Looking to start a bedtime routine with your baby? Here are the four essentials for a baby bedtime routine to optimize your baby’s sleep.
Did you know that sleep conditioning as a result of a consistent bedtime routine can impact babies even as young as six to eight weeks old?
Having a consistent bedtime routine can cue to your baby’s brain that sleep is coming.
Even better, some studies have found that using a bedtime routine each night over the course of six months translates to more minutes of sleep at night for babies.
Every parent could use those extra minutes of sleep too, right?
Here’s the bottom line: a bedtime routine will help your baby sleep better. A solid routine is the key to transitioning your baby from action to rest, so let’s talk about bedtime routines and how to use them to optimize your baby’s sleep.
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Why Is a Bedtime Routine Important?
Your baby’s bedtime routine allows you to use sleep associations that cue to them that sleep is on the way. Some examples of these sleep associations might include a diaper change, changing into comfortable pajamas, a light massage, and reading one or two books with your baby.
Another benefit of a baby bedtime routine is that your relaxed demeanor as the parent helps your baby mirror your level of calm. This prepares their nervous system for rest after a prolonged time of stimulation.
Beyond better sleep, a bedtime routine can promote literacy and language development (if the routine includes a story or song), secure parental attachment, and behavioral and emotional regulation in young children.
But perhaps my favorite reason for implementing a bedtime routine is this: it helps you bond with your baby!
The bedtime routine is such a precious, special time for bonding with your little one. You won’t have the opportunity to be so involved in the end of their day forever, so take advantage of the time while you can.
When Should You Start a Bedtime Routine With Baby?
It’s never too late to start a bedtime routine with your baby and it’s also never too early!
While it might feel a little silly going through a whole bedtime routine with your weeks-old newborn, those weeks quickly turn into months.
Not only do those early days pass quickly, but newborns are a lot more observant than we give them credit for!
The earlier your baby learns what to expect at bedtime, the sooner you’ll begin reaping the rewards of a consistent bedtime routine.
In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you implement a sleep-promoting environment, routine, and good sleep hygiene as early as possible.
A strong bedtime routine can also be adapted into a nap routine to help your little one sleep better during the day.
How to Create a Bedtime Routine
Have I won you over to the benefits of establishing a bedtime routine with your baby yet? I hope so!
As you start considering what to include in your baby’s bedtime routine, there are some things I want you to keep in mind.
Here are the 4 essential components of a good bedtime routine.
Whether your baby is a newborn, a baby, or is already in toddlerhood, they will all have this in common: they will sleep better with a full tummy.
I mean think about it, doesn’t the same go for you, too? It’s not a good feeling to go to bed hungry.
The key with bedtime routine nutrition is to make sure it’s the first step in the routine. Allowing some time between the bedtime feeding and falling asleep is important for different reasons, depending on the age of your little one.
For young babies, feeding before going through the rest of the bedtime routine allows them some time to digest before laying down flat. This will help with issues like reflux or gas when your baby is super young.
You also want to make sure nutrition is the first step of the bedtime routine for nursing/bottle-fed babies so you can avoid nursing to sleep. That can be a tricky (although not impossible) sleep habit to break.
Lastly, if your little one is a toddler or has teeth and is eating solid foods, feeding as the first step of the bedtime routine allows you to clean or brush their teeth after the last food of the day.
The next part of the bedtime routine has to do with your little one’s hygiene.
Water can be a great cue that it’s time for sleep. You don’t need to bathe your baby every single day. Even using water to wipe down their hands, face, and feet can be a nice calming activity to help prepare them for bed.
As I mentioned, if your baby has teeth, you should clean them (but don’t use toothpaste unless instructed by a pediatric dentist).
For babies, make sure to start them off for the night in a clean and dry diaper. Some parents choose this last diaper change of the day to also incorporate some gentle lotion and calming massage.
The great thing about sleep sacks is that they work from infancy through toddlerhood. Check out my list of the best sleep sacks here.
Communication and Connection
Once your little one’s tummy is full and they’re clean and dressed for bed, this is your time for connection with your little one.
Some families choose to incorporate lullabies, prayers, or stories at this time. The key here is to be consistent—don’t mix it up every night.
For example, when our daughter was an infant, we would read one board book and sing one song together. Over the months and years, the content of the book and the song changed, but she always knew to expect one of each.
Use a low, soothing voice and keep movements slow so your little one can start to mirror the calmness of winding down at the end of the day.
Holding your baby and being in physical contact with them will help promote the security they need to relax and fall asleep.
You’ve probably already been cuddling, rocking, and/or holding your baby while you take them through the communication part of their routine. That’s great, because your physical contact is helping you both feel calm.
The last part of the bedtime routine should be one last element of touch. It can be a rock and a back rub, a hug and kiss, a snuggle, or some pats to reassure your baby that you will be nearby if they need you.
While the bedtime routine will look slightly different depending on your little one’s age, the routine should incorporate each of these four elements in some way. Let’s take a look at some different bedtime routine examples.
Sample Bedtime Routine for Newborns
The order of events for a newborn’s bedtime routine might look like this:
- Nurse or bottle
- Washcloth wipe-down
- Diaper change
- Dress in pajamas
- Read 1 book while cuddling
- Turn out the lights and turn on white noise
- Set baby into bassinet or crib and leave the room
- Stand crib side and pat while singing a song
Sample Bedtime Routine for 6 Months
The routine probably won’t change too much as your newborn grows, but the way you dress them for sleep will change as they grow out of the swaddle.
- Nurse or bottle
- Bath time (especially helpful after a solid food dinner)
- Diaper change and lotion
- Dress in pajamas
- Read 1 to 2 books
- Put on a sleep sack
- Set into crib and leave the room
- Turn out the lights and turn on white noise
Sample Bedtime Routine for Toddlers
As your little one gets older and their ability to communicate (and stall!) improves, you might have to incorporate some new things into the routine. They might have more opinions about books or songs, and verbal warnings/countdowns will be key.
- Last chance for food (try to make it high protein to carry them through the night!)
- Bath time
- Brush teeth
- Let them pick 1–3 bedtime books (give them limited options to save time), read it in bed
- Cuddle and prayers
- Hug and kiss
- Turn down lights and turn on white noise and a night light
Get Better Sleep with The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System
If you want someone to walk you through the process of sleep training, let me help. The Baby D.R.E.A.M. System is for babies 4 months through 2.5 years old. I’ll walk you through how to establish daily routines, sleep schedules, and sleep training techniques to help you break the sleep associations you no longer find beneficial! Check it out here.