Eat play sleep

Why Eat, Play, Sleep?

If you have a new baby, you’ve probably heard at least one person recommend that you follow “Eat, Play, Sleep.” What does this mean? Why does it matter?

Even though “eat, play, sleep” is somewhat self-explanatory, parents understandably still have a lot of questions about what it really looks like to follow this routine. There are a few things you need to know to make sure that you can really reap the benefits of this approach and be better able to enjoy those early weeks with your baby!

Eat, Play, Sleep Routine

There is nothing wrong with attempting to follow a set schedule with your new baby. But you will notice that I said attempt – unfortunately newborns are not always the most cooperative partners in that effort!

Whether you want to try to follow a schedule or not, your days can be much more predictable when you follow a consistent routine. With a routine, the exact timing doesn’t matter so much. Instead it’s about following a pattern so you can get into a good rhythm of meeting your baby’s needs and also maintaining your own sanity. Here are the different elements of this routine:

  • Eat – this is an uninterrupted, focused time to give your baby a full feeding
  • Play – admittedly “play” is bit of a stretch for a newborn, but this is a brief period of awake time
  • Sleep – this is your baby’s nap time

Now let’s break each of these down into more detail.


Until 4-5 months of age, babies should be on a 3-hour daytime “schedule” for their feedings. This means your baby should be taking the breast or bottle at least every 3 hours during the day. This doesn’t mean following a rigid, on-the-dot schedule that ignores your baby’s needs.

The schedule is flexible in the sense that your baby can eat earlier than 3 hours if they are hungry (this is a good visual for baby’s hunger cues), but you don’t want to allow your baby to eat later. You will need to wake your baby from their naps if they are still asleep at the 3-hour mark.

Note: feedings are measured from start to start. So let’s say your baby nurses or takes a bottle at 8:00am. You will want to wake them up no later than around 10:55am if they are still sleeping, so that you can get them situated to feed again by 11:00. In the very early days, you may want to allow extra buffer time as you are still getting used to making sure you have everything you need for a feeding session and your newborn may need you to put in some work to even get them to wake up enough to eat!


For the first few months, babies are only awake for brief periods before needing to go back to sleep – these are called wake windows. A brand new baby’s wake window is only 30-60 minutes long, which includes feeding time! This means that during the first two weeks, your baby will be ready to be re-swaddled and put back down almost as soon as they are done eating and having their diaper changed.

Once your baby’s wake windows extend a bit to be 60-90 minutes during months two and three, you’ll have more of an opportunity to start actually having some “play” time with your little one!

It’s important not to let play time go on too long though so as to avoid overtiredness. If your baby is showing sleepy cues, they can be put down sooner than the beginning of their wake window, but if they are still awake past the end of the window, the cues were missed and your baby is very likely overtired no matter how awake they seem. So be sure to keep an eye on those wake windows to make for a smooth transition into the next step of the routine!


During the first few months, nap lengths can be highly variable. Since newborns nap so often, you’re also bound to have some naps on the go as you’re out and about. They will probably fall asleep while you’re driving, but the nap gets interrupted once you arrive and have to wake them up or take them out of their carseat, which might wake them up. (Remember: it’s not safe for baby to sleep in the car seat outside of the car.) This means that realistically, it’s not always possible to follow the Eat -> Play -> Sleep pattern, and that’s okay. What is most important is that you give your baby a good, full feed at every feeding and that you avoid feeding to sleep whenever possible – more on this below.

Does Eat, Play, Sleep Work?

While newborns are much more able to follow a pattern than a strict schedule, trying to follow the “Eat, Play, Sleep” routine still might not always work perfectly. It can be helpful to understand the reasoning behind the routine, so you can make adjustments as needed while still vibing with the general spirit of this approach.

When we’re talking about Eat -> Play -> Sleep, it isn’t just the order of the activities that matters – the quality matters too! The quality of one determines the quality of the next, and all three are necessary for your baby’s growing body and brain! This means that starting with a high-quality feeding is always your biggest priority.

It goes like this:

  • If you put in the work to help your baby take a full feeding, then they are capable of having a brief period of productive wakefulness.

  • Productive periods of alertness are needed so that babies can take in new information about their world, and as they get older, so they can start to use and develop their ever-growing arsenal of physical, cognitive, and emotional skills!

  • After having a good wake time, your baby is then sleepy and ready to have a good nap time – a restorative period needed for both their body and brain to grow as memories are consolidated and stored, new neural connections are strengthened, and a growth hormone essential for physical development is produced.

