By the time your baby is around three months old you can introduce a bedtime routine in the evening. A simple and consistent routine will surely help her to learn healthy sleep habits that will stand you both in good stead for the future.
Ensuring that my child was fed enough before she went to sleep was at times a tricky thing to do. She used to love to sleep at the beginning of her feed but I had to wake her to continue, to ensure that she wasn't waking up a couple of hours after her last feed.
Aim to introduce a regular time for going to bed between 6.30 pm and 8.30 pm. Any later than this and your baby may become overtired. Keep your routine fairly short to begin with; around 20 minutes to 30 minutes should be sufficient.
Will a bedtime routine help?
A familiar bedtime routine can help to regulate your baby’s body clock and help her to establish a sleeping pattern. Your baby will be more relaxed if she knows what’s coming next. And the more relaxed she is, the more likely it is that she’ll go to bed easily and fall asleep quickly. Building a familiar routine also helps throughout the day also.
Your bedtime routine could include:
• Playing a quiet game
• Giving your baby a bath
• Changing her into her pyjamas
• Reading her a bedtime story
• Singing her a lullaby
• Giving her a gentle massage
• Kissing her goodnight
It’s up to you what you decide to include. Just be sure to choose something that helps to calm your baby. And while you can certainly start your routine in the bathroom or the living room, make sure you end it in the room where your baby sleeps. This will help your baby to make the link between her bedtime routine and falling asleep.
Set the tone for your baby’s sleep by turning off the TV and winding down activities about half an hour before bedtime. Have some calm playtime.
Going to bed should be a pleasurable event, with time, attention and plenty of cuddles. Your baby will love the whole process. If she gets upset as she sees you leave, tell her you’ll be back to check on her in a few minutes.
Try not to worry or get stressed if your baby doesn’t naturally adapt to a bedtime routine. Your baby may pick up on how you’re feeling. If she senses that you’re worried or stressed, this in turn may affect her ability to settle.
What bedtime activities can I try?
Let off steam
Let your baby get any pent-up energy out of her system before you settle her down for the night. Play a game with her or let her have a good dance. But ensure the excitement is all over at least 30 minutes before you start her bedtime routine. Follow it up with a calm activity, such as a bath, massage and a bedtime story.
Have a wash and brush-up
The warm water and your undivided attention may help to relax your baby before bedtime. However, not all babies like baths at first. If your baby doesn’t enjoy baths or gets over excited during bath time, leave a bath out of the routine for now. Instead, try a gentle massage, have a quiet cuddle or read a story. You can always introduce a bath when your baby is older.
If you don’t give your baby a bath, her routine will probably include washing her face and hands, changing her nappy, and putting on her pyjamas. As soon as your baby has teeth, it’s important to start the habit of teeth brushing, so she gets used to it.
Have a chat
Bedtime is a great opportunity for you to spend time talking to your baby. If you’re not sure what to say at first, talk about what she’s done that day. Your voice alone will soothe and comfort her.
Say goodnight to everyone (and everything)
Many babies enjoy the ritual of being carried around before bed to say goodnight to family members, pets, favourite toys and other objects. However, keep it simple and quiet, as you don’t want her to be over-stimulated. Keeping the lights low will show your baby that everyone is winding down for the night.
Read a bedtime story
It’s never too early to read to your child. She will love snuggling down for a story with you. And it will help her learn to recognise new words, which will stimulate her language skills.
Sing a song
Lullabies are a tried-and-tested way to help your baby drift off. She will love hearing your voice, and the soft, soothing melody will calm her.
Some babies enjoy being soothed to sleep with a gentle massage. The first few times you may just want to do your baby’s legs until she gets used to the sensation.
Create a playlist of lullabies, classical music, or other children’s favourites to play while you settle your baby to sleep. Leave it on after you leave to help ease her transition from being awake to falling asleep. Gentle music has the added benefit of drowning out other household noise.
Stick to your usual routine as much as you can, even when you are not at home. It can make it easier for your baby to settle down if she’s in unfamiliar surroundings.
A good bedtime routine.
The important thing is that you do the same thing every night, so that your toddler learns to associate particular activities with bedtime.
If you're not at home, try to follow your routine as much as possible. The familiarity may make it easier for him/her to settle down in his/her new surroundings.
Your toddler's routine should always include spending a little time in his bedroom. This will teach him that his room is a nice place to be, not just where he's sent at the end of the day. Once you have tucked your toddler in for the night, give him/her a kiss and leave the room. If 'she/he grumbles, tell him/her that you'll be back to check on him/her in five minutes. In all likelihood, he/she will be fast asleep by the time you return. If not, do the same thing again until he/she settles.
How can I make my toddler's routine fun?
What you include in your toddler's routine is up to you. Just make sure you choose activities that help calm your toddler, rather than excite him/her. Here are some ideas for you to try:
Give him a soak
A nice, warm bath is a soothing experience, and getting your toddler clean and dry is a great way to ease him/her into bedtime.
However, if your toddler doesn't enjoy baths or if they make him/her too excited, it's probably better to leave them for the morning. Give his/her face and hands a wash instead.
Brush his/her teeth
Your toddler's routine should always include brushing his/her teeth. It's important to start the habit of brushing as early as possible so that he/she learns to look after his/her teeth properly.
Get him/her changed for bed.
Change your toddler into a fresh nappy, or encourage her/him to use the toilet if she/he is already potty-trained. Then help her/him get changed into his/her pyjamas. Offer him a choice of two pyjamas so that he/she can exercise some of his growing independence.
Play a quiet game
Having a calm game on the floor of your toddler's bedroom is a great way to spend some fun time with her/him before bed. Older toddler's may enjoy simple puzzles or card games, and younger ones are always entertained by peek-a-boo.
Your game doesn't have to be big or special. It can be as simple as taking turns saying the alphabet or counting to 10. Anything that entertains your toddler without over-stimulating her/him is fine.
Have a chat
Whether or not your toddler's talking yet, bedtime is a perfect opportunity to have a quiet chat. Of course, if you have a young toddler, you'll have to do most of the talking yourself, but he/she will still love getting your full attention. Talk about everything you've both been doing throughout the day, and how it may have made him/her feel. If your toddler's old enough, ask him/her to tell you about the best and worst things that happened to him/her, as well as anything that's worrying him/her. This may help him/her to work through any anxieties or fears so that he gets a better night's sleep.
Read a bedtime story
Cuddle up for some cozy story time. Your toddler will love spending time with you, and hearing you give all the characters silly voices. It'll even help him/her learn new words, and encourage a lifelong love of reading. Give your toddler a choice of books from a small selection each night. He/she will enjoy getting to have his/her say. You may end up reading the same few books for week or so, but repetition is a key part of your toddler's learning. While it may be a tad frustrating for you, it's great for his development!
Sing a song
A-soothing lullaby is a classic way to help your sleepy toddler drift off. Your voice and your partner's voice are your toddler's favourite sounds. You could even record a tune for him/her to listen to when someone else puts him/her to bed.
Your toddler may enjoy going around the room saying goodnight to his/her favourite toys. Don't let him take advantage, though. If he/she insists on saying goodnight to every single stuffed toy in his/her bedroom, he/she may just be trying to put off bedtime a little longer. Bear in mind that anything can occasionally throw your toddler's routine off for a few nights. Find out when your toddler will be ready to sleep away from home.