If you are a new parent, you have no doubt been introduced to Tracy Hogg’s E.A.S.Y. schedule. Also dubbed the recipe for the perfect sleeping baby. It comes with a nice, convenient little acronym that immediately gets any sleep-deprived parent hooked!
E – eat, A – activity, S- sleep, Y – your time (this last one is to occur while baby sleeps). Easy peasy, right?
I stuck to this schedule like glue with my son. And when it didn’t fit perfectly together like a jigsaw puzzle, I got stressed out. How could I possibly follow this neat and tidy day-to-day routine and still leave the house? Or what if my baby would only sleep for 30-40 minutes at a time? Or if the only way my baby would go to sleep is with a completely topped up belly? Heaven forbid a nap and a feed coincided at the same time!
E.A.S.Y. Changes with Age
Now, in my experience the E.A.S.Y. schedule does get, well, easier with age. This is because baby can stay awake longer, thereby taking fewer naps in a day. So really you just have fewer chances to completely bugger this schedule up. But for a baby under 6 or even 8 months old, I have found this routine to be really, really hard.
Here’s an example schedule from my daughter at 10 weeks old compared to what is suggested based on an age-appropriate wake time and feeding schedule according to the E.A.S.Y schedule:
E 7:00 am – wake and eat
A 7:45 am – activity
S 8:30 am – sleep
Y 8:30 am to 10:00 am – your time
E 10:00 am – wake and eat
A 10:45 am – activity
S 11:30 am – sleep
Y 11:30 am to 1:00 pm – your time
E 1:00 pm – wake and eat
A 1:45 pm – activity
S 2:30 pm – sleep
Y 2:30 pm to 4:00 pm – your time
E 4:00 pm – wake and eat
A 4:45 pm – activity
S 5:20 pm – sleep* (catnap 30-40mins)
Y 5:20 pm to 6:00 pm – your time
E 7:00 pm – eat
A 7:30 pm – activity (bath/pre-bed routine)
S 8:00 pm – sleep
Y 8:00 pm onwards – your time
E 7:00 am – eat and continue sleeping
A 8:30 am – wake and activity
S 9:30 am – sleep
E 10:00 am – wake and eat
A 10:30 am – activity
S 11:00 am – sleep
A 12:00 pm – wake and activity
E/S 1:00 pm – eat… and sleep, shit!
A 2:00 pm – wake and activity
S 3:15 pm – sleep
E 4:00 pm – wake and eat
A 4:30 pm – activity
S 5:30 pm – sleep (catnap 30 mins… oh wait, that’s a normal nap)
A 6:30 pm – activity (bath/pre-bed routine)
E/S 7:00 pm – eat… and sleep, oh boy!
There are a few important differences to note between these two schedules.
The first is that my routine quickly loses any acronymic coherency… A.S.E.A. just doesn’t have the same ring.
The second is that my baby NEVER slept more than 30 minutes at a time, unless I was wearing her or I put a great deal of effort into getting her back to sleep (note: this often involved an ill-timed feed; mom fail)….1.5 hours for EACH nap??? Give me a break!
And third, see the nice lengthy Your Time in the left hand column? I didn’t even bother to pencil that in to our schedule because, let’s be real, 30 minutes gives you enough time to pee in peace and scroll your Insta feed once….maybe.
Feeding and Baby Sleep
But what this schedule really stresses, and why it is so incredibly useful (thank you Tracy!), is that each feed is to occur after sleep, not before. This is helpful for a few crucial reasons.
First, by timing a feed for when baby wakes up, she is not becoming dependent on the feed in order to fall asleep. You may think falling asleep at the breast (or with a bottle) seems perfectly reasonable, and it is. But if it’s the only way baby knows how to fall asleep then you can be sure that with every night waking, she will be looking for a feed before she can go back to sleep – and remember brief arousals occur every 45-60 minutes in the first year or so of life.
Second, since baby has just woken from a nap, she will be alert while feeding and is more likely to get a full feed. This will help space feeds out more predictably throughout the day, rather than getting into the habit of snacking, falling asleep and then snacking again. It will also encourage feeding to occur primarily during daytime hours. This includes a nice full feed before bedtime, which usually equates to a longer stretch of sleep at night. Win!
Third, in my experience, putting my kids down for naps or bedtime right after a full feed often leads to gas or stomach upset, and makes it much more difficult for them to settle. This should not be surprising since by laying a baby down in the supine position you have effectively removed the benefits of gravity in the digestion process and keeping acid at bay.
