Schedule for a Newborn? Wait…what?

I often have moms or well-meaning family members ask me how to get a newborn baby on a schedule. Eating schedule, sleeping schedule, pooping schedule……just kidding…that’s not a thing…..

Our culture lends well to having a schedule. We have planners full of jotted notes, timeslots full on our Google calendars, and shared online apps that help us navigate our family’s over-scheduled and busy lives. Let’s be honest – it’s kind of the American Way these days. Just how many things can one fit into 24 hours, anyway? Many of us (me included!) seem to test it out regularly. Sometimes the “overbooking” backfires on me. Oops!

For those of you Type “A” personalities out there, the very thought of having to NOT plan or schedule something can be very difficult. It can literally cause anxiety in some. I know some people who are so ruled by their calendars that they absolutely can’t say “yes” or “no” to anything without double checking their planner first. In fact, I would be lying if I said that wasn’t me sometimes.

So, let me drop a little truth bomb on all you moms and dads out there who think you’ll be able to schedule your baby’s sleep patterns and eating patterns right away:

YOU CAN’T. Nor should you try.

When a baby is growing in the womb, absolutely everything is provided for him. Mom’s miraculous and amazing placenta connects to the growing babe via the umbilical cord, through which baby receives all nutrients, oxygen, and everything needed to grow. Baby doesn’t have to do anything at all to receive these benefits. Just receives.

Once baby makes his way earthside, though, things change a little bit…

Ok. A-lot-a-bit.

Babies all the sudden are responsible to do things for themselves. Breathe oxygen. Eat. Regulate their body temperatures. All in addition to growing at an exponential rate. It’s truly exhausting for them.

Due to many reasons – things like the amount of fat in mom’s milk at different times of the day, and the amount of milk made at different times of the day, and of course mom’s milk storage capacity, babies are likely to eat more at different times of the day than other times of the day. There are “typical” feeding rhythms, but not “set-in-stone” feeding rhythms. It is common for babies to need to eat less often in the morning and daytime hours than in the evening. Often, babies will have a time during the evening hours where they “cluster feed” or eat very often or even constantly at the breast.

The main thing to remember through all of this, is that your baby knows when and how much to eat. Period. Babies are very instinctual. They know they want to be held close by someone they can trust (aka – you.), and they know exactly how much their bodies need to eat. When brought to the breast as often as they want to be there and left to breastfeed for as long as they want to eat, breastfed babies will get exactly what they need.

So, what do they truly need? According to Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC, FILCA, from about 1 month to 6 months of age, babies will need a daily intake of about 25-35 ounces of breastmilk (every 24 hours). Most babies will be able to achieve this intake by breastfeeding at the breast 8-12 times every 24 hours. This doesn’t mean that it will be evenly spaced feedings – it means there should be 8-12 feedings per 24 hours. Some feedings will likely be up to 4 hours spaced, some feedings will be much less than that – even down to pretty-much continuous feeding (switching sides, etc) for a longer period of time.

The point is that it’s very important to watch your baby, not the clock. Unless a brand new baby (I’m talking up to about a month old) sleeps longer than 4 hours at a time, there should be no reason to wake a baby to keep them on some semblance of an eating schedule*. There will (and should) be an eating *rhythm*, but a schedule is something that new parents should truly throw out of their vocabulary for this short season. Babies (especially newborns) should NOT be put on a schedule because biologically, that’s simply not how they work, nor how mom’s breastmilk works.

Don’t get me wrong – I know how hard it can be. Believe me.

It’s demanding. It’s exhausting. It’s *really* hard. They need you seemingly every second of every day. Just when you thought they were asleep enough for you to get a shower, right when you have just gotten some much needed hot water and shampoo in your hair, you get a knock on the bathroom door from dad or grandma letting you know that baby’s awake and really needs you. Again.

But your precious little one knows exactly what they need, and by following their cues, you will be able to give them just that: You, in all your flexible, sleep-deprived, mom-bun-hair glory.

You’ve got this, mama. Keep going – I promise it won’t be this hard forever! But for now, put your planner away. Your baby is much smarter and complex than that.

And if you need help, reach out.