Having a daily schedule for your baby or toddler is all well and good, but how do you get your child’s naps to actually match said schedule?
Fear not, parents – my team at The Baby Sleep Site® is known for offering great scheduling advice! And in today’s article, I’m bringing that scheduling help to you. Read on to learn how you can gently help your baby or toddler follow a predictable daily schedule.
Nap Schedules for Your Newborn
Remember that when it comes to newborns, you have to use the word ‘schedule’ loosely. You want to think in terms of shaping a loose schedule that’s based more on routine and ordering your baby’s activities than it is on the clock. You’ll also watch your baby’s sleep and hunger cues carefully – they are the single best indicator of what your baby needs. In order to promote healthy sleep habits, we usually recommend an eat-play-sleep schedule: you feed your baby, engage him in an activity (like reading a book, playing with a soft toy, etc.) and then put him down for a nap. You can also work towards helping your baby learn to fall asleep alone by putting him down slightly awake for at least one nap of the day.
Nap Schedules For Your Young Infant
By 4 months, your baby still isn’t ready for a strict schedule, but you can work towards a semi-clock based schedule by 4 months. You’ll still want to focus mainly on establishing strong routines, as you did in the newborn stage, but you can work towards plugging in more fixed points into your baby’s schedule – at this age, the first morning and first afternoon naps make good fixed points, as well as morning wake-time and bedtime.
Nap Schedules For Your Baby
You can start moving to a by-the-clock schedule at some point between 5 and 7 months, if you want to (although if you’re more of a go-with-the-flow parent, you certainly don’t need a rigid schedule!). By 6 months, most babies are eating solid foods, so you can start to carve out more fixed “meal” times and sleep times. Naps will also start to consolidate, for most babies, around 6 months or so, so it may be easier to have a predictable, timed nap schedule at this age. As for how to get your 5, 6, or 7 month old baby onto your desired schedule – you will simply extend your baby’s awake time between naps (do this VERY gradually), until your baby’s naps line up with the scheduled times.
Nap Schedules For Your Older Baby
For this stage, you’ll do the same thing you did above – you’ll gradually increase your baby’s awake time until it lines up with the 2-nap schedule you’re working towards. Generally, by the 8-10 month mark, it becomes easier to achieve a clock-based schedule, simply because your baby is most likely down to just 2 naps per day, and you’re out of that “hamster wheel” of constant nap transitions that you experienced in your baby’s first 6 months of life. From here on out, your baby will have 2 naps per day for quite awhile, until she transitions to 1 nap in early toddlerhood.
Nap Schedules For Your Young Toddler
By 11-12 months, even the most unpredictable children tend to fall into SOME kind of regular daily schedule – even if it’s not the schedule you intended! At this age, it’s actually best to start paying more attention to the clock – and it’s also best if you focus on extending your baby’s awake time. While young babies need short wake time in order to ward off over tiredness, at this stage, you’ll probably need to focus on extending your child’s wake time to ensure that your baby’s bedtime doesn’t get too late. It’s especially important to make sure that the afternoon nap isn’t too late in the day.
How To Put Your Older Toddler on a Schedule
Of all age groups, a toddler’s schedule is often one of the easiest to achieve. As long as your toddler is napping independently and can nap long enough, your toddler will fall into a predictable schedule. You can set the schedule based on the clock and, generally, will get a good night’s sleep and a good nap out of him. Granted, over-tiredness can still lead to shorter naps or night-waking or your baby waking too early, but if you follow a standard 5 hours awake before and after the nap, most toddlers should do pretty well.
One last word of advice – don’t stress too much over your child’s schedule, especially in the early infant stage. While some babies just naturally fall into a great napping and eating rhythm, others take longer to get there. Work with your baby, following her natural cues, and in the end, you’ll both settle into a schedule with which you’re happy!
For more scheduling tips, check out my free age-based sample sleep and feeding schedules. And don’t forget to take a look at the custom baby and toddler schedule-maker — just enter your baby’s wake time and age, and you can generate a custom napping schedule!
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