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How to Craft the Perfect Bedtime Routine With Your Baby

Bedtime. Either you dread it or you look forward to it (sometimes both!).

Once my babies were sleep trained, bedtime became an enjoyable experience for the family. What a wonderful time to finally slow down and connect while reading a book, and set the stage for the next 12 hours.

But if you are struggling with a long, drawn out bedtime routine, or no routine at all, that time might not feel so wonderful.

What if I told you that a few tweaks to your bedtime routine could change all of that? What if I told you that your baby could go down easily and stay asleep for longer stretches?

Believe it or not, just a handful of adjustments to what you do at bedtime can make a world of difference.

Why Is a Bedtime Routine Important?

A consistent bedtime routine will help your baby know that it’s time for sleep. The thing is, there are some parts of a bedtime routine that will also cause your baby to wake up and cry throughout the night. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your bedtime routine is the RIGHT kind.

When Should I Start a Bedtime Routine?

It’s a good idea to have a bedtime routine in place by 12 weeks old. Around this age, your baby is no longer a newborn. You may notice that what used to work to get your baby to sleep often stops working. Habits also set in, so it’s best to have a solid routine in place.

What Are the Steps in a Bedtime Routine?

Feeding is the first step in the bedtime routine. Did you think it was going to be the last step?

In fact, once your baby moves out of the newborn stage it is very important to start the bedtime routine with a feeding, rather than ending with one. It's almost like that feeding isn't connected to the bedtime routine at all!

You want your baby to be able to pass through all the stages of sleep and connect sleep cycles (this means she will go down easy and stay asleep!). She will be able to do this as long as she is not associating sleep with anything, such as a pre-sleep feeding.

Feed your baby in the living room, or another common area of the house. This will make it less likely for her to associate feeding with sleep. Keep her wide awake during this feed and make sure it is about 30-45 minutes before bedtime.

Next, splash around in the bath or give a good wipe down. Put those adorable footed pj’s on, and grab a book to read. When you are reading, take this time to engage with your infant. Allow your infant to touch and turn the pages (maybe even chew on them!), practice words and sounds and smile and laugh with your baby. End your bedtime routine with a kiss and a "goodnight", laying your baby down fully awake and alert in the crib.

What Should Not Be Part of a Bedtime Routine?

Your goal with the bedtime routine is to end it by putting your baby down wide awake in the crib. You will want to skip anything that allows drowsiness (the first stage of sleep!) to set in. That could include a lullaby, cuddles, or anything else that starts to relax your baby a little too much before you lay her down.

Surprising as it may sound, a song in the bedtime routine has been known to cause more crying at bedtime, and trouble with transitioning from your arms to the crib. Maybe it's your melodic voice that is lulling your baby a bit too much, but there is something about that song that can cause problems. If you do want to add a song to the routine in order to connect with your baby, try it as you are lotioning your baby up, or putting on your baby's pajamas.

The "cuddle" right before going down is a common practice among parents. However this cuddle may get your infant too comfortable. Watch for your infant burying her face in your chest or rubbing her face on you, as these are signs that she's getting quite snug in your arms, and again, that transition from arms to crib can be rough for your baby.

Sometimes you'll actually need to skip the book! Give yourself permission to skip pages and words as you are reading, especially if you can see that your infant is going downhill fast.

A solid bedtime routine is very powerful. Use it to support your baby's circadian rhythm, help your baby wind down both physically and mentally, and connect with your baby amidst life's commotion. The small steps to the routine create predictability and connection. Just remember that the order of the routine is crucial to avoid sleep associations.

If you have a bedtime routine but sleep doesn't happen easily AFTER the routine, reach out! That's exactly what my personalized sleep plans are for. Not only will we create the best routine for you and your baby, but I will teach you exactly how to respond when there is protest to sleep so that your baby will slip into sleep peacefully and predictably.

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