There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to introducing a schedule for your little one. Babies can most certainly be started on a schedule from the day you come home from hospital, if that is what you want to do, but my personal advice is to soak up that newborn smell and cuddle as much as you like for at least the first 6 – 9 weeks while you establish your feeding. Both you and baby have a lot to learn, even the second, third or forth time around. All babies are different and you have to learn what works best for them. Your body is also different each birth, so what worked well last time, may not work as well this time. Give yourself a break, put your feet up and snuggle, snuggle, snuggle.
You will notice for a newborn baby who has no underlying issues, such a reflux or food intolerances (yes, tiny babies can react to the food you eat, through your milk, or to the protein in the formula you are feeding them) that they will happily feed, sleep, wake up to feed, and sleep again, sleeping until they are hungry again, usually around the 3hr mark from their last feed. Then around 6 weeks of age, sometimes like a light switch, those long glorious naps become 30min cat naps. This occurs due to a totally normal developmental phase, where babies become much more aware of their surroundings and realise that you are not still holding them at the end of the sleep cycle, and wake and call for your help once again. These wakes can mistakenly be taken as baby having enough sleep, but in fact, they really just need help to get back to sleep (despite those cheeky wide eyes).
Sleep cycles at this stage only change during the day, and at night those lovely long stretches of sleep (only waking for milk) will continue until approx. 4-6months (also known as the 4month sleep regression). At this point, those babies who are still being assisted to fall asleep (with feeding/rocking/pacifier) often start to wake up at the end of each night cycle (which can be as often as every 1.5-2hrs) looking for that same assistance to get back to sleep.
This brings me back to the schedule. Babies thrive on having a schedule as it helps them get the right amount of sleep for their growth and development, and the routine of it helps them to understand what is coming and what is expected of them. If you can get into a schedule before the 4month sleep developmental phase and teach your little one gently (not with Cry It Out aka CIO, as this should never be done with a baby under 6months) to self-settle, you will skip this regression, of sleep at night altogether and a bonus, you will also help your little one to stop cat napping throughout the day. You can gently move towards self settling between 6-9weeks, by following the feed/play/sleep pattern, to help baby gently learn not to use feeding to fall asleep. If you have surpassed this stage, never fear, it is never too late introduce a schedule. There are different techniques to use to teach self settling for different ages, but it can most certainly be achieved gently and calmly at any age.
Sharne Dolich is a registered Neonatal Nurse and the Founder and principle consultant at Blissful Bubbies, through which she has helped hundreds of families over the past 15+ years with babies as young as 10 weeks through to young children 5yrs of age with a gentle and tailored approach to troubleshooting and developing a schedule and routine for good sleep. Based in Australia, she can work with families in-person or remotely (and is extremely popular with families in HK thanks to her track record!) For further information please visit www.blissfulbubbies.com.au, https://www.facebook.com/