Eat play sleep is a feeding and sleeping principle from popular baby sleep books. Learn more about eat play sleep and how to do it without being too rigid.
Eat play sleep is a very popular principle in the baby sleep world. As a new mom, I tried following it to a tee.
Now, as a Baby and Toddler Sleep Consultant, I see parents struggle trying to follow it too closely.
Let me teach you how to do eat play sleep while feeding on demand and not getting caught up in rigidity when it comes to feeding your baby.
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What is the Eat Play Sleep Method?
Eat, play, sleep (or eat, wake, sleep) is a routine that new parents can use to organize your baby’s naps and feedings throughout their day.
With eat, wake, sleep your baby eats, then is awake, 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.
When your baby eats, the goal is for the eating to happen while your baby is awake and alert.
This can be either breastfeeding or bottle feeding. The idea is for your baby to be awake during this feed so they take a nice full feed and don’t fall asleep during the feed.
Full feeds can help keep your baby from “snacking” all day long and throughout the night. They can 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.
Play / Wake
Now it’s baby’s play time! This is often referred to as your baby’s wake window and is the time that they are awake.
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.)
After your baby is awake for an appropriate time, it’s time to get them to sleep.
Sleep length can vary, especially for newborns. It’s not uncommon for your baby to nap for 30 minutes, especially those first few months.
After your baby wakes up from her nap, you repeat the cycle all over again.
My daughter used to wake up happy from a nap and then look for her bottle in my hands. Babies really can learn from an early age!
How to Do Eat Play Sleep (the Right Way)
The main point of following eat play sleep is to avoid nursing or feeding your baby to sleep.
Moving feedings away from sleep can help your baby establish good sleep habits and keep you from becoming a human pacifier.
The problem with eat play sleep is that some parents take it too literally. If their baby takes a short nap and isn’t ready to eat again, they wonder how to fit in a feeding before baby’s next nap.
Instead of following eat play sleep literally, I recommend parents try to keep feeds 30 minutes away from baby’s sleep time.
This will help you avoid nursing to sleep, but isn’t so rigid as only feeding baby upon their wakeup.
Eat, Play, Sleep at Bedtime
When you do your baby’s bedtime routine, don’t follow eat, play, sleep as closely.
Instead, do a 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.
Learn how to get your newborn to sleep with my Newborn Sleep Program. You’ll learn expert sleep tips for soothing your baby to sleep, getting in good routines, and slowly dropping night feeds. Learn more here.
When to Start Eat Play Sleep
I’ve learned that it’s nearly impossible to follow eat play sleep in the newborn phase.
Your newborn’s wake windows are super short, typically 30–60 minutes and a large part of that time is taken up by the feeding.
It’s common and normal for newborns to fall asleep during the feed, because newborns are sleepy most of the time.
Around 8 weeks old though, your baby starts waking up a little more and is hopefully a more efficient eater.
A 2 month’s old wake window is about 60 minutes so this is a great time to put some space between feeds and sleep.
Your baby can feed for 20–30 minutes of their awake time and then you’ll have about 30 minutes left to separate their feed from sleep.
As your baby grows and is able to extend the time that they are awake, it gets easier to separate their feeds from sleep by 30 minutes.
Benefits of Moving Feeds from Sleep
There are benefits of moving feeds from sleep. You can still feed your baby on demand and keep feeds from being too close to sleep times.
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 the 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 their 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, you may have a harder time weaning night feeds.
Freedom for Mom
I have seen how exhausting it can be for moms when their baby always needs to be fed to sleep. You might feel like you can never leave your baby in the evening, because you have to be home in time to feed her. Separating feeds from sleep can make it so anyone can put baby to bed.
Babies love routines! Eat, play, sleep gives you a basic framework for your day without being too rigid.
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 sleep training method. But if you never establish a pattern in the first place, you never have to work to break it later on!
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 sometimes an eat, play, sleep schedule 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:
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 cluster feeds. Just get through the growth spurt and get back to your routine once the growth spurt has passed.
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. For now, just help get your sick baby to sleep in a safe way!
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 or after a dream 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 our daughter! 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!
Questions about eat play sleep? Ask in the comments and we’ll help you troubleshoot!