When it comes to fostering healthy sleep habits for your child, there is nothing more important than establishing a solid bedtime routine. This is something that can be implemented from the very beginning, and the bedtime routine can stay very much the same as your baby grows.
A bedtime routine signals to your child that it’s time to wind down and go to sleep. Even before a baby understands language, they can understand that the smell of the lavender in their lotion and the sound of their white noise machine means that it’s time to go to sleep. Providing your child with these signals to their senses allows them to recognize what’s coming next, and the predictability provides a level of comfort to your child.
As a pediatric sleep consultant, I always suggest the same bedtime routine regardless of how old the child may be. For infants, I suggest that the feed happens first, ideally in a well-lit space to avoid feeding to sleep. Once the baby is fed, brush their “teeth!” Even if they don’t have teeth, a warm washcloth to the gums is a great habit to start and it will make teeth brushing a non-issue as your child grows.
This ritual also helps to eliminate any feed to sleep association. Once the baby is fed and teeth are brushed, sit down in a cozy spot with the lights dimmed and read a story or two. After books, I always recommend a song before placing the baby down in their bassinet or crib for sleep. Ideally, the baby is placed in the crib totally relaxed, calm, and still awake to fall asleep independently.
The bedtime routine is also a really useful tool during the daytime. The routine allows for a transition period between play and sleep. The world around our children is very exciting and stimulating. Sometimes babies and toddlers are having so much fun that it feels hard to quickly transition from play to sleep. The bedtime routine allows for an intermediate activity that gently and gradually winds the child down for sleep. The repetitive nature of the routine signals to the child what is coming next so they can both mentally and physically prepare for sleep.
Parents shouldn’t feel any more stress or pressure than they are likely already feeling when they arrive home with a new baby. That being said, implementing a bedtime routine from the start can be a really wonderful way to bond with your baby as well as create structure. If mom is nursing, the other parent can read stories and sing a song. It’s a really great way to connect with your child, and it’s amazing to see even really young babies start to enjoy the rituals that are put into place by their parents.
The really amazing thing about the bedtime routine is that not much ever really has to change. The line up of brushing teeth, reading books, and singing a song can stay consistent for years. Of course, as your child matures, you may want to build more time in for more lengthy books, or even let your child read to you!
If your child starts to feel embarrassed about your singing, that little ritual can be phased out or traded in for a quick “secret goodnight handshake” or something fun like that!
If you’re struggling with your child’s bedtime routine, please reach out to a certified sleep consultant, Jayne Havens of Snooze Fest by Jayne Havens.