Recently, a couple of friends have had questions about schedules for babies and toddlers so I thought I would blog about my experience with E. For reference, E is now 25 months old.
Firstly, why do we have a schedule with E?
Schedules/routines are very helpful for both caregivers and the child. Children thrive on routines and predictability, especially young children. It helps them feel secure because they know what is coming next or what to expect. At the same time, it is important to have some flexibility in the routine so that children also learn that changes are okay and how to cope with them.
For the caregiver, a schedule helps us plan our day/week/month etc. We know when baby would roughly nap/be awake/eat etc. As such, this helps guide our other “adult activities” like running errands, cooking meals, doing housework, etc. Having a set schedule also helps guide all of the child’s caregivers (e.g., grandma, domestic helper, babysitter, etc.)and can help make transition from one caregiver to another easier.
That being said, I do understand that some people prefer a more “relaxed” approach to meeting their child’s needs, and that is totally fine. As long as your child’s needs are met and it works for you, that’s great. To quote one of my favorite bloggers Jamerrill Stewart, “You do you and you do what works for you”.
So, what did we do?
Before E was born I had read up on different scheduling methods. Baby Wise and The Baby Whisperer’s (Tracy Hogg) method stood out to me. One of our friends also used the Baby Wise method successfully with all three of her children and I knew that I could go to her for help if I needed to. I decided to cherry-pick elements of both methods and do what worked best in our situation. Do note that both these methods have had their detractors and supporters. I won’t explain in detail what these two methods are (I have linked the books above). There are also plenty of resources on the web if you don’t want to purchase the books.
We did not start any sort of schedule with E until:
- Breastfeeding/ formula feeding was established (usually between 6-8 weeks, or more depending on situation)
- E’s weight gain was steady and she didn’t have any eating/pooping issues or problems gaining weight
E’s schedule was part parent-led and part child-led.
Hogg’s method in her book “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” uses the acronym E.A.S.Y., which stands for:
E – Eating time
A – Awake time (burping baby, changing diapers, play time)
S – Sleeping time
Y – You time (basically the time when baby is sleeping)
Basically it’s a cycle that repeats itself. Depending on their age, the cycle can be between 2h to 5h. In general, the cycle becomes longer the older they get.
When E was about 6 weeks, I started to look for patterns with regards to her eating and sleeping. For about a week I would record when she woke up in the morning, when she fed, slept etc.
Next, I looked for patterns. I then decided what time I would start her/our day (7.00am) and what time would be our “last feed” for the day (7.30pm).
This is what our schedule roughly looked like:
7.00am – Wake up (E)
7.30am – Burp E, change diaper, play/read (A)
8.00am – Sleep (S, Y)
9.30am – E
10.00am – A
10.30am – S, Y
12.00pm – E
12.30pm – A
1.00pm – S, Y
2.30pm – E
3.00pm – A
3.30pm – S, Y
5.00pm – E
5.30pm – A
6.00pm – S
7.30pm – E (last “official feed”)
8.00pm – A
8.30pm – S (bed time!)
All other feeds after 8.30pm were dream feeds, so that means after feeding baby, put them back to sleep. No “awake time” unless their diaper needs to be changed, which for a newborn is inevitable. When they are older and there are no poopy diapers in the night, we just leave the same diaper on till morning.
At 6 weeks, E’s cycle was about 2h long. That meant she would eat every 2h. Some babies have a longer cycle at 6-8 weeks, but most of them are between 2 to 3h maximum because they do need to eat quite frequently. If baby cries before the next scheduled feed, I usually check if it’s something other than hunger first before feeding. Also try soothing baby with other methods (pacifier, if you are okay with using it, rocking etc.). However, if baby is truly hungry (e.g. continues crying) then feed baby. Never ever deny baby food. Especially at a young age. Here is a helpful article on optimal wake time lengths (E+ A).
I did not count E’s night time feedings because it varied from day to day. Every baby is different, some eat more during the day, others at night etc. To this day, E still does not sleep through the night. She has done so a few times, but still wakes up to breastfeed at least once during the night
There are also the witching hours to consider, usually between 5pm to 8pm, the time before bed time. Babies are usually very fussy during that time and might feed more. Wonder weeks (growth spurts) and special circumstances (baby is sick, teething etc.) would also affect baby. So don’t be upset if the schedule is “ruined” for a week or so.
