Let me preface by saying, I understand that there are a million ways to parent and not everyone agrees on every method (hence the reason there are so many). I also know that what works for one parent/family/baby/situation doesn't always work for another parent/family/baby/situation. All of that being said, everyone knows how much I love organization and schedules/routines, so naturally I try my best to schedule/routinize my babies/children.
I am a huge proponent for the method presented in the Growing Kids God's Way series (AKA Baby Wise/Toddler Wise/Preschool Wise). Basically they use parent directed feeding (PDF). It doesn't mean that you have to absolutely stick to a strict routine, but it helps you organize your baby/child's day so that they are fed, played with, have their hygiene needs met, get adequate sleep, and grow and develop properly. You use your parental instincts and listen to your child, but generally speaking you direct their day/life.
It starts when they are born. You make sure that they get a good feeding (which is difficult at first), change their diaper, and put them to sleep (most babies are already asleep). You wake them every 3 hours (give or take 30 minutes) and repeat the cycle. They generally eat 8 times a day. As they develop more and are more alert, you make sure that they get a good feeding, change their diaper, play with them for about 30 minutes (give or take), and put them to sleep (watch for sleepy cues - rubbing eyes, fingers in mouth, fussy). You gradually change to a 4 hour routine and they start sleeping through the night. As they get older, you drop naps, add food, and do different things, but the premise is that you aim to have a consistent routine each day (especially for waking up, going to bed, naps, meals, bathtimes, outings, specific playtimes, etc).
We have followed all of the books in the series with Luke and he has done so great. He generally knows what to expect each day and it really helps him. We are following it with Nathan and given that he was 5 weeks early and I didn't start the method until almost 2 months old, he is doing great. He is sleeping 7-8 hours each night and generally goes 3 hours between daytime feedings.
Here is what his schedule looks like (in case anyone wants to see):
Roughly 8:00am - Wakes up, eats bottle, gets diaper changed, plays
Roughly 9:00am - Goes down for a nap
Roughly 11:00am - Wakes up, eats bottle, gets diaper changed, plays
Roughly 12:00pm - Goes down for a nap
Roughly 2:00pm - Wakes up, eats bottle, gets diaper changed, plays
Roughly 3:00pm - Goes down for a nap
Roughly 5:00pm - Wakes up, eats bottle, gets diaper changed, plays
Roughly 6:00pm - Goes down for a nap
Roughly 8:00pm - Wakes up, eats bottle, gets bath, gets in sleep clothes, gets rocked
Roughly 9:00pm - Goes to bed
Roughly 11:00pm - Wakes up (we wake him up), gets diaper changed, eats bottle, gets rocked
Roughly 11:30pm - Goes to bed (for the night)
If he wakes at night, he just eats a bottle and goes right back to sleep
We let him nap in his swing during the day. After his bath, he gets put in his sleep clothes (onesie and sleep sack/gown), gets rocked, and gets put in his crib to sleep. After his last feeding of the night, he gets swaddled and put in his crib. I think these specific things help him to know day versus night and when he is supposed to sleep longer.
Of course if he wakes early (30 minutes or less), I give him a few minutes and see if he goes back to sleep, but if he doesn't, I will go ahead and feed him. If he wakes up sooner than 30 minutes early, I give him some time to cry and go back to sleep. I never let him cry more than 15 minutes. I figure he might be hungry if he wakes up. Babies go through growth spurts or could need a diaper change/burp or just some comfort. That's the part that is pure parenting - knowing (or attempting to find out) what your child needs.
You don't just blindly follow the schedule and not understand your child. I think that's why GKGW/BW has gotten negative feedback at times. People assume you have to just make a strict schedule and follow it no matter what making your child miserable all day. I don't recommend following any book or method unless it works for you. You are the parent and you should do what you think is right and what works for you. This has just worked for us and I wanted to share. I have countless friends who it has worked for as well. Hope that has helped.
In case you want to know Luke's schedule, here it is:
Roughly 7:30am - Wakes up, eats breakfast, gets dressed
Roughly 8:00am - Plays while I feed Nathan, plays with Nathan
Roughly 9:00am - Plays, does art, etc
Roughly 11:00pm - Plays while I feed Nathan, plays with Nathan
Roughly 12:00pm - Eats lunch, homeschools
Roughly 2:00pm - Plays while I feed Nathan, plays with Nathan
Roughly 3:00pm - Goes down for a nap (yes, my 5 year old still naps everyday)
Roughly 5:30pm - Wakes up, plays with Nathan
Roughly 7:00pm - Eats dinner, plays with daddy
Roughly 8:30pm - Gets ready for bed (cleans up toys, takes a bath, PJs, teeth, books, prayers)
Roughly 9:30pm - Bedtime