There are no rules about introducing a bedtime routine, if you have one or not is completely up to you. You might want a bedtime routine from when your baby is a few weeks old or you might feel you don’t need one for several months. The key is being guided by your baby and what you need.
Daytime can be busy, noisy and fun with learning, developing new skills, communicating, coping with new sounds, faces and places so helping your baby to settle down for sleep can be about creating a calmer environment. According to The Science of Parenting: “The primary aim at bedtime is to being your child down from a superalert awake state by activating oxytocin and the sleep hormone melatonin…when a soothing routine is used it can help to activate these calming chemicals in the brain.”
- For some parents the bedtime routine starts with bath time, which can be calm and or happy and splashy, depending on your baby.
- Before you dress your baby, a massage can be a great way to help her wind down. If she isn’t too hungry or too tired, then this can help her feel calm and ready for sleep. It may be more beneficial to do this in a warm, quiet room, with no TV and with dimmed lights.
- When your baby is dressed plenty of cuddles and milk could be needed.
- When you talk to your baby, speak quietly and gently. Some parents also like to sing gently to their baby. And it’s never too early to read to your baby, this can be a wonderful addition to those cuddles.
- Settle your baby to sleep in your usual way – whether this is in her Moses basket or cot or snuggled up next to you.
Benefits of having a relaxed bedtime routine mean that:
- It is calm time with your baby, when you wind down and relax as well.
- It helps your baby feel calm and secure, so you can use it if you go away and if you are making changes to your baby’s bedtime, such as encouraging her to settle herself or moving into a cot or into her own room.
- You don’t have to do it at a fixed time, it’s the pattern and responding to your baby that is important, not the timings.
With a bedtime routine, it is important to remember that:
- You and your baby will both benefit from this time together if you are both relaxed. If you are feeling frustrated and anxious because you want to rush off and do something else, then it may not work because your baby could pick up on your anxiety and be more difficult to settle – which will frustrate you!
- A bedtime routine is not about helping your baby to sleep all night. It is quite normal for babies to wake throughout the night for food and comfort but it can make your evenings calmer. When your baby wakes in the night, keep the room calm and dimly lit, speak quietly and softly to your baby to encourage her to settle back to sleep again.
- If you are trying to encourage your baby to settle to sleep on her own, this probably won’t happen straight away especially if she is still a new baby. Babies are designed to need cuddles to feel safe and secure before going to sleep. But having a gentle bedtime routine could enhance her feelings of safety through its familiarity and the quiet time together.
- It doesn’t always work and sometimes you can’t always be bothered to do it, give yourself a break and don’t feel guilty about it, just pick it up again when it feels right.
- Be guided by your baby and what feels right for you, change the bedtime routine as you need to, to help your baby settle.
Science of Parenting by Margot Sunderland
The No-cry Sleep Solution by Elizabeth Pantley