How to Establish a Perfect Baby Nap Schedule

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To enforce a baby nap schedule… or not… that is the question. 

Right after birth, most parents choose to go with the flow and let baby take the lead on when they want to eat, sleep, etc. 

How to Establish a Perfect Baby Nap ScheduleAnd that’s all fine and dandy… until you realize that means your entire day revolves around your new little bundle of joy. It’s extremely difficult to accomplish even the smallest and simplest of tasks, things like eating and showering. 

Needless to say, the idea of creating structure with a baby nap schedule is very appealing to many parents.

Are you considering putting your baby on a routine? What are the pros and cons? When can you start? How do you start?

Let’s dive in.

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The Importance of Baby Naps

Naps are important for the mental health and development of both baby and mother. 

We know that infants who don’t nap are more irritable, stressed, and prone to fussiness. And often, as “sleep begets sleep”, babies who don’t nap well during the day also won’t sleep for extended periods at night. 

For parents, nap time can feel like a small break from childcare duties and allow time to accomplish other tasks around the house. Or it can give them a few minutes to catch up on their own sleep! 

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Transitioning From the Rock N Play

When to Start Establishing a Newborn Routine?

The short answer: you can try to start a routine immediately, but most newborns won’t follow much of a schedule until 2 to 3 months old.

To look at how baby naps by age, let’s start with newborns. All babies are different, but usually newborns live on their own “schedule” of sorts. 

The first 6 weeks or so, most babies will need to eat every 2 to 3 hours and spend the most of the day (15 to 18 hours) sleeping. Newborns are usually only awake for 30 to 60 minutes between naps. They’re also prone to irregular intervals of sleeping and eating as they figure out their days and nights.

By around 2 to 3 months, most babies are able to establish more of a pattern or routine. By this point, they are usually able to stay awake for longer stretches. Babies this age take anywhere from 3 to 5 naps while still sleeping a total of 14 to 17 hours each day. 

From there your baby will continue to extend their awake times and slowly drop naps. 

Most baby’s take 2 or 3 naps until approximately 6 months. Then they usually continue with 2 naps until dropping to only 1 nap around 1 year old.

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How to Establish a Perfect Baby Nap Schedule (And Why It's Important!)

How to Create a Baby Nap Schedule 

The method for establishing a baby nap schedule will vary for different parents. It depends on a lot of factors from your baby’s age to your personal routine preferences.

If you’re looking to create your own regimen, here are some ideas for how to start:

Day vs. Night

Start by teaching your baby the difference between day and night.

Play with your baby and carry them a lot during the day. Keep the lights on and play music to have background noise. 

At night, keep the lights low and try to maintain a quiet atmosphere. 

Feed at Regular Intervals

Plan to feed during the day at a set interval, every 2-3 hours, depending on your baby’s preference up to this point. 

If your baby is showing signs of hunger before it’s “time”, try to distract or play with them to stall feeding them for a few minutes until the designated time. 

Of course, if your baby is crying due to hunger, you should absolutely feed them even if it’s not quite the scheduled time. 

And remember feeding at regular intervals also includes…

Waking to Feed

As much as it might pain you, when you’re trying to create a baby nap schedule you should wake your infant when they’re napping for too long during the day to feed them at the designated time. 

Don’t worry, this stage is temporary. Once they’re on a schedule they’ll learn to take those extended naps at the right time. 

Emphasize Feeding Time

Making sure your baby is well-fed is essential to creating a predictable baby nap schedule. 

When feeding, turn off the TV and eliminate distractions so your baby can concentrate on eating to properly fill up that tummy. 

Establish a Predictable Routine

One of the more popular baby routines is the “Eat, Play, Sleep” method. 

With this schedule, you feed baby after they wake up from their nap. Then you play/engage with your baby and keep them awake until it’s nap time. And then keep repeating that on the time interval you selected above.

While this works for many moms, you may find another method works better for your family. 

Make Sure Everyone Agrees

Be sure to work with a schedule that all care givers can follow. This includes parents, day cares, grandparents, etc.

The key to creating a schedule is consistency, so make sure the timing will work on a daily basis without much variation.

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How to Establish a Perfect Baby Nap Schedule (And Why It's Important!)

Realistic Examples of a 3 Month Old Nap Schedule    

So what should a 3 month old’s daily schedule look like?

Well, it can vary a lot from one baby to another. So the schedule that works beautifully for your friend may not suit your little one at all.

That said, we can make some generalizations based on the average needs of 3 month olds. 

  • Most will take 3 to 5 naps that range from 30 minutes to 2 hours long.
  • Most can stay awake between 1 and 2 hours between naps
  • Most are fed every 2 – 3 hours 
  • Many require 1 to 3 feedings at night

As you can see there is a lot of variability that falls within the normal range from 3 month old. 

