Why should I create a bedtime routine for my baby?
Creating a bedtime routine is truly one of the best things you can do to help facilitate an easier bedtime. It helps prepare your baby’s brain for sleep and over time it begins to form a strong association to sleep. You can start this soon after your baby comes home from the hospital, and while it will change and evolve over time, it will be a key part of your pre-bedtime routine for many years to come.
Babies and toddlers thrive with structure and predictability. It helps them to know what comes next and this gives them a feeling of safety and security. This goes for all your baby’s routines, but bedtime is important because we want our baby’s body to be ready to go to sleep and the bedtime routine helps with this.
And remember babies and toddlers are hardwired for an early bedtime. 6 pm to 8 pm is the ideal bedtime window for most kids. Anything later and things start to unravel quickly! Lots of crying or protesting at bedtime tells you that more than likely, your kiddo is exhausted, and the bedtime routine should have been started earlier.
This routine cues your baby’s brain that sleep is coming, and if you do this routine repeatedly, pretty soon their bodies will start to feel tired during the routine. Making sure wake windows are on track is also important. The other goal of the bedtime routine is to give your baby a transition between the business of the day and sleep. It allows their bodies and brains time to wind down and begin to prepare for sleep.
So what should a bedtime routine look like for your baby?
A bedtime routine is simply the same events, done in the same order, done in the same space. The bedtime routine should ideally take place in your baby’s sleep space, not in the main part of the home or in front of the TV.
Let’s talk about some of the components of the bedtime routine.
Bathtime isn’t necessary for a young baby (or even an older baby), but if you can manage it, it’s nice to include. Sometimes trying to squeeze a bath in before bed logistically just doesn’t work and that’s okay! Babies don’t need to be bathed everyday, so if it works for you and helps to relax your baby before bed, then do it! If not, then no worries. Bathe your baby whenever it’s convenient for you. You can always do a washcloth bath instead.
Whether you do this after the bath with lotion or oil, or you do it separately from the bath, it’s a nice part of the routine if you can fit it in! Babies LOVE touch, so taking 5 minutes and giving them a massage can really help them to relax. Using essential oils like lavender or roman chamomile can also be wonderful! Massage also lowers cortisol levels and that’s always a good thing before bed!
Diaper Change, Pajamas, Sleep Sack or Swaddle
Getting your baby into their sleep clothes is part of the routine, and while simple, it helps their brain to prepare for sleep. If you have a young baby, you may not want to swaddle before the feed as swaddling induces sleep and you want your baby to stay awake for the duration of his bedtime feed.
Feeding is always going to be part of the bedtime routine until your baby is about 12 to 13 months, or longer if you’re nursing. Just make sure that you start the feed early enough that it’s not a struggle to keep baby awake during the feed. You want them to get a full feed before bed. If they’re falling asleep, then that’s your signal to start the bedtime routine earlier going forward so they’re not so tired.
Holding your baby or rocking your baby is a great activity prior to bedtime. Your goal is not to put your baby to sleep, but just to have that cuddle time. This may only take a few minutes as your baby should be very sleepy by this point and ideally we want them going into the crib with an awareness that he’s being laid down.
At this point, you may lay them down in the crib, and say night night (or whatever sleep phrase you choose). If your baby needs some extra help settling, then patting or shushing at this point is fine to help them settle into sleep.
Singing a Song or Saying a Prayer
You can incorporate these two things into your routine at any point. Basically your baby’s bedtime routine can be anything you want it to be as long as it works for you AND your baby.
How long should the bedtime routine take?
A typical bedtime routine lasts 20 to 30 minutes depending on which of these activities you are incorporating. If you’re adding in a bath, it may take a little bit longer. The goal is that at the end of the routine, your baby is relaxed and ready for sleep!
But what if my baby doesn’t fall asleep on their own?
If your baby doesn’t know how to fall asleep on their own and the bedtime routine is lasting an hour or longer because of this, then it’s time that you reach out to me for help!
I will walk you through how to get your baby comfortable with going to sleep on their own and how to wean them off of being 100% dependent on you. As they gain confidence, you will be able to step back. This one skill is what will allow your baby to go BACK to sleep on their own when going through sleep cycles during the night. This is really the golden ticket to a baby sleeping through the night or at least sleeping as long as they are developmentally capable of sleeping.
The bedtime routine is the foundation for how the rest of the night will go. Working on weaning your baby off of being dependent on you to put them to sleep will go a long way in facilitating independent sleep in general. If your baby is very young, then starting off on the right foot and laying your baby down relaxed but awake will help your baby to be comfortable with this right from the beginning.
If any part of this feels confusing or overwhelming, there are lots of ways to work with me. Reach out here and set up a discovery call, if you know you need help, but aren’t sure which service is the best fit!
I’d love to help your family get started down the path to better sleep!