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Baby Sleep Training Basics: How to Create a Successful Sleep Schedule

Many parents and certified sleep consultants swear by sleep-training techniques. If you want to create a natural and healthy sleep schedule for your baby or toddler, here’s what you need to know before you get started!
Sleeping baby

Baby sleep training centers around creating consistency through a structured schedule so both you and your baby know what comes next. This predictable schedule teaches children how to constructively manage themselves in their environments (such as being put to bed while awake and putting themselves to sleep without pushback).

The benefits of a baby sleep schedule

  • A somewhat predictable sleep schedule (set by the parents, not the baby) encourages the baby to know what will happen next, whether it’s time to play or sleep.
  • It gives them security, emotional stability and helps them learn to trust that they will be provided with what they need.
  • It has been shown to have long-term benefits. As the baby transitions into toddlerhood and early childhood, it helps family life run more smoothly because there is an understanding of basic sleep habits without power struggles between parent and child.
  • It allows the parents to feel more organized and in control, which lowers stress.

The cons of a baby sleep schedule

  • Routine is difficult in those early days of infanthood, especially when your little one can’t even tell day from night yet.
  • As a brand-new mom who’s utterly exhausted, sleep training can add stress before it alleviates it.

Is sleep training right for everyone?

Like so many child-rearing issues, there’s more than one right answer. Some people feel that baby schedules should be shunned, while others praise their successes and feel they should be embraced.

For us, a predictable routine has helped set expectations. As our girls have gotten older, it’s proven to build confidence and independence, create habits that have taught them to better manage their time and help them get excited about what’s next.

Sleep training doesn’t necessarily mean following a rigid schedule ALL. THE. TIME.

Like most healthy habits, a schedule also involves some flexibility. Every baby is different and, therefore, there’s no ONE thing that will work for them all.

When you create a routine that works for you and your family, do your best to stick to it, but know that it’s not something that is set in stone. An occasional deviation, like an afternoon appointment or playdate, shouldn’t cause too much disruption to your baby’s routine, just pick up as usual when you can.

This was something I initially struggled with after having Isla (I’m a type A planner), but became much more comfortable with the second time around with Alana. While I still made every effort to be home for Alana to nap in the comfort of her crib, I embraced the idea that it’s not the end of the world if she slept in her car seat every once in a while. This flexibility helped ease the “mom guilt” associated with straying from her norm.

When should you start?

It’s common for Babywise parents to start somewhere in the birth to 2-month window. We decided to embark on a routine as soon as we got home from the hospital, but there was certainly some flexibility since the girls were so young.

The caveat is if you wait too long, habits like rocking and pacifying can be ingrained in your baby as sleep associations, or crutches, they need to fall asleep and stay asleep.

If your baby is older than a few months, don’t worry, it’s never too late to develop good sleep habits. There is no right or wrong time to start, it’s what works best for your family! Sleep training has no expiration date and can be done with babies at any age, even into toddlerhood!

What baby's routine may look like

For the first few months of our girls’ lives, our routine was pretty basic and mainly focused around sleep. Keep in mind, it wasn’t always rainbows and butterflies—especially when initially setting a standard—but it worked for us.

Our daytime routine looked something like this for the first year

To organize naps and feedings throughout the day, we tried to stick to the sleep, eat, play, repeat cycle (a technique Babywise parents use). It’s pretty simple: the girls would eat, play for a bit and then go down for a nap.

The length and type of play and the duration of the nap depended on each girl’s age and temperament. Isla did better with this than Alana, who required a little more flexibility, but the basic layout was always the same: eating, followed by some playing and then finally a nap. Another key component—we made every effort to put the girls in bed when they were drowsy, but still awake, so that they would learn to fall asleep on their own.

To reinforce their natural circadian rhythm and help the girls differentiate between their daytime nap and bedtime in the evening, we instituted unique routines for both.

Our daytime (and nap routine) looked something like this

  • Eat (breast or bottle)
  • Play for a bit (tummy time, listen to mommy read, lay under their play mat, etc.)
  • Go down for a nap
  • Wake up, eat, repeat

Our bedtime routine looked something like this

  • Night feeding at a specific time—this time shifted as the girls got older (no playtime to follow)
  • Wash face with a warm washcloth
  • Change baby’s clothes
  • Short bedtime book—for us this is a daily devotional
  • Low lights
  • Sing a soft lullaby—for us this is: “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray…”
  • Gently wave lavender essential oil around nose for a calming effect and to indicate it’s bedtime
  • Down for bed while still at least slightly awake, saying “Goodnight, I love you!”
  • Night feedings at specific times with low lights
  • AM (same wake time each morning): open blinds, change baby’s clothes, wash face with a warm washcloth, feed (a new day is beginning)

Here’s the exact daily schedule we followed. (Please remember, each baby is unique and sleep schedules can vary widely.)

