When teaching your baby to sleep well, where do you begin?
During the night?
The majority of baby sleep experts agree, the best way to set your baby up for sleeping long stretches at night is to begin a bedtime routine.
The purpose of a bedtime routine is to calm your baby in the evening, so that her body can relax and welcome sleep. Certain activities have been proven to relax babies, and when done in the right order, it sets your baby up for sleeping longer at night.
For instance, a 2009 study of 400 infants and toddlers showed that starting a consistent bedtime routine helped children fall asleep quicker, wake less often at night and improved maternal mood.
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What’s The Best Age To Begin A Bedtime Routine?
Most newborns sleep around the clock quite easily. So, unless you’re a routine-lover you don’t need to start a bedtime routine right away. Instead, 2-3 months is a great age to introduce a bedtime routine, because this is when your baby is learning to distinguish night versus day. If you have an older baby or toddler, it’s never too late to begin a relaxing evening ritual, as children of all ages will benefit.
The peaceful bedtime routine that I’ve laid out below has the essential elements for relaxing your baby. Doing these elements in the right order is critical for helping baby sleep longer at night. Your 3-6 month old needs a shorter routine, while your older baby and toddler often need a longer routine to help them settle for sleep.
As with all parenting advice, your consistency is essential. Doing the same activities, in the same order, at the same time each evening, signals to your baby’s body and brain that it’s time to relax and welcome sleep. Over time, your little one will adapt and settle in peacefully for sleep.
Here Are the Steps For Your Baby’s Peaceful Bedtime Routine
Do You Prefer a Video?
Hear Jilly walk you through starting a bedtime routine for your baby.
Step 1: Start with a Warm Bath
The first signal to your baby’s body that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep is bath time. What could be more relaxing than a nice, warm soak at the end of a long day? Lavender and chamomile help babies & adults relax, so choose a baby-friendly bath soap with these scents.
Newborns don’t need a bath everyday, especially if it dries out their skin. Opt for bathing every 2-3 days instead, or just use warm water without soap.
If your baby is spirited (AKA really energetic) and you suspect bath time is exciting her rather than calming her, feel free to skip it and instead bathe earlier in the day.
Relaxing Baby Soaps
Step 2: Include a Massage
After bath time, dress your baby in only a diaper and give her a relaxing massage. Infant massage has been proven to reduce fussiness, crying, constipation, colic and teething pain. Each of which will probably plague your baby at some point during her first year.
If your baby suffers from tummy gas, make sure to bicycle her legs during massage to mobilize any trapped gas.
Energetic children will especially benefit from a nightly massage as it melts away excess energy. This is essential for them to relax enough to fall asleep, rather than fight bedtime.
Baby massage is a great activity for Dad and helps him bond with baby every evening.
Soothing Massage Oils / Creams
Step 3: Dress Your Baby in a Sleep Sack
After massage, it’s time to get baby dressed in pajamas and into a sleep sack. Sleep sacks, or wearable blankets, are your baby’s safest sleep attire. To reduce the risk of SIDS, never put a loose blanket in your baby’s bed (or a pillow and bumpers for that matter.) Over time, putting on your baby’s sleep sack will serve as a cue for her that it’s time to relax and fall asleep. It’s like baby hypnosis!
Use a swaddle blanket for your younger baby so that her startle reflex doesn’t wake her throughout the night. Once she’s able to roll over, transition her to a regular sleep sack.
Keep Baby Safe & Cozy in a Sleep Sack
Step 4: Give a Top-Up Feed
Now its time to give your baby a top-up feed to help her sleep longer at night. Keep the lights dimly lit, which helps her stay awake long enough to finish the feeding. Once she’s done, sit her upright to burp. You don’t want any tummy troubles waking her tonight!
Step 5: Read a few Bedtime Books
Separating feeding and falling asleep lessens your baby’s dependence on you as a sleep prop. The reason why you want this is because it gives your baby the ability to resettle herself when she wakes in the night, rather than crying out for you. A great way to separate feeding and falling asleep is by adding story time in the middle.
Sit your baby up to burp while you read 1-2 bedtime books together. Have calm energy and a soft voice, and avoid stimulating books that light up or play music.
Just like with bath time, if you think books might be revving your baby up, rather than relaxing her, try singing calming lullabies instead.
Bedtime Books We Love
Step 6: Time for a Tuck In
By now your baby should be nice and relaxed, so it’s time for bed! Place your baby in her bed, tuck her in and sing a few soft lullabies while you turn out the lights. You may need to pat her back, rub her head or offer a pacifier to help her settle into sleep. Over time, lessening your hands-on comforting will help your baby sleep through the night.
If your baby is 5 months or older, and always cries when placed in the crib awake, it’s time to sleep train!
When babies can go into the crib awake and fall asleep on their own, they’ll start sleeping long stretches at night. You don’t have to do cry-it-out to achieve this. My sleep training program has 4 step-by-step methods to teach your baby to self-settle, and 3 of these methods have you stay with your LO. You can get more details here.