Studies have shown that salivation is reduced during sleep, leading to a reduced capacity of the esophagus to contract, and therefore difficulty clearing acid that can creep up from the stomach (hello reflux!). In addition, gas bubbles that build up from swallowing air or consuming gas-inducing food have a much harder time making their way through the intestinal tract while lying down.
Leaving some wake time for digestion can help make baby more comfortable while drifting off into a deep sleep. In addition, if baby has fallen asleep while at the breast, she may ‘knock off’ some of the sleep debt she has accrued while awake and rouse soon after being put down seeming fully rested – even if it has only been a few minutes.
Fourth, digestion is more efficient while awake. Like many bodily functions, the gastrointestinal system rests while the body rests. At least during NREM sleep in the early part of the sleep cycle. This is not to say that digestion shuts down entirely while we sleep; but one of the primary functions of sleep appears to be energy conservation – slowing things down to a time when energy is easier, or at least not so costly, to come by – and the digestive system can take advantage of this period of rest. This way, rather than putting it away for later, you can convert and utilize the fuel you consume when it is going to be most advantageous – i.e. during all the wakeful tasks you perform in the day.
How to help your baby fall asleep without a feed?
So how to ensure your babe does not become dependent on feeding to sleep if you can’t seem to get the E.A.S.Y. schedule down?
For many, the best first step is to establish a feeding rhythm – don’t even think about naps. For the first few weeks, newborns will feed on demand. This is essential to ensure that your milk supply comes in and that baby is gaining weight properly. By about 3 to 4 weeks of age, you may start to see meals getting spaced out a bit more – 2 hours apart perhaps.
Within the first 2 to 3 months, your baby’s stomach is likely large enough to hold a breast milk volume to satiate for 3-hour stretches during the day (and likely much longer at night – remember, lack of wakeful activity at night should slow down metabolism). So the first thing you can work towards is getting baby full feeds, thus enabling them to feel full longer. This may look as simple as trying to keep her awake while feeding, even if she falls asleep immediately afterwards. Or choosing 2 to 3 hour intervals on the clock and trying to keep baby distracted in between – a nice walk or some good face to face interaction time may be enough; a soother to satisfy the sucking reflex can also work wonders for this, or handing baby off to a caregiver other than mom so that the smell of her is not too enticing.
Once a feeding rhythm is established, you can work towards placing naps before a feed. However, if your naps fall short (literally), stick to your feeding rhythm, and pay some mind to wake times. If the next nap happens to coincide with the next feed (see my daughter’s schedule above), do not fret. Give the feed and do what you can to keep baby awake – tickle the toes or tummy, softly pinch the earlobe, burp, place a cool spoon on the back of her neck. She will no doubt remain incredibly drowsy and it should be relatively easy to put her down following this feed – the key is that she is not completely asleep when you do so. Even this small amount of spacing between the feed and sleep will help prevent the strong association between the two.
And you can approach bedtime in the same way. I found that if I fed my daughter to sleep at say 7:30pm, she would wake up within 15 to 20 minutes of putting her down for the night and I would have an incredibly hard time getting her back to a drowsy state – it was as if she had just taken a catnap and was ready for the next activity of the day. So I started feeding her this bedtime feed in a more common area of the house (the living room couch or my son’s bed during story time). This would provide just enough stimulation to keep her awake, after which I would take her to her room, sing her a song, rock her a bit, and then put her down. And guess what? She stopped waking up after a short catnap.
Feeding to sleep at night
All of this can get thrown out the window in the middle of the night; you better believe I fed my babies until they were fully asleep again. I just didn’t have the energy to go through a routine each time. But I often noticed that after putting my daughter back down presumably comatose, she would wake up shortly thereafter and need some settling support again. This was particularly true of the early morning feeds – 4am and afterwards. It is possible that this was linked to a change in the breast milk composition early in the morning when compared with the evening and late night (less tryptophan = less sedative effects), and the build up of uncomfortable gas throughout the night.
Staying in the room an extra 10 to 15 minutes (so challenging when you are longing for your pillow) with my hands on her arms and legs seemed to provide enough comfort to get her through the micro-awakenings as she drifted into a deeper sleep, which meant longer sleep for both of us.
So aim for spaced out, full feeds, after sleep when possible and give time for the E.A.S.Y schedule to become just that…your easy baby sleep routine.