Establishing a consistent baby bedtime routine is the first step to help your little one become a good sleeper. The entire routine should ideally be kept consistent night to night, able to be performed anywhere, and not last more than 45 minutes.
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Our experience with a baby bedtime routine
It took us a while to come up with the perfect bedtime routine with L, but once we did it was the one constant success in our never-ending sleep battle. What exactly does a bedtime routine include? Below, I will share the bedtime routine that we have used since L was she was 3 months old and go over some options on how to adapt our bedtime routine based on your baby’s age and your sleep goals.
If you’re new here, why do I write about sleep?
Simply because my baby didn’t sleep. It might sound counter-intuitive but if you are getting sleep tips from anyone, it should be from someone whose baby was not a naturally good sleeper. You only learn how to fix things when they are broken. My child’s sleep was broken and from trying to fix it I learned a lot. I started this blog and this section to try to save you time and stress in hopes that by finding information and support here, your experience with your little one can be just that much better. Read more here.
Here is our baby bedtime routine:
PART 1: Anywhere (15 to 20 minutes)
Diaper change: Try to use a good night diaper. We really like the Luvs Ultra Leakguards. You can also try to go up a size at night.
Teeth Brushing + Fluoride tablet: You should start to brush baby’s teeth immediately once they get teeth but don’t use fluoride until they are older. We absolutely love the Tom’s Silly Strawberry toothpaste. When you buy a toothbrush, ensure the age range on the toothbrush matches the age of your baby. Once baby is one, it is important that they have fluoride either in drinking water or via a tablet. If you are on well water like us, ask your pediatrician about starting a fluoride tablet because it not only prevents cavities but also strengthens the adult teeth that are currently developing.
Books: We always read 3 random ones, reading is so important for little ones that reading at bedtime is a must (Related post: Ensure Your Baby is Not Behind with One Simple Activity). We always end with the same three bedtime books (Pajama Time, The Going to Bed Book and Goodnight Moon). Why? Because they are all about going to bed. Our pediatrician recommended doing this because kids start to pick up on routine fast and then they know after the goodnight books, that they go to bed.
Goodnight Dad or Mom: We say goodnight to the parent who isn’t putting baby to bed. If Dad is putting baby to bed, ensure you get a nursing section in at the very beginning of bedtime. Getting Dad involved is an excellent way to help baby sleep better since Dad won’t smell like milk and can comfort baby in other ways besides nursing. If your little one is going through a separation anxiety phase, it may be more difficult to get dad involved in the actual putdown. (Related post: Separation Anxiety Wreaked Havoc on my Baby’s Sleep: How I Fixed It)
PART 2: In baby’s nursery/bedroom (Work towards only 10 minutes)
Say goodnight: Say goodnight window and close the curtain, say goodnight to the pictures on the wall, the closet, the nightlight (turn it on), the bear and the sheep (pick various items in the room), say goodnight to the noise machine and turn it on, say goodnight to the fan and turn it on. The process of saying goodnight to everything is awesome because you can do it anywhere. It also helps little ones associate the word goodnight with sleep so you are preparing them (and their minds) for what is next.
The actual going to bed part: I put her in her a sleeping outfit (depending on age: swaddle, Magic Merlin Sleepsuit or sleep sack). We sit in her rocking chair (our friend uses a yoga ball and that works better for them). We turn on her Twilight Turtle to waves and music, which automatically shuts off after 20 minutes. If you haven’t looked into a Twilight Turtle yet, you might want to consider one. They are awesome because they create an awesome sleepy mood in the room. Also, if you only use it with sleep, it allows baby to make another association with “I go to sleep now”.
L nurses while watching the waves. Once I know she has gotten a full letdown and her sucking has slowed down (I can count 5 seconds between sucks) then I know she is almost finished. I usually help her close her eyes by either using a soft blanket or my hand and gently sliding it over her face so she closes her eyes. She will usually keep her eyes closed after a while. I then wait an additional five minutes to ensure she gets the fatty hindmilk. After that, I walk over to the crib with L still latched on. With her still latched on, I put her down only pulling her off at the last second. Then I wait.
She will either:
a) fuss a little and then sleep in a minute or so
b) fall asleep
c) fuss and not sleep. I try very hard to put her down during the drowsy but not full asleep yet phase, but it doesn’t always happen.
If a or b, then yay baby is asleep!
