“When can I get my baby on a schedule??” This is a question most new parents ask at some point in their parenting journey.
For newborns and young babies, awake windows will dictate the schedule and routine. It’s after the two nap transition, however (usually around 7-8 months), that many babies are ready for a set schedule.
So what do I mean by “set schedule”? You will be able to look at the clock and know that at the same time every day, your child will [likely] be sleeping. We essentially set your baby’s circadian rhythm around the clock rather than awake windows.
When should I move to a set schedule?
There are a handful of scenarios where I encourage parents to make the switch:
- Your child has transitioned to two naps and you want to go by the clock!
- Your baby has gotten into a pattern of early bedtimes and therefore early wake-ups and you can’t seem to get out of the cycle.
- You’re having a hard time figuring out how to drop the third nap while avoiding overtiredness, but your child’s bedtime is getting too late (past 8:00 pm).
- Your baby is on two naps but his naps are short and inconsistent.
- Your child has transitioned to two naps but something is just off.
How do I make the switch?
An “ideal” two nap schedule looks something like this:
7:00- Wake up
*9:30-11:00 Nap 1
2:00-3:30 Nap 2
(*I start with 9:30 am, but some babies do better waiting until 10:00, adjusting the whole schedule back by 30 minutes. Or your baby may start with the above schedule and then bump both naps up a bit, around 9-11 months.)
When making this switch, I always start with the morning nap. If your baby wakes up for the day before 6:00 am, consider it a night waking and respond accordingly. If your baby wakes up before 7:00 am, try to keep him in his crib until as close to 7:00 as possible. Then, regardless of if your child woke up at 6:00, 6:30, or 7:00 am, our goal is to start the first nap at 9:30 am.
Yes, I know that means an early riser will be awake extra long and overtiredness is a concern, but this is the best place to start. If your child really can’t make it to 9:30, it’s okay to put him down a bit sooner, but no earlier than 9:00 am; you can work your way up to 9:30.
We then focus on getting that second nap to 2:00 pm. The ideal would be that your little one naps from 9:30-11:00, so that natural three hour awake window would land us at 2:00. The idea of a fixed schedule, however, is that if your baby only sleeps for 45 minutes, or an hour and 15 minutes, we still wait for that second nap to be at 2:00 pm.
If his nap is a bit shorter than ideal, do your best to keep him in his crib until as close to 11:00 as possible; remember, we’re trying to train his body clock! Same thing for that afternoon nap…our aim is for it to be until 3:30, so even if your baby wakes sooner, try to keep him in his crib until as close to 3:30 as possible.
We’re then aiming for a 7:00 pm bedtime. When you first make this transition, your baby may need a bit of an earlier bedtime (i.e. 6:30 pm), and that’s totally normal! That will help accommodate for any overtiredness by catching up on sleep at night.
What if my child sleeps past 7:00 am? Or what if he naps longer than an hour and a half?
With a set schedule, we want to keep our little ones within 30 minutes of the “ideal” schedule so as to not confuse their body clocks. So if he’s still sleeping around 7:15 or 7:30 am, although no one loves waking a sleeping baby, it’s time to do so. Or if your baby is still napping at the two hour mark, wake him up, and then adjust his schedule by 15-30 minutes.
Do I have to move to a fixed schedule?
The short answer is no! If you have been following awake windows and it’s working well for you, you can absolutely keep doing so! If, however, you are eager to get on a set schedule and your child has transitioned to two naps, or your child has had a tough transition to two naps, it’s likely time to make the switch.
I know that nap transitions are tough, and transitioning to a set schedule can feel daunting, but it’s worth it!