  • A well-rested (and therefore also well-digested) baby with established hunger rhythms then has the desire, energy, and capacity to take in another full-feeding.

Feed Upon Waking

The purpose of always trying to feed your baby upon waking is because it is important to separate eating and sleeping. One reason for this is that many newborns fall asleep while eating before they are actually full, which can jeopardize their weight gain (or simply make feeding an exhausting, drawn out process for the parent).

It’s also very easy to get into a habit of feeding to sleep, which unfortunately is not a recipe for long-term success with sleep. It’s also common for babies to fall into a pattern of snacking all day long, which prevents them from getting quality daytime sleep, is very tiring for the parent, and also often results in having to make up for the missing calories with frequent feedings overnight …

Importance of Full Feedings

Hungry babies do not sleep well or long. Even babies who aren’t “hungry” per se, but just aren’t fully satisfied, are likely to struggle to go down for naps or to stay asleep until their next feeding time.

So full feedings are essential to a good Eat -> Play -> Sleep routine and establishing a predictable rhythm for your baby that leads to good daytime sleep, to sleeping longer stretches at night, and eventually night weaning and reaching every new parent’s goal: sleeping through the night!!!

Eat, Play, Sleep Schedule For A Newborn

In my experience, newborns do best when their “daytime” is from about 9am to 9pm and their nighttime is 9pm to 9am. Then, around 8 weeks old, most babies will do best shifting that to a daytime of around 7am to 7pm and nighttime from 7pm to 7am.

I like to use those 12 hour “bookends” as anchor points for daytime and nighttime. This means aiming to always feed your baby at those times, regardless of what the day or night looked like leading up to that. This helps make your day much more predictable, since you can plan to have at least 5 “daytime” feedings if you’re feeding every 3 hours. It also is really helpful for your sleep. Since you’ll be able to go to bed around the same time every night, this improves the quality of your rest, which is so important during your postpartum recovery.

Schedule From Birth to 8 Weeks

Remember that this schedule is meant to be a guideline – it gives you a framework to help organize your day, but it is not meant to be followed perfectly. Please do not put pressure on yourself to always stick to the schedule or stress yourself out when your baby clearly has no intention of following it that day – or week! No matter what the day looks like, your baby has the most important thing they need – you!!

9:00am Feed

9:45-10:30am Put down for nap sometime during this window, based on the wake window for their age and their sleepy cues. Allow to sleep all the way up to their next feeding. If they wake before their next “scheduled” feeding and are hungry, then feed them and start the cycle from there, shifting the entire schedule up for the rest of the day.

12:00pm Feed

12:45-1:30pm Put down for nap – see above

3:00pm Feed

3:45-4:30pm Put down for nap – see above

6:00pm Feed

6:45-7:30pm Put down for nap sometime during this window, based on the wake window for their age and their sleepy cues. Then wake them up a bit before 9:00pm – probably 8:30-8:45. This is the one time you wouldn’t feed right upon waking because the pattern is reversed going into bedtime. This means your baby will have a small amount of awake time before their bedtime feeding. This is a great time to give a bath if you want, and get them ready for bed.

***If your baby has been hungry or waking up sooner than 3 hours over the course of the day, you will end up with an extra daytime feeding somewhere around this time. This is no big deal – just adjust the feeding amount and/or the final nap length in order to still wake them between 8:30-8:45 and give them a full feeding at 9:00pm.

9:00pm Feed

9:30/9:45 As soon as your baby is fed and changed, you will put them down for bed as awake as possible. You are welcome to add a story or song after feeding, but be mindful that your baby is probably really tired by this point and may already be falling asleep.

Overnight Feed whenever your baby is hungry. If your baby is waking often but isn’t hungry (or is only taking a few sucks before promptly falling back asleep), you may want to consider trying to soothe your baby in other ways before feeding. This will help you to gradually stretch your newborn’s nighttime sleep, helping your baby to actually night wean themself once they are ready. This is likely much earlier than you may have thought possible!

I hope this post has been helpful for you in understanding how to implement an Eat -> Play -> Sleep routine with your newborn! If you’re struggling with daytime or nighttime sleep, I want you to know that there is so much you can do to improve your baby’s sleep habits even while they are still a newborn! Please don’t think you just have to suffer through until your baby is “old enough to sleep train.”

Better sleep for both you and your baby can start right now – check out my Sleeping Baby, Sane Momma – Newborn Edition program if you are ready to get the rest you need to preserve your sanity and be the best momma you can be for your little one!!

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