If c, I then pick her back up and return to the rocking chair and put her on the other boob and repeat. Once she has slowed down sucking again on that side and gotten milk, I then put her back in the crib and give it a minute or two.
If she still doesn’t sleep, I repeat but this time I nurse for less, maybe 5 minutes or so and then put her back down. The idea is that you are slowly teaching baby to fall asleep in their crib while still giving them assurance.
Why do it this way?
In the long run, it is easier. Baby will slowly learn to fall asleep in their crib. We don’t have to continually try to sleep train our child again and again when sleep gets disrupted from teething or being sick. This teaches baby that sleep is a nice experience for them and not something scary and non-comforting. You are also promoting early language by listening to their very early methods of communicating (fussy). It is normal for babies to fuss while falling asleep, especially very little ones. However, it is also very normal for baby to fuss to tell you they are hungry. Most babies need to cluster feed (feed many times in a short time frame) so they can gear up for their night sleep. If you repeat the process (nurse, place in crib, give baby a minute or so to fall asleep, then repeat) you are allowing baby to try to fall asleep by themselves but also ensuring you aren’t missing the hungry cue.
Some points to consider
Adapt to age: A newborn might need a lot more nursing and that’s okay. They grow a lot and nursing them isn’t going to hurt their ability to become a good sleeper. In fact, nursing often in the first few months helps baby thrive and increases your milk supply. A baby who is growing well will be able to sleep better sooner. As your baby gets older, and is close to or past one, your strategy might need to change. You probably aren’t dealing with the ability to fall asleep anymore but are more likely dealing with night terrors or separation anxiety.
What about bath time? We do not make bath part of bedtime routine because it adds too much time and you should not give kids baths every day. It is very bad for them as it dries out their skin and doesn’t allow good bacteria to establish a stable bio-film.
If your baby is falling apart before finishing your bedtime routine, you are starting too late! The next night start 30 minutes sooner and move their dinner up as well. Babies especially under 6 months like to go to bed as early as 6 pm, if you miss that window, they are overtired and will be very challenging to put to sleep. You might have a baby up to 9 or 11 pm if they become overtired, NO JOKE.
If your baby is only still nursing: I would start in the late afternoon offering L a boob every half hour to an hour. Why? Because a hungry baby won’t sleep and babies are programmed to cluster feed at this time. Your milk slows down at night (which is normal) and becomes a lot fattier because baby needs the fatty milk to sleep through the night. It also takes longer to get a letdown so baby needs to stay on longer before they get anything, which is frustrating. If baby is frustrated with nursing only in the evening, I would suggest pumping around dinner time, giving baby the pumped milk so baby has something in their belly and then letting them nurse after that. This did wonders for us to get through the witching hour. How do you know when baby is full? Baby will look like drunk off milk, like a drunk sailor. If you are having issues with baby not latching on long enough or crying with nursing, there might be some simple measures you can take. (Related posts: Best Breastfeeding Tip to Get Baby To Latch and Breastfeeding Help: Why Baby Cries After Latching)
If your baby is eating some solids: I would always make sure dinner time was early enough because we learned that L would eat more if she wasn’t already really hungry. We would do dinner around 5:30 and I would give her a pre-dinner snack around 5 pm like a clementine or cheese sticks. At 6:30-6:45 pm I would give her some milk in a bottle. At 7, we would start bedtime and in our bedtime routine L would nurse. By the end, she would always have a very full tummy, which helped a lot.
You can do it!
Remember that you want a simple, easy bedtime routine that allows for consistency. I know it’s hard to stick with it but trust me, babies learn quickly that the routine means bedtime. When planning out baby’s evening and bedtime, always consider when and how much baby is eating if you want them to be able to sleep for a longer duration. We used cluster feeding and then moved to dinner plus nursing to dinner plus bottle of milk plus nursing. If baby is waking a lot at night, what are you doing? You might be hurting or helping the process. And remember, night nursing is key to starting an awesome breastfeeding relationship with a good milk supply.
What’s part of your baby bedtime routine?
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Trina Fitzgerald is a wife, mom, and blogger. She is the co-author of the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook. She attributes her success at breastfeeding her own children with working with lactation consultants in the hospital in the early stages and on a weekly basis afterwards. By writing at MomSmartNotHard, she educates mamas-to-be on all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Read more about Trina.