These two routines (based on their age) have worked like hypnosis for us and helped both myself and the girls get more sleep! Sleep training has also helped both girls learn to use their imagination and quietly play with their stuffed animals in their crib after they wake (usually for 30-60 minutes).

Tips to Create a Successful Sleep Schedule

Get into the right mindset.

Establishing a sleep schedule for your baby takes patience and persistence. As with any new skill, practice makes perfect. There will be nights you feel utterly defeated and exhausted, but keep the long game in sight.

Come up with your sleep schedule and put it somewhere visible.

If a sleep schedule is something you’re truly interested in, then I’d strongly encourage you to read the book On Becoming Babywise. While the Babywise Method isn’t for everyone, the book offers some amazing insight and has sample sleep schedules that you can easily tweak to fit your family’s needs (you can also check out Isla and Alana’s Babywise Sleep Training Schedules). It’s a must-read for expecting or new moms and/or parents.

PRO TIP: If possible, familiarize yourself with it before your baby is born. When you’re in the thick of baby spit up and dirty diapers, finding time to read (and retain) anything can be extremely difficult.  I read this book while I was pregnant with Isla (our first born) and it truly was a game changer for us. Both our girls were sleeping through the night before 12 weeks old.   

Start by trying to teach your baby the difference between day and night.

Simple habits can make a world of difference. Keep your house bright and noisy during the day. At night, dim the lights and keep the room quieter.

Put your baby to bed while they're still (somewhat) awake.

Snuggling with your little sweetie and letting them drift off to dreamland in your arms may melt your heart, but when they wake up throughout the night and realize you’re no longer there, they’ll likely fuss. Putting your baby to bed while they’re drowsy but awake teaches self-soothing skills so they can fall asleep independently and, perhaps more importantly, fall back asleep in the middle of the night.

If your little one is already accustomed to you rocking them to sleep...

It’ll take time but they’ll eventually get the hang of what you’re trying to teach them. Try putting them to bed awake but drowsy. If they begin to cry, hold off for a few minutes before reentering the room—they may fall asleep by themselves. If you go in, keep the visit brief. Comfort them with a quick tummy rub or use a gentle shush-pat technique. Don’t pick them up or linger in the room. The same goes if they start crying overnight.

Soon enough they’ll become capable of self-soothing in the crib and feel confident and safe going to bed awake each night.

Expect changes during growth spurts and developmental milestones.

During these times, your baby may sleep longer, wake up more frequently, be crankier and much hungrier than normal. Your baby will probably settle back into their usual schedule within a week or so. You may feel discouraged, and that’s okay, but remind yourself that these regressions are temporary.

Ages when babies are likely to have a growth spurt or sleep regression

  • 2-3 weeks
  • 6 weeks
  • 3-4 months
  • 6 months
  • 8-10 months
  • 12 months
  • 18 months

Adjust your sleep routine to suit your baby’s age.

It never fails that as soon as you get into a good rhythm, it’s time to change it again. As your baby gets older, they’ll need fewer daytime naps, more playtime and will start eating solid foods. Reading up on these milestones and checking out our sample schedules for babies of all ages can help you understand what to expect.

Don’t expect your baby’s sleep routine to ALWAYS run like clockwork; stay flexible.

Plans help set you up for success, but aren’t the end all, be all. There will be days when your baby may want to get up earlier than normal or demands an extra feeding (we’ve all been there). This could be “just one of those days” or the result of something like a minor cold.

Learn to read your baby’s cues so you’re able to recognize their needs. Don’t worry, an occasional deviation from the routine shouldn’t unhinge all your hard work.

Consistency is key when it comes to a successful schedule your child can depend on day after day.

A sleep schedule helps children understand that certain things happen at particular times. Try to fit activities around your baby’s schedule, especially when starting out.

Every baby is different and, therefore, there’s no ONE set schedule that will work for them all.

Test your plan out and evaluate what worked well and what could be improved upon. The first time you put together a schedule, look at it as a starting point or rough draft. Then, adjust as necessary until you find what actually works best for you and your baby.

Good sleep habits are lifelong skills you can start teaching your baby from day one.

There are many different sleep training methods to choose from, so find one that works best for you and your partner. Start with a plan that you’re comfortable with.

Not only is sleep training beneficial for your child, it’s a sigh of relief for sleepless, weary parents and can help your baby grow into a child who absolutely loves, and looks forward to, bedtime.

Let’s create successful sleep schedules for our babies—together!

Cheers to a healthy lifestyle and living FULLforLife!
xo, Pam & Kalie

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