Baby bedtimes can go either way. They can be a magical time of day when you get to snuggle up with your little one while they calmly have their evening feed and drift off to a peaceful sleep.
Or they can be times of day when you’re both exhausted and baby can get overtired and spend hours crying while you try to comfort them.
We hope these 10 steps to a great baby bedtime routine help you to have the former. Calmer evenings where you can enjoy your time with baby before they go to sleep.
A great baby bedtime routine can not only help you to end your days on a positive note, but they can also set you up for better nights too.
This is because your baby will slowly learn that your routine means that night time is beginning. It can help to encourage them to have some longer stretches of sleep during those night time hours, giving you some much needed rest.
When should you start a baby bedtime routine?
You can begin introducing a baby bedtime routine from the very first weeks but you should keep in mind what your baby needs at each stage.
Newborn babies have tiny tummies and need feeding every few hours. And they will feed through the night as well as the day.
When they’re born, your newborn baby also doesn’t know the difference between night and day. In fact some believe that newborns are born a little bit ‘nocturnal’. The theory (which is just here-say from other parents) is that when you were pregnant you were generally moving around in the daytime, and baby would get swayed to sleep by the motion and so end up sleeping during the day. At night time you would then be lying down, generally relaxed and still, which was a great time for baby to wake up and have a good kick about.
So if you find your baby has a tendency to sleep less at night time and more in the day time it’s worth keeping in mind that this might be why!
After the first couple of weeks, the first thing that you can show baby is the difference between night and day by making a few subtle changes to their environment during these hours.
In the daytime you can talk and sing to him, keep the lights up and the house noisier. Some even keep the TV or radio on at a very low volume throughout the day so that there’s always something going on. You can encourage some awake time and ‘play time’ with some first books or black and white graphics for babies to enjoy.
Then, after baby’s early evening feed you can dim the lights, turn off any background sounds and speak to your baby in quieter tones as he has his milk.
Throughout the nighttime hours and the nighttime feeds, try to keep the lights and sounds as low as possible. This shows baby again, that night times are quiet times for sleeping.
By making these subtle and natural changes to their environment you’re showing your baby the difference between day and night.
2 months onwards
After the first 2 months or so you can start to create a longer evening routine for baby. Here we share 10 great ways you can create your own perfect bedtime routine for baby.
10 steps to a great baby bedtime routine
Set a time for baby’s bedtime
As your baby gets older (usually from 6-8 weeks onwards) they will often slowly start to fall into their own rhythm of sleep times and feed times.
See what time they tend to drift off in the early evening and make that their ‘bedtime’. You can then plan a nice evening routine leading up to that bedtime, at the same time every evening. This can help to relax baby, as they will know exactly what is happening at that time. It can also encourage baby to drift off to sleep more easily and help them to slowly have longer night time sleeps.
Look at your baby’s naps before bedtime
After about 2-3 months of age it’s a good idea to check that baby isn’t napping right before bedtime.
Of course routines don’t always go to plan and there will be days when this happens, so don’t worry if it does, you’ll just push your bedtime back a bit on that day. But in general try to have a reasonable gap between baby’s late afternoon nap and their ‘bedtime’.
How long this gap is will depend on your baby’s age and also how long your own baby is happy to be awake for between naps in general.
For example it baby might start off that at 2 months of age waking at 5-5.30pm from a late afternoon nap and they are then able to settle back to sleep again at 7pm with no problems. Then as baby gets older and approaches 6-8 months age, they will be able to stay awake for much longer between sleeps. At this age baby would probably need to be awake by 4-4.30pm in order to be able to sleep again at 7pm.
The exact timings vary a lot from baby to baby as they all have different sleep requirements and habits. It’s always best to see what works best for your own little one and work it out from there.
Start winding down before bedtime
For younger babies, around 2-6 months old you might consider introducing a ‘split feed’ before their bedtime. A ‘split feed’ is just when you give your baby two feeds relatively close together before bedtime. The idea is that they will hopefully have a bit more milk than with one feed alone which may in turn help them to sleep that little bit longer during the night time hours.