I found the schedule more a guideline and it helped me plan my activities for the day since I knew roughly when E would eat and sleep. I would grocery shop and run errands during wake times. Some people like to run errands during nap times and then baby would nap in the car/carrier.
The schedule also helps when it comes to dropping naps. By 6 months or so, baby will be taking 3 naps per day – 2 long ones and 1 short one. They then transition to 2 long naps around 9 months and start dropping to one nap from as early as 12 months, most kids drop to one nap 18+ months. E only started taking one nap when she was about 21 months. So with a schedule/routine, it helps with the transition. We reviewed the schedule about once every 4-6 weeks.
Did we sleep train E?
No. We decided not to early on because we lived in a one-bedroom apartment (logistical challenge) and we learned that E was very persistent crier. At 6 months we tried sleep training and she literally cried for 2 hours straight. We decided that our co-sleeping arrangement was fine and dandy and everyone was getting enough sleep at night despite her frequent night time milkings (of mama).
We did nap train E with success. What we found is that E needed to be in a “smaller space” and “strapped down” so she can’t move about. The open space of the crib gave her a lot of space to move around, so she couldn’t “focus on napping”. E never liked to be swaddled since day one, so we needed to find a solution. I also read that babies like to sleep at a slight incline. We started nap training her using the Fisher Price Rock ‘n’ Play. It provided a cozy, enclosed space for baby to sleep in and she would be strapped in so she couldn’t roll about. It was also at a slight incline. That also helped with E’s reflux issues. E currently naps in this Fisher Price Infant to Toddler Rocker Napper which is a better alternative because it lasts longer (has heavier weight limit). Both are very portable and can be easily moved from room to room.
The Dock-a-Tot was released a year after Elspeth was born. I would have considered that if I had known about it. You can’t strap baby down though but because baby would be lying flat, it is safer than the Rock ‘n’ Play and Infant to Toddler napper.
How did we nap train E?
We tried the Ferber method but quickly realized the more 5/10 minute checks I did the more she would cry. In the end, we let her cry for a maximum of 30 minutes straight. She would usually sleep by then if she was tired, which she usually was because we followed the schedule. We also used a white noise machine for naps. After a few days of nap training, she got used to the routine and would fall asleep on her own once placed in the rocker/napper.
One thing to note, I came across this article about optimal sleep/nap training times based on research. I’ve found the “times” to be mostly accurate for E. When we came back from our first trip back to Singapore, E was totally off schedule and refused to nap. It was hard to put her down for a nap and she could ONLY nap in the carrier…much to my chagrin. I tried nap training her again at 11 months, but according the the chart, it was a BAD time to nap train. So I waited till she was 12 months old to nap train again. Lo and behold, it worked. The same thing happened when E was going through her 2 to 1 nap transition. I decided to wait till she was 22 months + to start nap training again and it worked.
Here are the recommended times for sleep/nap training:
0 to 2.5 months – not so good
2.5 to 4 months – good
4 to 5.5 months – not so good
5.5 to 7.5 months – ideal
8 to11 months – really not so good
12 to 16 months – good
17 to 21 months – not so good
22 to 27 months – good
28 months to 3 years – not so good
3 to 3.5 years – good
3.5 to 4 years – not so good
Finally, for some reference, here are some of E’s schedules through the months:
At 3 months:
E’s current schedule (Note: we are late sleepers and risers):
9.00am – Wake up, brush teeth, get dressed etc.
9.30am – Breakfast, clean-up
10.00am – Play/read/other activities
12.30pm – Lunch, clean-up
1.30pm – Read/quiet activities
2.00pm – Nap
4.00pm – Snack
4.30pm – Play
6.30pm – Dinner, clean-up
7.30pm – Play/read/other activities
8.30pm – Bath
9.00pm – Family devotion
9.30pm – Quiet activities/read
10.30-11pm – Bedtime
So that is basically our experience to date with schedules. I would be happy to share our experience further if you have any questions. You can always drop me a comment or use the contact form above.