Updated: Mar 27, 2021
A solid and consistent bedtime routine is such an important part of instilling good sleep habits in your child! So important in fact, that I recommend implementing a routine from Day 1 of your baby's life! I know that sounds early, but let's be clear! For newborn babies (under 3 months old), their routine will be very short and simple (10-15 minutes). It basically involves all the things that you need to do to prepare your newborn baby to prepare for sleep (feed, diaper, pj's, swaddle).
After 3 months, the bedtime routine will take longer and involve more (20-30 minutes). What this routine does is send a signal to their brain and their body to tell them that sleep is coming! So, the more consistent you are with doing the same actions, every night before sleep, the quicker their body will catch on and start to wind down for bed. This will become particularly important when your baby hits the 3 month mark and their body starts to produce melatonin! The bedtime routine will become a cue to their body to release melatonin and prepare for sleep. Cool hey?!
I often connect with parents and find out that they don't do a bedtime routine, or that it is inconsistent from day to day. One night, they might read a book before bed, the next night they watch a show downstairs. Sometimes they have a bath, other times a dance party! In the end, it is your decision what activities you want to do, the most important thing is that you are doing the same thing each night. This will set up expectations for your little one and take the guesswork out for them. They are much more inclined to follow your lead and go down for bed more easily if they know what to expect. You are instilling habits in them every day, whether you are aware of it or not!
While you can choose any routine you want, I urge you to choose things that you can easily replicate each night. I recommend keeping it simple and easy, something that anyone can do, anywhere. Because wouldn't you love to be able to send your baby to Grandma's house for the weekend without a laundry list of things to do before bedtime? Keep it simple and everyone will thank you! Here is what I recommend, IN THIS ORDER:
It is not actually necessary to do a bath every night. I know in my city, Calgary AB, the water makes our skin very dry. So, I don't personally give my kids a bath every day, unless they need it!
Bath time is very fun and most kids love splashing around before bedtime! It feels so nice to get into bed when you are squeaky clean, and it usually helps them burn off that leftover energy from the day! I would keep bath time short, 5-10 minutes is more than enough time to get clean.
Diaper and Feeding
Once they are done with bath time, you'll wrap them in a towel and put their diaper on. Then I recommend feeding them! If you opt out of bath time that night, then feeding them (boob or bottle!) would be the first activity of your bedtime routine. The reason I suggest feeding at the beginning of the routine is to disassociate milk and sleep as much as possible. For this reason, I also suggest feeding your baby outside of the room where they sleep, with the lights on.
Alright, now that they are fed, you can put lotion and pyjamas on them! Personally, I like to use coconut oil, but use whatever lotion you prefer. Studies show that giving your baby a gentle massage before bed can help their bodies release melatonin! A little rub down will help them relax and get their body and mind ready to drift off to sleep. It also provides an opportunity to bond with your little one :)
I would then get them into their pyjamas and brush their teeth.
Read a Book
I believe that books are a very important part of your child's development, and a habit that you want them to carry on throughout their life. All of the things you have done so far will have prepared your child for sleep, so you don't want to spend too much time with the books. Pick one or two short and easy reads, 5-10 minutes maximum!
If you want to let them pick the book, only give them a few options to choose from! This way you're not giving them free range of the entire library (it could take them a long time to pick a book!), and you don't get stuck reading the longest book in history lol.
Once you finish your book, zip them into that sleep sack, dim the lights and turn on the white noise!
Lay Them Down for Sleep
One of the most important parts of sleeping training and helping your child become an independent sleeper, comes from how you lay them down for sleep. The routine will cause them to become drowsy, so all you have to do is lay them down in the crib, AWAKE! Sounds scary if you haven't done it before, and it might take some practise for everyone to adjust. I promise that it will get easier with time, and it will be worth it!
Once you've laid them down awake, you will say goodnight and leave the room. I recommend using a "key phrase," as the last thing you say before you leave the room. “It’s time to sleep now” or “night night,” are good examples. Keep it simple. I would use the same key phrase every time you set them down to sleep. Children LOVE consistency.
That's it! They should put themselves to sleep within 10 minutes! Amazing right?
Just kidding! I am fully aware that this will not come quickly or easily to most, especially if being laid down awake is a new concept. If your baby is not currently an independent sleeper, then they may need more help falling asleep. However, keep in mind the more you help them to fall asleep at bedtime, the more they will rely on you when they wake throughout the night.
If you're unsure what to do next, I CAN HELP! My advice is based on your situation, there is not a "one size fits all" answer to helping your baby fall asleep on their own. Reach out to me and we can chat about how to teach your baby to sleep independently, which will effectively give you 10-12 hours of baby-free time, doesn't that sounds glorious!?