6 Ways to Establish a Blissful Baby Bedtime Routine
You've heard that bedtime routines will help lull your little one off to the land of Nod, but do you know how to start one? These tips will help you set the stage for sleep.
Just like many newbie moms, you’ve likely done your fair share of talking to experienced parents about baby sleep — and you’ve probably gotten an earful about how establishing a bedtime routine is key to instilling good sleep habits in your baby. And it’s true! A calming bedtime routine that follows a predictable pattern every night helps give your baby a heads-up that it’s time to put her little head down, which in turn helps her nod off more easily. What’s more, a bedtime routine is a wonderful way to bond with your little bundle at the end of a long day. After all, the time spent snuggling, singing lullabies, and quietly reading are some of the coziest — and calmest — you’ll get to spend with your precious peanut. So now that you’ve gotten the memo about the importance of establishing a comfortable bedtime routine, how exactly do you go about making it happen? To help you transition your baby into surefire sleep mode, keep these tips in mind:
1.) Don’t start a bedtime routine right away. No need to impose a sleep schedule on your newborn as soon as you bring her home. Your adorable bundle will likely sleep a lot those first few days. After all, she has to recover from the effort of being born (and truthfully, you’ll need to recover, too — so take advantage and catch up on your z’s now, while you can). Unfortunately, all that newborn sleep won’t come in long stretches of hours (sorry to say) because newborn eating — which will happen every two to three hours — takes precedence over a sleep schedule now. The fact is, it’ll probably be a few weeks before a pattern emerges (whatever it may be) to your newborn’s sleep. When it does...
2.) Observe your baby’s sleep tendencies. Before you bust out with a bedtime routine, get a sense of when your baby usually goes to sleep for her longest stretch of the night (keeping a sleep log can often help with this). Once you figure out when your little one’s longest snooze is (you’ll be lucky if your baby sleeps five hours in a row during these early months), you can start to time your bedtime routine in advance of that. For example, if your baby tends to sleep her longest stretch from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m., aim to start fitting in a bedtime routine around 7:15 or 7:30 p.m.
3.) Start slowly. When you determine that you’re ready to start incorporating a bedtime routine into your baby’s life, slowly, over the next month or so, introduce the nighttime rituals that you want to be part of the mix. Tried-and-true bedtime charms include a soothing bath, gentle infant massages, a cuddly feeding (whether it’s from the breast or the bottle), reading a book or two, and singing lullabies (the songs and stories help your baby learn to take comfort in your voice, while the rhythm of your words will encourage her to drift off to sleep — especially when combined with cozy cuddles). Whichever rituals you choose to include, be consistent, and in time, your little sweetie will learn to equate those things with bedtime.
4.) Try to master the drowsy baby drop-off. At the end of your bedtime routine, if you can swing it, try to put your sleepy bundle down while she’s drowsy — but not actually asleep — so she gets used to falling asleep on her own (and not in your arms). This will make your life a lot easier when your baby is older, since you won’t have to spend hours (yes, it can take that long!) rocking or singing your sleepyhead off to dreamland. Plus, if your little one learns how to put herself to sleep at the beginning of the night, she should know how to put herself back to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night (and wouldn’t that be nice!). It’s true that the drowsy baby tuck-in doesn’t work for every infant, but it’s well worth giving it a shot — and trying it over and over again, too!
5.) Abbreviate the routine during the day. In time you may likely find that your nighttime routine works just as well for naptime (in a modified form) as it does at bedtime. Take advantage of the sleep cues your baby knows and incorporate them into her before-nap pattern. While you probably don’t want to take the time or the effort to do a major bath or full-body massage, you may very well want to read a story or two or sing a song to help your cutie transition to naptime more easily.
6.) Adapt the bedtime routine if needed. While it’s important to be consistent with your baby’s bedtime routine while you’re establishing one, it’s equally important to be conscious of your growing baby’s changing needs as time goes on. For instance, as your baby gets older, bathtime before bed may turn into a rowdy activity instead of a calming one (once she learns to splash there may be no stopping her!); in that case, you’d ditch the tub and skip straight to a massage. Or if your baby starts to consistently fall asleep while you’re nursing or bottle feeding her without fueling up enough for the night, switch her before-bed snack to earlier in the bedtime routine. A little trial and error along the way can help you figure out a bedtime routine that will continue to work for your baby — and send her off to sleep feeling safe, secure, and loved.