Should newborns be on a sleeping and feeding schedule?

Doctors explain the importance of a newborn schedule for new parents.
By Kait Hanson

Every parent has heard the phrase “sleep when baby sleeps” or “eat when baby eats,” so what’s the big deal about creating a newborn schedule?

Some adults thrive on a routine, while others do not. But when it comes to a newborn schedule or routine, experts agree that an infant feeding and sleeping schedule helps not just babies, but all family members.

“Routines are important, and they help the entire household,” Dr. Kevin Rouse, a pediatrician at The Children’s Clinic in Jonesboro, Arkansas, told TODAY Parents. “Babies, in particular, have an inherent need for routine, especially in those early developmental stages.”

Dr. Brannan Treece, a pediatrician at NEA Baptist Clinic in Trumann, Arkansas, agrees that a routine benefits both parents and babies.

“You can know when to schedule doctor appointments or grocery trips, because you will know what time the baby would typically nap or feed and it will prevent you from interrupting those scheduled events.

Treece also suggests that functioning on a schedule gives parents better insight into their child’s needs.

“Parents are able to understand the needs of their children better if they maintain a routine,” he said. “For example, if a child typically eats every two hours and it has only been one hour, you can be fairly certain that if the baby is upset, it is not likely due to hunger. It allows you to assess and determine the root cause of the issue quicker so you are able to meet the needs of the baby sooner.”

Newborn feeding schedule

Scheduled feedings allow parents to anticipate their child’s hunger, while ensuring all nutritional needs are met.

“Newborns have small stomachs that can only hold so much and they will need to eat every three hours, especially in those first few weeks,” Rouse shared. “In fact, newborns wake frequently because of their small stomachs, and it does not always mean the baby is not sleeping properly.”

Newborn sleep schedule

Pediatricians agree that starting early is the key to a healthy newborn sleep schedule for both babies and parents.

“Because newborns need fourteen to sixteen hours of sleep every twenty-four hours, an established sleeping schedule can reap big benefits for babies and parents alike,” Rouse said. “While all babies have unique needs and preferences, it is desirable to get them on a schedule to help them create their own sleep.”

Creating a consistent sleeping schedule also contributes to long term sleep success beyond the newborn stage.

“Around two months of age is a great time to start sleep training with a night time schedule,” Dr. Matthew Harvison, internist and pediatrician at NEA Baptist Clinic, said. “This will help establish a ‘bedtime’, which will help infants begin sleeping throughout the night.”

Harvison shared that creating routines at an early age often helps parents later on, too.

“Routines can be useful for kids, as it sets expectations,” he said. “Repeated activities such as nap time and meals become easier for children to follow.”