Having a consistent bedtime routine is critical to your child getting a good night’s sleep. I am going to walk you through a simple but effective routine that has worked for a huge number of my clients and for my own family too.
Firstly, the hour leading up to bedtime needs to be focused on getting your little one prepared for sleep. None of us sleep well when we are hyper, anxious or not relaxed, and children are no different. Having a consistent routine before bed means that your baby knows what lies ahead and that there are no surprises – knowing what is coming next help our baby feel safe and secure. So before bedtime, take steps to ensure that your baby is fed, clean and relaxed. You can create any bedtime routine that suits you and your family best.
In terms of when can you start the routine for a newborn, I am a firm believer that you can and should start a very gentle bedtime routine from those first few weeks of your baby’s arrival. Getting your baby into a pattern that they recognise early is what will help make them relax, feel secure and ultimately help them sleep better and longer. So what does a solid bedtime routine look like?
For babies, whether they are breast or bottle fed, the pre-bed feed is essential. This should be one of your baby’s biggest feeds of the day so that they have a nice full tummy to get them through the night. For weaned babies or toddlers, having a filling and nutritious dinner will also help with them be content for bed.
Whether you bath your child each night or prefer to wash your newborn with cotton wool and warm water, it’s important that you make it consistent. As mentioned, the feed or meal before bed is often the most important one of the day for helping your child sleep, therefore I always advise parents to feed their babies milk before AND after the bath to increase their milk intake. Also, it’s important that the bath water is not too warm or this could make your little one too sleepy to take more milk after their bath.
If you cannot give your baby a bath because of sensitive skin, or you choose not to for environment reasons, I would recommend a baby massage as an alternative; it’s a lovely way to spend one on one bonding time with your baby and it can help with their wind.
Teeth brushing should begin as soon as your baby has some to clean! Make sure the toothpaste is age appropriate and that as the child gets older they start to learn how to do it themselves. I’ve always brushed my toddler’s teeth first then given him the brush to ‘finish the job’ which not only helps him learn how to do it, it’s something he finds fun.
What should your baby sleep in?
Changing your little one into the appropriate night clothes and a fresh nappy is important. The same as us adults, children like to be comfortable in bed.
Older children will start to develop preferences for sleeping such as having their socks on or off, or sleeping with a cuddly toy. Let them make these decisions – as long as they are sensible! – to help them with their own comfort
Doing a Bedtime Story
You can read a bedtime story to children from newborn age. At a very young age your little one just likes to hear the sound of your voice. It also can be a fun task for all members of the family to read the baby a story including older siblings.
You can read a book anywhere – it doesn’t need to be in bed with your child. It can be downstairs on the sofa as a family or in a rocking chair in their room. As your baby gets older, they will recognise this process as a winding down moment before bed.
The sleeping environment
Finally, and something that is often overlooked in the sleep process, is the sleep environment where you baby sleeps. Dimming the lights or turning off the light completely in your child’s room creates a calm atmosphere. Some toddlers can’t sleep without a night light but if you can start your child off early sleeping in a blacked-out room you have a much higher chance that they will not need a night light and can go longer stretches without waking. For newborns and young babies, it’s essential to have as dark a room as possible for them to sleep in; to help with this I’d recommend investing in some blackout blinds.
So to summarise, my recommend routine will be:
Feed –> Bath or baby massage –> sleepsuits/pyjamas –> top up feed –> story –> into cot or crib awake to settle.
Giving your little one a goodnight kiss and cuddle as they go into their crib or cot endures that they feel loved, reassured and secure before bed which will help anyone sleep! It’s a way of creating a secure environment for your child to drift off to sleep in and hopefully allow them to sleep for long stretches through the night.
I’m a baby and toddler sleep consultant specialising in designing gentle sleep training programmes for babies and toddlers. I work with clients on a one to one basis and I also have a series of age-specific online courses for you to implement at your own pace.