From feedings to periods of sleep, keeping your baby on a schedule can help her know what to expect while helping you maintain your sanity. Instead of an erratic day -- and night -- that you spend constantly bending to the will and demands of your little bundle of joy, start her off with a routine that both of you can follow every day. While you don't want to feel like you are denying your child anything, keep in mind that a schedule is more about regulation than it is about deprivation.
Learn your baby's rhythms. The American Academy of Pediatrics, on its Healthy Children website, suggests that parents avoid establishing an overly-rigid schedule when it comes to feedings. Starting a schedule doesn't always mean setting your own timetable. Instead, get to know how often and how much your baby wants to feed. Use this information to create a schedule that works for both of you. For example, if you think that a baby should nurse or bottle feed every four hours, but yours seems hungry every three hours, switch your schedule to meet your baby's needs.
Look for cues. Starting a feeding schedule that is based on your baby's individual needs also means that you need to know when she is, or isn't, hungry. The AAP notes that parents can look for cues such as the baby falling asleep after feeling full or crying when she is still hungry. A breast-fed baby will root, or turn her head toward the breast, or suck on her fist early on to show that she is hungry.
If you are formula feeding your baby, you may not notice the same cues that you would see -- such as turning her head toward your breast -- in a breast-fed infant. According to the AAP, formula-fed babies will take in two to three ounces every three to four hours during the first month, four ounces every four hours between 1 and 6 months of age; and six to eight ounces four to five times a day by 6 months of age. While this schedule holds true for many babies, make adjustments based on your baby's individual needs.
Stick to your baby's feeding schedule every day. Although there are times when this isn't possible, such as during a long car trip, keep the feeding routine going every day. Going back and forth between your set schedule and random feedings will make it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain your routine.
Involve all caretakers in your infant's schedule. For example, if your baby goes to day care, ask her teachers to keep your schedule.
Start your infant's sleep schedule off as soon as possible. According to KidsHealth.org, newborns sleep for roughly 16 hours each day, in three- to four-hour increments. Take note of your infant's regular sleep routine for the first few days or weeks. Set her bed and nap times based on what you see. For example, if you notice that she naps in four-hour stretches, don't wake her every two hours.
Put your infant to sleep in her crib or bassinet. Avoid allowing her to fall asleep in a constantly changing parade of different spaces. For example, don't let her fall asleep in her car seat sometimes and in your arms at other points. Let her know that bed -- or in her case, crib -- is the place for sleeping.
Set a bed or nap time after her feedings. Your baby is more likely to sleep after being well fed than when she is hungry.
Make adjustments as your baby ages. While maintaining a sleep schedule is key to her routine, and your sanity, your baby may need slight changes as she gains the ability to nap for longer periods of time. By the time that your baby reaches the 3-month-old mark, she will most likely sleep for longer periods of time, perhaps six to seven hours a night.
Ask other caretakers, such as grandma or a day-care teacher, to follow your nap-time schedule. This will help to keep her on track for a full 24-hour period of time.