The Who, Why, When, What and How of Putting your Baby on a Schedule

By: Michelle Place, CRNP-P
Every human baby born onto this earth.
Routine is Important.

  • Infants crave consistency because knowing what to expect is comforting. Providing a routine ensures that all basic needs are provided in a timely manner. When babies are not sleep-deprived or hungry it puts them in the best frame of mind to learn and explore the world. Having a predictable routine also allows for an easier transition when babies are left with a caregiver. If a different caregiver sticks to an established routine, infants are reassured by the consistency to their day. Having a predictable schedule is also helpful for moms because the routine provides predictable time to get things done.


  • Toddlers also thrive on a set routine. They feel safe and reassured when they can predict what will happen. This is the reason your toddler prefers to watch the same movie over and over or to have you read them the same book until they can correct you if you inadvertently skip a word. Part of their developmental process is to constantly push the boundaries so that they know where these boundaries are. It is so reassuring for them if the boundaries remain the same every time they push.


  • Teenagers ironically are exactly the same as toddlers. They constantly push the boundaries but are reassured to find themselves in a safe structure of predictable rules.

Babies are ready for a general schedule between 2-4 months of age when their sleeping and feeding habits become more consistent and predictable.
There are three ways to establish a routine schedule for your baby.

  • Parent-led:
    1. most strict
    2. parent plans everything down to the minute
    3. there is no flexibility for input from the baby
    4. the entire schedule is set by the clock
    5. e.g., Baby Wise
  • Baby-led:
    1. least defined
    2. only takes cues from baby
    3. most babies eventually form regular patterns
    4. varies day-to-day depending on baby’s signals
    5. e.g., Sears; Benjamin Spock
  • Combo:
    1. elements of both of the above
    2. have timetable so can stick to similar pattern every day but with flexibility for adjustment depending on signals from baby or daily happenings
    3. e.g., Super Nanny


  • Bedtime:
    1. Start to establish a bedtime routine: a set of the same activities performed in the same order at the same time every evening. This helps babies recognize that it is time to settle down for the night (e.g., bath, jammies, feed, read book {preferably the same book}, in bed).
    2. Establish the routine as early as possible, it may feel silly reading a book to a 2 month old but it helps keep things consistent as they get older.
    3. Each evening start the bedtime routine at the same time and earlier than you think you should, around 7pm or even earlier. You want to catch babies while they are still peaceful and predictable not overtired and fussy.
    4. Dark and light cues are important. Make sure to dim the lights while getting ready for bed and douse them completely when it is time to go down for the night.
    5. Even though it seems silly because babies basically wear the same thing for clothes and pajamas, changing clothes before sleep and after getting up in the morning helps babies learn when day is ending and beginning.
    6. The goal is to get babies extremely drowsy and then let them drift off to sleep when they are lying (on their backs) alone in the crib. This helps babies develop the ability to soothe themselves back to sleep when they awaken in the night. Babies are usually mature enough to start doing this when they are about 3-4 months old.
  • Bathtime:
    1. Newborns do not need to be washed with soap more than twice/week
    2. It is a beneficial to make bathtime part of your daily routine because it is a soothing way to prepare babies for bed.
    3. If you decide to bathe your baby every day as part of a bedtime routine you can use soap every 3-4 days and on the days in between you can use just warm water.
  • Playtime:
    1. Babies learn from repetition. Doing the same activities in the same order make them fun and educational.
    2. You can initiate play anytime but the ideal time is after babies have been fed and are well-rested.
    3. Start with more stimulating activities (toys that light up or make loud noises) and Tummy Time.
    4. Finish with quieter activities like reading. This helps babies realize that playtime is ending.
    5. Limit play sessions to about 10-20 min.
    6. Pay attention to cues that baby is getting tired and end the session before crying begins. The earliest sign is when an engaged baby starts looking away.
  • Nap time:
    1. Sending signals that naptime is near helps babies nod off faster.
    2. This is accomplished by establishing a routine leading up to naptime -lullaby, reading book, etc. It does not have to be the same as the bedtime routine.
  • Stroller time:
    1. Add a daily walk to your routine. Fresh air and stimulation helps set babies’ internal clocks.
    2. A walk in the great outdoors is safe as long as babies are dressed appropriately for the weather and protected from the sun. Even in the winter when it is very chilly, bundle them up and get them out.
    3. Walking is beneficial for mom, too. It is good exercise and is a reason to get dressed and to get out of the house.
  • Feeding time:
    1. Provide a comfortable, quiet environment for feedings.
    2. If you use the same place each time it allows babies to pick up on feeding cues and decrease distractions making them less likely to fuss.
    3. Establishing a feeding routine which recognizes early hunger cues allows feedings to occur before crying begins. Crying is a late sign of hunger and once babies go over the edge it is hard for them to calm down and organize themselves to feed well.
    4. Once babies start solids you will need to set up new rituals. For example, you may put your baby in the high chair with a plastic bowl and spoon to play with while you prepare the meal. This provides a distraction and allows them to explore and practice with feeding utensils.


  • Good-bye:
    1. Set up a goodbye ritual.
    2. This will help babies anticipate when you are leaving and will help them learn to transition from one caregiver to another more easily.

**Remember any routine needs to evolve and keep evolving to meet babies’ changing needs as they get older.
If you have questions about establishing a schedule for your baby you can discuss it with your provider at your child’s next well visit. To schedule an appointment call the office at 301-279-6750.