The value of a baby bedtime routine

You might not have considered this perspective, but for your baby, going to sleep is a separation from you. What a bedtime routine does is help to prepare them for this separation. It is a sequence of calming events that do not need to be rigid, complicated, or occur at exactly the same time every night. Both routine and predictability are reassuring to a baby, building in them a sense of familiarity and security. It’s simply a series of even a few basic sleep cues that are done in roughly the same order, so that your baby can anticipate what’s coming next. We answer all of your questions about the value of a baby bedtime routine here.

When should I start implementing a bedtime routine?

There is no right or wrong time to start a bedtime routine, and it’s entirely up to you and your baby to decide if and when you’re ready. You can start when your baby is a newborn if you want, but it won’t have much impact on their sleep at night since newborns haven’t established their circadian rhythm yet. In other words, their sleep is all over the place and that’s completely normal. However, a baby bedtime routine can be beneficial for you—it marks the end of the day, and helps to calm you (particularly if the ‘witching hour’ has been intense!) and prepares you for sleep as well.

How long should a bedtime routine take?

It’s not necessarily what you do during a bedtime routine, it’s just that you do the same things consistently to set up those sleep cues. What works for one family might not work for another. An optimum time from start to finish is around 30-40 minutes, so it’s not too short and not too drawn out, but this is again up to you and your baby so watch their cues. Transitions can take awhile, and this length of time gives you the opportunity to fill your baby’s love cup before being separated from you, but shouldn’t lead to overtiredness.

How do I know what time I should start the bedtime routine?

That will depend entirely on your individual baby, and every day may be slightly different. Take into consideration how stimulating their day was, how many and the duration of their naps, and most importantly, recognise and respond to their tired signs.

What does a sample bedtime routine look like?

Simplicity is key, so choose things that you’d be happy to do for the long-term. Here is a sample bedtime routine, but you choose what fits in with your lifestyle, your culture, and your family. A wonderful idea is to think of things that will stimulate all of their senses, such as singing to them (hearing), massaging (touch), using calming scents (smell), and reading stories (vision)

1. Provide a relaxing bath experience

Incorporating a bath into the bedtime routine has the added benefits of bonding time with you, and also wearing out some babies (while giving others a burst of excitement, so let your baby guide you on this), because it’s such an amazing sensory experience. For an extra soothing effect for both of you, you could try using a gentle bath wash that contains calming lavender. Even the scent of this essential oil will form another sleep cue.

2. Offer a baby massage

This completely depends on you and your baby. For some, they’re far too sleepy after a bath, and they’re ready to get snuggled up with you, have a feed, and go to sleep. Watch your baby’s cues, and if they seem happy to lie down for a few minutes while you gently rub in some natural massage oil that again contains calming lavender, then go for it.

3. Dress your baby for bed

You could put your baby’s nappy and pyjamas on in the same order and the same place each night. You might even be singing a certain song to them at this point, or talking about their day. Just keep it consistent, calm, loving, and supportive. There will be some days when you’ll need to speed it up a little when they’re incredibly tired, but the goal is to make it a positive, relaxed experience for both of you.

4. Take your baby to their sleep space

Some time spent in the room where your baby sleeps before bedtime is great for creating more positive cues and familiarity. Whether you use this time to read a book, sing or listen to lullabies, cuddle, or rock your baby, it’s a lovely idea to do all of these things near your baby’s sleep space every night. Even on the days when you skip the bath, or any other parts of the bedtime routine, this one is probably the most valuable. Some last minutes of connection and bonding time for your baby is paramount for a more settled sleep.

Is a bedtime routine imperative?

If you’ve never used a bedtime routine with your baby, and you feel that everything is working fine, then there’s no need to start unless you’d like to. If you do give a bedtime routine a go, even if it’s more for your benefit, it’s okay if some days it happens and some days it doesn’t. Relax, it’s not a rule or a strict schedule, and you’re absolutely not doing anything wrong if you choose not to or you’re not enjoying it. Listen to that inner voice…you are your baby’s expert.

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