While parenting is indeed one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, putting children down for bed is often hard work. Some people make it look easy, throwing dinner parties months after giving birth and putting their little ones down with expert baby bedtime routines.
However, this is no easy feat, so how do we get to that point where we’ve got our kiddo’s routine down pat?
The truth is that our children are continuously growing and changing, and just when you’ve got this parenting thing nailed, they evolve again. Children don’t come with an instruction manual, but we do have heaps of research and experience under our belts to help you navigate through parenthood. Read on for our best tips on how to implement a baby bedtime habit.
The Importance of a Good Night Time Routine
Help with Sleep Regressions
Regressions in sleep can bring about frustration, as they can appear seemingly out of nowhere. However, there is a perfectly good reason for sleep regressions; they’re positive indicators that your child is developing at a healthy pace.
Sleep regressions occur when our little ones are enduring a burst in development, or what’s commonly known as a growth spurt. They often bring out more difficult behavior in our newborns, making them challenging to put to bed. Having a solid nighttime schedule can help comfort your little one during these times of turmoil.
This transformation in their biology indicates they are evolving into intelligent beings. So when they’re screaming at two o’clock in the morning, try to remember this is because your little tot is going through a tremendous amount of change in a short amount of time. Naturally, they might need your help when coping, and a routine could help them know what to expect, giving them a dose of comfort during a difficult period.
A More Defined Infant Schedule
Employing a steady schedule can aid during transitional periods. Newborns endure many changes within a short period. As they grow older, those periods will lengthen, becoming easier. However, when they’re infants, it helps to keep a regular schedule to provide them comfort and routine.
Many tots experience an onset of sleep disruptions when they’re young, and being set in a schedule where they know what to expect, when to count on their meals, and when cuddle time will happen can aid tremendously.
Staying consistent in your daily routine, like feeding, napping, playtime, cuddling, etc., can soothe your baby into a comfortable rhythm and push them through this transition. However, if keeping a schedule with a baby sounds like a cruel joke, we understand—getting a baby to go with the flow can feel like a fruitless effort. There is hope, check out our 9-month-old sleep schedule for some help.
When to Start Your Baby's Bedtime Routine
Is it too early to start a baby’s bedtime routine? Is it too late? The answers to both of these questions could be yes and yes. Read on to know when it’s the right time to start.
When Baby is 1 to 2 Months Old
Speak to any seasoned parents, and you’re likely to hear that establishing regularity early on in your infant’s life is the key to maintaining sanity. Setting a sleep schedule early on in life can also encourage healthy sleep habits for years to come.
When infants are first born, their circadian rhythm won’t develop for a few months; however, around two months old, their internal clock will have started to sync. Then, at about three to six months, you will probably be able to predict when they’ll wake up, take naps, and be sleepy for bedtime.
It’s wise to put them down for bed while they’re drowsy but not yet asleep so they can begin developing the skill of self-soothing. This will help them become comfortable going to sleep without assistance, letting you get some precious zzz’s.
When implementing a routine, try to remain flexible; what’s comfortable to you and what feels natural to your munchkin may be different. All tots vary—some slip nicely into a strict schedule, while some prefer a looser timetable. It’s easier to stick to a plan when you can find a schedule with which your baby can agree.
When Baby is Developing Sleep Associations
Once your sleepy monster starts associating bedtime with specific activities, you can begin implementing a nighttime routine using these prompting activities. Using mental cues to trigger routine-based behavior will help your tot begin to predict their schedule and feel comfortable and happy going to bed.
When they can feel safe and secure in their schedule knowing their needs will be met, they’ll be less likely to express fussiness or insecurity when left alone to snooze.
Some great bedtime routine activities can include dinnertime, soothing baths, body massages, reading, or softly singing. Your baby’s familiarity regarding the order of these will aid in their comfort surrounding going to bed and help them self-soothe.
When You Feel It's Time
Ultimately, every child is different, so, as parents, you’ll often be the ones who are most in tune with your child. Despite parenting advice, you will usually be the best people to decide when the time is right for your baby to start following a sleep schedule.
Learn more about your child's sleep in our Ultimate Guide for Parents.
Sample Infant Bedtime Routine
A routine may sound easy enough, but you may be wondering how exactly that looks. We’ll break it down for you here.
Bathtime an Hour Before Bed
A soothing bath before bed is a great way to relax your little munchkin and calm them into a subdued state before bedtime. Water can also mimic the amniotic fluid they once knew in the womb, so it can even trigger associations with the cozy spot they called home for nine months.
Baby massages are an age-old tradition in many countries to relax infants. However, they’ve only recently gained traction in the western world.
It’s usually best to place your little one on a flat surface, like a changing table, and in a comfortable temperature. Put a modest amount of lotion in your hands, so they’re smooth on your tot’s soft skin. Gently start with the head, gradually moving down their body, giving a tender tug to each finger and toe.
Nursing or Bottle Feed
The satisfaction experienced after a large meal can often be sleep-inducing, and the same goes for babies. Filling them up before bed not only leaves them content and ready for a full night of zzz’s but reduces the chance they’ll wake up in the middle of the night needing a snack. The other way is to dream feed your baby.
Rock Baby in Bedroom
After their nighttime feeding, you can relax them further by gently rocking your babe in their bedroom. A soft bouncing motion not only allows your tyke to become familiar with their sleeping quarters but reminds them of the same soothing movement of bouncing around in a tummy for nine months.
Lay Down in Crib
Laying your little sleepyhead down in a crib before they close their eyes is an excellent habit to get into so they can begin to develop the useful skill of self-soothing. Softly comforting them for a bit before leaving them is typical. You can talk to them softly, sing to them gently, and let them grow relaxed, ready to snooze.
Perhaps the most crucial part of creating a productive routine for all family members is leaving your munchkin’s bedroom before they fall asleep. As they grow comfortable being alone, they will be able to fall asleep unaided, granting you precious quiet time for yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much sleep do newborns need?
Generally, newborns need somewhere around eight or nine hours during the day and about the same time during the night. What’s tricky about newborns, however, is they often only sleep for one or two hours at a time. Due to this fact, it’s difficult to put them on a schedule before they’re a little older.
Once they begin to develop their circadian rhythm, the syncing of their internal clocks to night and day, they’ll start getting into the groove of their schedule. When this happens, you’ll begin to notice their sleep patterns, and you can tailor a routine to their needs.
Learn more: How Much Sleep Do Kids Need? Recommendations by Age
Creating a bedtime routine that suits an adult lifestyle can be difficult. Many parents have to play the trial-and-error game before they find their sweet spot. Often, even when that happens, your little munchkin could hit a sleep regression and throw a well-established routine out the window.
Stay hopeful. Know that you’ll inevitably hit rough patches and have sleepless nights, but keep in mind this doesn’t last forever. Infants go through phases extraordinarily quick. One week, you could be a walking zombie, and the next, they might let you—and themselves—sleep through the night.
Jill Zwarensteyn is the editor for Sleep Advisor and a certified sleep science coach. She is enthusiastic about providing helpful and engaging information on all things sleep and wellness.
Based in Los Angeles, she is an experienced writer and journalist who enjoys spending her free time at the beach, hiking, reading, or exploring new places around town.
She’s also an avid traveler who has a personal goal of being able to successfully sleep on an airplane someday.