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Eat, play, sleep can help your baby get on a flexible routine, take better naps, and sleep through the night. Learn more about eat, play, sleep, and why many parents love using this popular method!
Ever heard the term milk drunk? It’s when babies take a feed and then pass out afterward. Basically, they have their fill of milk and then fall asleep into a nice, deep slumber.
It’s ridiculously adorable and often an easy way to get baby down for a nap or bedtime.
As tempting as it may be to feed a baby to sleep and get that milk drunk glow, many parents do the opposite approach in hopes of creating better sleep habits in the long run for their baby.
This is known as eat, play, sleep or eat, wake, sleep—you’ll see different variations depending on who is talking about it—where you feed your baby after she wakes up from each of her naps, instead of feeding her to sleep.
Keep reading to learn more about eat, play, sleep, and to see why parents and sleep experts swear by it!
What is the eat / wake / sleep cycle?
Eat, wake, sleep is a routine that you can use to organize your baby’s naps and feedings throughout the first year of their life. With eat, wake, sleep your baby eats, then plays during her awake time, and then is put down for her nap. When she wakes up, she eats again and the cycle repeats throughout the day.
Let’s see how each part of eat, play, sleep works in the cycle.
Baby takes a full feeding either via breast or bottle. She is more likely to take a full feeding when she is awake and not falling asleep during the feed. Once breastfeeding is established, it’s important for your baby to take full feeds rather than several small feeds throughout the day. Full feeds can help keep your baby from “snacking” all day long and throughout the night. it also helps to establish your baby’s metabolism and internal clock. Moms and babies can thrive when babies take full feeds and aren’t eating ALL. DAY. LONG.
Wake / Play
Now it’s baby’s play time! This is the perfect time for you to interact with your baby! You can practice tummy time, read some baby books, or take them for a quick walk outside. Make this time stimulating for them, but not overstimulating (I know, but trust me, you will find the balance.)
Pay attention to your baby’s wake time so you don’t put her down overtired or under tired. It’s crazy how 15 minutes can make a big difference in how well she falls asleep. Many times, short naps can be due to your baby not having the proper wake time before being put down to sleep.
Not always as easy as it seems, but after some play time, it’s time to get your your baby to sleep (without feeding her to sleep). Make sure her nursery is set up with a safe sleep space and sound machine. Close her door, turn on your monitor and now you have some time for yourself! Hopefully your baby stays asleep and enjoys a nice, long nap!
As you work to get your baby on a schedule and follow her sleep cues, she will come to know when it’s nap time and even want it. I have heard stories of young babies grabbing their sleep sacks or blankets when it’s time for nap! Amazing, right?
After your baby wakes up from her nap, you repeat the cycle all over again. Evelyn got so used to eating as soon as she woke up. She would wake up happy from her nap and then look for her bottle in my hands. Babies really can learn from an early age!
Why is Eat / Play / Sleep Important?
So what’s the big deal about eat, play, sleep? It sounds pretty simple but can be extremely helpful for a few different reasons:
- Fewer sleep props: Your baby learns to fall asleep without being fed to sleep. No more feeding your baby to sleep and then slowly lowering her into her crib. Once Evelyn started sleeping better, I was able to put her in her crib awake after play time, and walk out the door. She would suck on her pacifier and put herself to sleep. (Yes, it’s as glorious as it sounds!)
- Better night sleep: Falling asleep without a bottle or breast in her mouth can help your baby go back to sleep in the middle of the night. Babies will often wake up in the middle of the night and need the same thing that got them to sleep in the first place to get them back to sleep (such as a bottle or breast). If your baby is always fed to sleep, she may wake up wanting to nurse or bottle feed to get back to sleep, out of habit.
- Freedom for mom: If your baby needs to be fed to sleep it can get exhausting for breastfeeding moms. You might feel like you can never leave your baby in the evening, because you have to be home in time to feed her. Eat, play, sleep can be a godsend for a mom’s mental health.
- Flexible routine: Eat, wake, sleep gives you a basic framework for your day without being too rigid. You have control over feeding times, nap times, and playtime within the basic structure of eat, play, sleep.
- No breaking bad habits: I know many parents will feed their baby to sleep initially and then work to break the habit down the line through cry it out or some other method. But if you never establish a pattern in the first place, you never have to work to break it later on.
Eat, Play, Sleep Bedtime Routine
When you get your baby ready for bed, you won’t follow eat, play, sleep as closely. Do a little wind down routine with your baby such as bath time, lotion, jammies, and books, and then feed your baby her last feeding of the day. Make this feeding close to bedtime, without feeding her to sleep.
And definitely, don’t do eat, play, sleep for any middle of the night feedings. If your baby is still feeding in the middle of the night, keep the room dark, the feed uneventful, and get her back to sleep as soon as you can.
When to Throw Eat, Play, Sleep Out the Window
Part of having a flexible routine means knowing when to toss it aside for a few days. And depending on the circumstances, eat, play, sleep doesn’t always work. If you need to feed your baby to sleep once in a while, it’s fine. I wouldn’t worry too much about picking up bad habits, especially in these instances:
Growth spurt: If your baby is having a growth spurt, she may need to eat more frequently and she might take shorter naps. It’s hard to fit in (and probably unnecessary) an eat, play, sleep cycle each time she eats during those frequent feedings. Just get through the growth spurt and get back to eat, wake, sleep afterward.
Sickness: All rules go out the window when your baby is sick. She needs mama’s closeness and cuddles right now. Snuggle her up and feed her to sleep if that’s what helps bring comfort. You can get back on track when everyone is feeling better.
Newborn Phase: It can be really hard to follow eat, play, sleep when your baby is only one month month old or younger. You can try to create a little separation from baby’s feed and sleep by changing a diaper in between. Don’t stress it too much this early on though. As your baby gets closer to two months old, she will start to “wake up” a little and you can work on eat, play, sleep then.
Bedtime/Middle of the Night: Don’t take eat, wake, sleep too literally. It might sound crazy but people have asked me if they should play with their baby in the middle of the night after a feed. God no! Feed that baby and get everyone back to sleep ASAP!
I am so glad we worked to establish eat, play, sleep with Evelyn! It made it so easy for my husband or her grandparents to put her to bed and it helped us establish healthy sleeping habits with her from the beginning. I was a better mom when we all got sleep!