A split feed can be done by offering baby a ‘half feed’ about an hour before their bedtime routine starts. Then just before going to sleep they can have a full feed and hopefully drift off feeling full and content. As always, see what works best for you and your baby.
6 months plus
After 6 months of age you’ll want to help baby get some fresh air and activity during their day. Walks in the park or baby classes and playgroups are all so new and exciting for them and help to tire them out in the daytime.
You can then switch to quieter activities before you start the bedtime routine. For older babies these quieter activities and playtimes can start at least half an hour before you start the bedtime routine. This can help them unwind and prepare them for their evening rituals.
Splish splash it’s bathtime
Bathtimes can be absolute favourites with parents and babies alike. Warm water and lots of splashing about can be just the thing to get baby ready for bedtime.
From the first few weeks after birth you can introduce a nice warm bath as part of your baby’s bedtime routine. A baby thermometer can help you get the right temperature otherwise you can use your elbow. The bath should be warm, not hot.
For very young babies you can start by holding them in some shallow warm water while you gently wash them down with a soft sponge. There are also some lovely baby bath inserts that keep baby at an incline while you bathe them (though you always need to be there also to hold them).
As baby gets older, they will slowly start to sit in the bath with your support and will enjoy playing with some first bath toys.
Remember to always supervise babies in the bath at all times.
Baby massage and cuddles
As you dry your baby off from their bathtime you can make it your thing to do some gentle baby massage.
It’s a beautiful way to bond with baby when they’re calm and relaxed. There are a number of baby massage classes and workshops you could attend with your baby to learn some baby massage skills. Otherwise there are YouTube videos that can give you some ideas of baby massage techniques you can use.
If massage isn’t your thing you can just wrap them in a warm towel and rub them down gently with little strokes.
Snug as a bug
Time for jimjams. Get your baby dressed for bed in their cosy pyjamas or a onesie.
Some babies love a baby sleeping bag to snuggle down in too. If you like the idea of this then there are some great lightweight muslin sleeping bags you can get that prevent overheating in baby. Or if your house is bit colder there are some warmer ones too to keep them snug.
Keep the sleeping bag laid out and you can put it on them just before you put baby down to sleep.
A milky drink
Cuddle your baby in a dimly lit room and give her a bedtime milk feed, whether it’s breastmilk or formula.
Keep the room dimly lit or dark and try to talk softly. Just snuggle up as your baby enjoys her feed.
Get lost in a story
Before babies can talk it can often feel a bit silly talking and reading a lot to them as you don’t get any reaction. But it’s all going in. They love the sound of your voice and every word they hear helps them learn a little bit more about word sounds and language.
Even younger babies also love to look at the pictures of a bedtime story. You could make it a part of your routine to read one (or two or three) little baby stories to your baby before putting them down to sleep.
So cuddle up together and enjoy the magic of a story read aloud.
At the end of your routine say the same thing each night to let your baby know that now is the time to go to sleep. It can be a simple phrase or it can be a little song you like to sing to them.
Whatever it is, make it the same one every night and your little one will soon learn that it’s their cue for sleep time.
However you choose to do your own baby bedtime routine, one thing that really helps is to stay consistent.
By having the same little routine with your baby every evening, they will very quickly learn when bedtime is beginning. They’ll even look forward to it, especially on days when they’re tired, as they’ll know that it’s nearly bedtime.
For older babies and toddlers who can struggle to settle down in the evenings, one recommendation is that you even try reading the same exact book to them every evening, read in the same way. This is so that they can learn to associate that book with bedtime and settling down.
If you start a calm bedtime routine every evening from an early age, it can set your baby up to recognise sleep cues and be able to wind down and settle each night.
This basic bedtime routine can last you into the toddler years and beyond and can help make bedtimes calmer and more enjoyable. You can change it up to include whatever you enjoy doing with baby in the evenings, just keep in mind that consistency is key.
Keeping things the same each nights helps baby to know that bedtime is coming. They have the chance to wind down and relax before drifting off to sleep.
May bedtimes be those magical times of day you share together.