By: Erin Junker, Pediatric Sleep Consultant
It’s the end of the day, Mom is exhausted, and baby seems fussy too. Why bother with a bedtime routine? Wouldn’t it be easier to just feed your little one and put her straight to bed? Why all the steps and the elaborate routine?
A bedtime routine, carried out with similar steps in a similar way each night, signals to your baby that we are transitioning from daytime (i.e. napping), to nighttime (i.e. the big, long sleep). It helps your baby understand that sleep-time is approaching, and gets her body ready to wind down and prepare for sleep.
Here are some suggested steps to a great bedtime routine, one that you can start from the very early days and weeks of your baby’s life:
Bath – every day, all throughout the day, your baby is fed many times, his diaper changed many times, you play peek-a-boo many (many!) times. But, a bath is very different than anything else that happens in your child’s day. As a result, if you offer a bath every night as the first part of your baby’s bedtime routine, it sends a very clear signal to your child that what’s soon approaching is the big nighttime sleep. (Note: I don’t recommend using soap and bubble bath every, single night – limit these to when necessary so baby’s skin does not develop dry skin. However, even just a brief splash in the warm water can signal to your baby that we’re transitioning to sleep very shortly).
Pajamas and swaddle/sleep bag – Choosing the right sleepwear for your child can be key to their healthy sleep; we want your child to be comfy (neither too hot nor too cold), and also provide sleepwear that will encourage restful sleep. Swaddling in the early months of your child’s life can provide a cozy environment to help baby feel comfortable enough to fall asleep, while also keeping those little arms put so they don’t startle your baby awake. Using a product like The Ollie swaddle - with Velcro tabs and a small elastic band at the bottom to help more easily bundle your babe, and moisture-wicking material to help with temperature-regulation – can create a very peaceful sleep environment for your little one. The Ollie can be used like a traditional swaddle through the transition when little ones begin to roll from back to stomach. Once baby can roll, a sleep bag is another great cue to your child that sleep-time is approaching.
Feed – I always encourage a feed as part of your baby’s bedtime routine, to ensure that little tummy is topped up for a restful night. Try to keep baby awake on the feed, as this not only avoids the feed-to-sleep association that can cause extra overnight wake ups, but it also encourages bigger, better feeds for baby when she is not falling asleep on the breast or bottle, and is actively eating the whole time.
A book or a song – choosing to read a small book or sing a favourite song each night to finish your baby’s bedtime routine is a great way to cue to her that the time for sleep has now arrived. You may even choose to create what I refer to as a “key sleep phrase” between you and your partner, as something you with both say any time you put your child down for a nap or for nighttime sleep. This will be a final cue to your little one that sleep-time has arrived, and she will grow to associate this phrase with the time for going to sleep.
Erin Junker is a Professional Infant & Toddler Sleep Consultant, and owner of The Happy Sleep Company, working closely with tired parents to help them help their little ones get the healthy, restful sleep they need. Follow The Happy Sleep Company on Instagram - let’s get your family the healthy, happy sleep you deserve!