It’s pretty common knowledge that having a consistent bedtime is a really important step in helping your little one get a good nights sleep. It’s also fair to say that if you imagine your baby’s sleep as a jigsaw puzzle, their bedtime routine is only a part of it. There’s their health, environment, naps, night feeds, timings, diet, behaviour, sleep associations but to name a few elements! But for now, let’s focus on the bedtime routine.
To be honest, I hear the same things quite often so when you read the following, whether you’re currently doing any of these or not, don’t worry either way. Often it’s small steps to make big changes that really matter. Trying to make big changes for a baby or toddler can feel too huge and therefore often aren’t successful.
Feed to Sleep
Ok, let’s start with a biggie. I know there’s a lot of opposing advice out there about feeding to sleep. I’m not saying don’t do it sometimes when your little one is small (under 6 months). The tricky part comes when it’s the only way your baby will fall asleep. I always liken it to how we get to sleep as adults and what we like. Usually, it’s a comfy bed, a warm duvet, a soft pillow (or two!), a quiet room, a dark room, perhaps a glass of water by your bed. Maybe you like to read a little before you put the light out. Now imagine you’ve done your usual routine, you’re all warm and cosy and you drift off. When you naturally wake from a sleep cycle, as an adult, you can usually easily put yourself back to sleep and often do without knowing it. But what about if you woke briefly and realised your duvet was gone and the pillows were missing? You’d feel cold and uncomfortable and not able to settle to sleep again without your pillow and duvet.
And it’s the very same for your baby. If they’re always fed to sleep, it’s all they know so it’s only natural they’ll seek it out in the nighttime again and again. So whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, try to mix up the way they fall asleep. Check out my sleep shaping post for more info about helping create healthy sleeping habits in the first 6 months.
When offering a last feed of the day, make sure you offer it BEFORE the beginning of their bedtime routine. Also, make sure it’s in a room away from their sleeping environment. These two things will help minimise a feed to sleep association.
Quiet Time Before Bed
Try to imagine that it’s not just the actual bedtime routine that’s important but the run up to it as well. Think gentle and quiet activities that aren’t too stimulating. Engaging with your little one with books or bubbles is a great idea. It’s like having a quiet playtime before the real bedtime. If you have older children, this is definitely a good idea for them too. Encourage activities like colouring, reading, jigsaws and puzzles. I know how easy it is to offer a little bit of tv time before bed but I really would advise against it. While it means your little one is quiet and calm and still, it also means they’re being stimulated with the blue light emitted from the TV which inhibits the natural production of melatonin (the sleep hormone).
Here’s a few great places to start for ideas and inspiration relating to quiet and calming activities for little ones and siblings…
The Order is Important
Have a think about the layout of your home. What we’d like to achieve is a bedtime routine which starts in one room and flows into the bathroom and then their room without going back into brightly lit rooms or rooms that are very stimulating. For example, having a last meal in the kitchen. Then a little quiet play in the lounge. Offer a feed (if needed) then begin to the bathroom, then their bedroom. Sometimes it’s not possible to have this arrangement in your home and you might need to go back through the lounge, for example, to get to the bedroom. Just being mindful of this can be helpful when planning your bedtime routine. These steps may feel small but, like a jigsaw puzzle, when all put together can make a huge difference!
This is a key part of any good bedtime routine. I remember when I had 3 children under 3 years old to bath (it was a nanny share). I had a system that meant I left the older two to play with a favourite chosen toy each. I took the youngest with me and quickly whipped around grabbing pyjamas, nappies, towels, creams, a few books and toys, changing mat and anything else I needed. If I didn’t do that then once inside the bathroom with 3 little ones and leaving them to run amok while I rushed about would have resulted in goodness knows what trouble! I can’t stress how important prepping is. It doesn’t need to take a long time doing this but making sure you have all the right bits and bobs for bath time can actually save time and ensure a smoothly nightly routine.
Prep their room too. Turn any night light (red is best) and lamps on. Put any white (0 – 6 months) or pink (6 months +) noise on. Make sure their bed is clean and ready for sleep with any comforters, dummies, Grobag etc. Prepare some bedtime books – unless they are at an age they like to choose! Close the curtains and blackout blinds.
By now, I hope you’ve got the idea that it’s all about winding down, quiet and calm! And the bath is no exception. Often I hear of families who get all these wonderfully bright colourful and sometimes noisy toys for the bath which can be over-stimulating. It can also feel a challenge if there are older siblings who share a bath with the younger one. I used to manage this by giving the older child the option of being the first in and last out of the bath so he had some extra play time away from the babies!
The bath shouldn’t be too hot. For obvious safety reasons but also as the warmer the body, the harder to settle to sleep. So keep the bath to no more than 15 minutes. Lavender oil in the bath can also be relaxing and induce a calm feeling. If it feels challenging to get everything done, save some time and brush your little one’s teeth while they are in the bath.
Don’t underestimate the importance of light. Both blue light from electric things such as TVs, phones, laptops and white light from bulbs. Blue and white light inhibits the production of melatonin (the sleep hormone) which is needed to help us feel sleepy. That’s why I highly recommend avoiding TV and phone before bed as well as putting any lights you can on a dimmer with before you begin the nightly routine. This might be tricky in the bathroom since dimmer switches aren’t often found there, however, perhaps the hall lights are enough or you have a low lamp for the bathroom.