An Easy Schedule For Your Newborn’s First Four Weeks

The Cliff’s Notes guide for those first four weeks when you really just want someone to tell what to do and when to do it.

An Easy Schedule For Your Newborn’s First Four Weeks

Written by: Jessica Diamond, MPH, RDN

Those first four weeks are a blur – you were so focused on your pregnancy and giving birth, that, now that the baby is here, you’re wondering where to start! While every baby is different, there are a few principles you can follow to get yourself oriented and to get your baby to sleep in those first couple of weeks:

  • “Eat, Play, Sleep” during the day: This should be your mantra during the day: first feed, then play, then put your baby down for a nap or bedtime. Play might include some tummy time in a play gym or on a blanket, enjoying a black and white book, or just smiling at your baby. In those early weeks, your newborn spends most of the day feeding and sleeping, which is normal! Following this simple framework allows your baby some separation between feeding and sleeping, which has three important benefits: it keeps them from becoming dependent on a feeding in order to sleep; it helps make tummy time and periods of wakefulness routine; and it ensures that you feed and nap with regularity, improving the chances of a successful overnight sleep, which is what we all dream of! 
  • Feeding: In those first few weeks, your baby should be eating 8-12 times per day. That means every 2-3 hours. Holy cow is right! This will vary for breast-fed versus formula-fed babies, but the main thing to remember is that you will be feeding around the clock. When your baby is born, their stomach is the size of a pea, and it grows as they grow. So, in the beginning, they need small but frequent feedings. And timing is important here: every 2-3 hours means every 2-3 hours from the start of the feeding. For example, if you feed at 10am and the feeding ends at 10:45am, then your next feeding should be scheduled between 12-1pm. It should feel like you are feeding all the time! This is what your baby needs in their early days. 
  • Sleep: Aim for a total of 14-18 hours of sleep per day. That’s a lot, we know. Newborns tend not to sleep for long periods of time, but rather in small chunks, usually waking up after each sleep cycle (around 40 minutes) to eat, have their diaper changed, or needing some help to get back to sleep. 
  • Naps: Your newborn will take lots and lots of naps. Typically, you can expect them to be awake for 1-2 hours during the day, followed by a nap for 1-2 hours. 

This means that you’re looking at a total of about 8 hours worth of napping during the daytime. Just organize your day around “Eat, Play, Sleep” and then look for “tired” cues every 1-2 hours after each nap. You will be all set!

  • Nighttime sleep: In that first month, you might wonder why we even call it “nighttime sleep,” because – surprise! – your baby is waking up throughout the night. In the first month of life, babies typically start nighttime sleep around 10pm, with the longest stretch of sleep around 4 hours. Expect your baby to wake up at night for feedings. Overnight is the only time we don’t follow “Eat, Play, Sleep” – instead, it’s just “Eat, Sleep.” When your baby wakes for a feeding, feed them in dim lighting and try not to stimulate them so that they can get back to sleep ASAP.  

Tips for success during that first month:

  1. Swaddle: Babies act like they don’t like to be swaddled at first, sometimes pushing their arms out and resisting the swaddle. Understandably, many parents and caregivers take this to mean that their baby doesn’t like to be swaddled. But it’s actually quite the opposite. Newborns actually do best when they are properly swaddled and immediately grow to love it. Why? Swaddling helps decrease the startle reflex, which is something they are born with (and eventually outgrow), but this reflex disrupts sleep and does exactly what the name suggests – it startles them! When you swaddle them properly, you eliminate the startle reflex and help your baby feel as if they are back in the womb, which means they are calmer, more comfortable, and can more easily get some uninterrupted sleep.
  2. Use Dr. Karp’s 5 S’s to calm a fussy baby: swaddle, side or stomach (for calming them down, not sleeping), shush, swing, and suck. Our go-to is getting a good swaddle, a birthing ball, and a portable shusher. Swaddle your baby, sit on a birthing ball while holding them on their side like a football, give them a pacifier, rest the portable shusher on their swaddle, and then bounce up and down. This will have magical results and will save your arms and mouth from lots of swinging and shushing! Check out our Getting your Newborn to Sleep podcast with Dr. Harvey Karp, where he breaks down the 5 S’s and explains why they are the key to calming a fussy baby.
  3. White noise: Babies love white noise since it sounds just like the womb. Invest in both a portable and regular white noise machine. These – and a swaddle! – will be the best money spent for the newborn phase. 
  4. Look for your baby’s “tired” cues: Rubbing eyes, pulling hair, red eyes or eyelids, zoning out, silence, and yawning are all signs of a tired baby. Watch the clock, and when it’s been an hour since the last nap, put your baby down at the sign of the first tired cue. An overtired baby is much harder to get to sleep, so take note of these signs early on and act before they grow overtired. This will be a game changer for both of you! Babies only grow when they sleep, so expect more frequent feeding and more frequent napping when they are going through a growth spurt. 
  5. Give yourself some grace. It takes time for you to learn your baby’s particular cues, so be patient with yourself. Trust that, with some time, you and your baby will get into the groove! 

Need more tips on baby sleep? Listen to our Getting your Newborn to Sleep podcast with Dr. Harvey Karp,  a pediatrician, newborn sleep guru, and founder of Happiest Baby. And check out @thekatiesittersclub on Instagram for more newborn sleep tips.