and try again tomorrow.

Typically the crappiest nap at this age is the afternoon nap.  Just try to squeeze out 30 minutes if you can.  This means, don’t go to the crib unless he’s really screaming and it’s obvious to the world he’s not going to fall back asleep.

If that’s a stretch, sing, stroke his tummy, hold his hand…anything to try to extend the nap as long as possible.  Sometimes it will work, sometimes it won’t.

  • Try to wean him away from napping in swings in the third month. Start him on a lower swing setting for each nap until it’s off, then transition him out of the swing entirely.
  • “Napping on the go” will backfire on you at this age.  Work hard to allow the first and second of the naps to occur at home, in a bassinet or crib.  Those two will be the most critical.
  • Even if you’re co-sleeping at night, have him nap in the bassinet or crib during the day to help him learn to fall asleep alone.
  • The end of the 3rd month is the idea time to switch to the crib from the bassinet (if you haven’t already).  If he hates this, start napping him in the crib the week before the move. If your baby just HATES sleeping in the crib, it’s time to put on your Sherlock hat and investigate.

Need An Extra Set of Certified Eyes?

If you’re struggling to find this rhythm, and he seems to be exhausted and overtired every day, you may want to consider signing up for a Newborn Sleep Session with a Gentle Sleep Coach (GSC).  You’ll fill out a health assessment, and then talk with either myself or my partner Amy for an hour about the different shaping strategies and tweaks you can use at this age to help him get the rest he desperately needs.

Our training as GSCs has given us a tushie-load of knowledge to toss your way. Knowledge about possible medical reasons your child may be waking (so you can head to the doctor with a list of questions), knowledge about the various external tricks we can use to help your baby sleep better – without having to use cry-it-out or other coaching methods at this tender age.

Can I just tell you how amazing Amy is?! I loved my Newborn Session with her last night. Our daughter has been sleeping like an angel since Monday…and it has transformed our lives. I have my evenings back! Woo hoo!

Liz Vander Leeuw

Putting Your Baby on a Schedule Goal #4:
Practice “Sleepy But Not Sleeping”

One of the most important life skills your baby will need to learn in the first year is self-induced sleep.  All humans go through sleep cycles that cause us to periodically wake up.  As adults, our minds have been trained to put us right back to sleep.  Usually.

Your baby’s brain hasn’t learned that skill yet.  That’s why newborns require so much rocking, holding, singing, cuddling, to lull that brain.  This is pretty easy when they’re newborns because they are naturally habituating.

Not so anymore! That magical sleep trick is fading away, and your baby needs help replacing it. Fast.

Provided that your baby doesn’t have any medical conditions like colic or reflux, you can teach him that skill without making him scream it out. The key is putting your baby in his crib when he’s good and sleepy, but not already sleeping.  Understand?

So use one of these 62 different sleeping baby tricks to get him yawning and glassy-eyed.  Then lay him down to finish the final journey to slumberland on his own. You won’t always get it right, somedays he’ll fall asleep too quickly.  Somedays he’ll fight sleepiness altogether.  Keep trying! Practice makes perfect! gradual sleep-happy improvements!

If he’s really struggling with this, try putting him down “sleepy but not sleeping” for the first nap of the day (or whichever nap he seems to find the easiest.)  Then after 3-4 days, add the next nap, etc. etc.  

Oh, and this “Try Sleepy Not Sleeping” Rule doesn’t apply to those late night feedings! Let him snooze right through those.

Nursing to Sleep:
Should You? Or Shouldn’t You?

You shouldn’t feel guilty if your 2-3 month old likes to nurse to sleep.  Breastfeeding releases a lullaby-hormone that makes both of you relaxed and sleepy during nursing session.  It’s a physiological response.  You can’t prevent it.

Besides, nursing to sleep is one of the sweetest mom-moments we have with our babies! That said, sometimes nursing to sleep can cause your baby to set up a 24-hour snack bar routine that’s hard to break out of.  It can also lead to becoming a sleeping crutch later on, where he can’t fall asleep unless he’s on the breast.

So what’s a mom to do?

  • Keep nursing to sleep because he is only a baby once! This IS a valid option! Any “crutches” you form now, can be gently dealt with later, when he’s old enough for coaching (22+ weeks). If you choose this option, you can skip this section – without guilt. 😉
  • Gently begin to wean him off nursing to sleep, using one of the methods below.

Method #1:  Stop Nursing to Sleep All Together

In this method, you decide that nursing and bonding is fine without the sleep, so you work on keeping your baby awake throughout the entire nursing session.  This doesn’t mean he can’t close his eyes, it just means he doesn’t fall asleep.  

  1. Nurse with the lights on.
  2. Strip baby to his diaper and wrap him with a warm blanket for a change of pace.
  3. Gently blow on that cute little nose.
  4. Using a warm washcloth, gently dab his hand or cheek when he starts nodding off.

The goal here is to finish the nursing session and know that your baby has got a FULL tummy, because he turned his head away at the end of the session.  This will prevent him from eating for a few minutes, falling asleep, and then waking 15 minutes later because he actually never finished eating.

Method #2:  Add a Step to the Bedtime Routine

In this approach, you allow your baby to fall asleep on the breast, but then you wake him before putting him down inside the crib/bassinet/co-sleeper.

You do this by…

  1. Reading him a bedtime book after nursing.
  2. Changing his diaper after nursing.
  3. Singing a song and making eye contact after nursing
  4. Giving him to Dad to finish the bedtime routine.  (Babies know Dad can’t nurse!)

You’ll have to test these things to your child’s temperament.  For example, if you have a Spirited Baby, looking into your eyes may actually get him all excited and riled up…completely ruining your chances of putting him down drowsy but awake.

A Few Final Tips to Get Your Baby on a Schedule

When it comes to getting your baby on a schedule that seems natural, here are some final tips:

  • Avoid visitors or trips during the late afternoon and early evening hours.  Usually the best time to run errands is in the morning, when your baby is more likely to sleep through them.  (Test this to see if it applies to your baby.)  Better yet, see if you can’t run the errands on the weekend or when someone is available to watch your baby.
  • Make sure your baby’s tummy is being completely filled during feedings and he’s not snacking.  5-10 minutes snacks are not going to cut it. Understand his feeding personality and make adjustments. (That linked article is written for breastfeeders, but it’s completely applicable if you’re using formula.)
  • The Fussinator is especially strong in the 5-7 pm time range, right when work is over and Dad gets home.  Encourage the working parent that this cranky baby is going through a growth change and is not sharing any “I don’t like Dad” feelings.  He will plow through this season and be Dad’s number 1 fan again in no time.

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These weeks with your infant can be some of the hardest times of the year.  Have you noticed any emotional changes in your baby during these weeks?  How have you handled them?

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