Keep in mind that these are just examples and there is no “right” schedule, just the best one for you and your baby. Also, remember they’re babies and don’t expect perfection. 

Example Schedule with 4 naps

7:00 – Wake up and Feed
8:30 – Nap
10:00 – Wake up and Feed
11:30 – Nap
1:00 – Wake up and Feed
2:30 – Nap
4:00 – Wake up and Feed
5:00 – *Short Nap*
7:00 – Feed and Bedtime
Possibly 1 to 3 night feedings

Example Schedule with 5 naps

7:00 – Wake up and Feed
8:00 – Nap
9:00 – Wake up and Feed
10:00 – Nap
11:00 – Wake up and Feed 
12:00 – Nap
1:00 – Wake up and Feed
2:00 – Nap
3:00 – Wake up and Feed
4:00 – Nap
5:00 – Wake up and Feed
7:00 – Feed and Bedtime
Possibly 1 to 3 night feedings

Interval Schedule

This “schedule” doesn’t use set times on the clock and is instead based on intervals of time between naps. 

So what does that actually look like for a real daily routine? It doesn’t fit into a neat timeline like the other schedules and can vary widely.

Wake up and Feed
1 – 2 Hours Later – Nap
*Repeat All Day*

How to Establish a Perfect Baby Nap Schedule (And Why It's Important!)

Do You Need a Baby Nap Schedule? 

Yes. No. Maybe?

You’ll naturally fall into some sort of newborn routine after a few months. That being said, how strict and regimented you want to enforce the schedule is up to you. 

You know as The Moms at Odds, we love to do things differently. 

Jo created a strict baby nap schedule but Rachel let her baby take the lead on establishing a routine. Here’s why their choices were the best decision for their family:

Jo says, “Routine is bliss”

Jo discusses

I started encouraging my baby into a routine as soon as I got the “go ahead” from my doctor. This was around two weeks old. 

For me, creating a predictable baby nap schedule put my mind at ease. I’m a planner, I needed the structure. 

Establishing a set routine let me plan out my day and helped me to feel human and productive (even when it all apart).

Every morning I would write out our schedule on 3 hour intervals (eat – play – sleep). It allowed me to plan out when I’d hit everything on my to-do list for the day, for both baby and myself. 

I’d have time estimates for things like tummy time, answering emails, folding laundry, eating lunch, cooking dinner, reading stories, etc. By listing out even the small items, I felt like I had accomplished a lot when I could cross an item off my list. 

Having a well-planned baby nap schedule also helped me regain a sense of identity. 

Those early days were a blur and I felt like a walking milk machine whose sole purpose was to cater to my baby’s every whim. 

Establishing a routine gave me a sense of control and helped me balance my new role as “mother” with the other pieces of my life. 

Rachel says, “Go with the flow”

Rachel discussesI am ordinarily a planner so no one was more surprised at my unstructured approach to my newborn’s schedule than myself. I take a go with the flow approach with my babies, feed on demand, and watch for cues that they’re hungry or tired.

It works for us. I’m home so we don’t need to live by the clock. 

That’s not to say that we have total chaos. Ok, sometimes our house is chaos, but I think that’s par for the course with three boys. 

We still have routines. They’re just loose and based more on intervals than specific times. 

Each baby eventually found their own pattern. Each has been different and unique to their needs. 

Just about the time I feel like I have them figured out they switch it up. And that first year their patterns change incredibly quickly. 

For a short time with my first I tried to stick to a more rigid schedule because I felt like it was the thing to do. I found it very stressful. He was actually a pretty predictable baby, but there were still short naps and early morning wake ups that threw our day off. The feeling of being “off schedule” made me more stressed. 

Now we favor flexibility and embrace the imperfectness of our “unschedule”.

How to Establish a Perfect Baby Nap Schedule

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About Author

Jo & Rachel

Jo and Rachel first had the idea for 'The Moms At Odds' in 2016 when our babies were turning 2 and we realized that we were very different parents.

As a mom, Rachel immediately felt this strong connection to her son and instantly decided she wanted to become a stay-at-home mom. Though Jo obviously loved her son as well, she counted the days until she could go back to work and interact with other adults.

They both struggled over getting their babies to sleep and while Jo believed in sleep training, Rachel looked for alternatives like dream feeding and no cry methods. As time passed and their children grew older the differences started to really add up – pacifier use, drinking during breastfeeding, organic foods, screen time, diaper brands, and on and on.

During this day and age, it’s so easy to look at our parenting differences as a bad thing. After all, we’ve all seen jokes and articles about “Mommy Wars” over one subject or another. Instead, we choose to embrace our differences and show you that in many areas there is no wrong answer. What works for one family may not work for another, and that’s perfectly fine. We can still all get along and raise perfectly healthy, beautiful children.

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