Here are the 4 essential elements to a baby bedtime routine that’ll help make for smooth sailing…. er… sleeping. If you’re having real trouble, check out my sleep training post. Post contains affiliate links.
I remember the first time my son started screaming his head off in those evening hours…
I was shocked.
Whoever started the “sleeping like a baby” phrase had not encountered my firstborn boy at bedtime. Oh no, they hadn’t.
It was in those first few weeks when I realized that this bout of crying in the early evening actually had a name.
These were called the “witching hours.”
After a few evenings of this I began to feel crazy, panicked, and anxious as evenings approached.
It was hard to handle hours of unhappiness.
With a lot of reading, experimenting, and asking around… I figured out how to minimize these witching hours. Then, with the next 3 babies, I was able to eliminate those times almost entirely. Occasionally, if baby was extremely overtired, we’d have a tough time, but otherwise… smooth sailing.
So what’s the key to having a calm and restful bedtime period and longer periods of sleep for little ones?
An effective baby bedtime routine.
4 Essential Elements To A Successful Baby Bedtime Routine
Consider these factors when establishing a baby bedtime routine and you’ll be well on your way to peaceful evenings.
Choose The Time Wisely
While there is no hard and fast rule, most experts agree that an earlier bedtime is better than a later one. When newborns are so little they’re napping on and off all day and night, it isn’t as important.
But once babies reaches 3 or 4 months, establishing a set time, say 8 p.m. or so, means that baby’s body clock will align with bedtime, making things easier. Use these checklists to determine why baby isn’t sleeping well, if that’s an issue.
Factors To Consider:
- Choose a morning wake time, then backtrack to get a bedtime. If you don’t want baby to sleep until 10:00 a.m., don’t put bedtime at 10:00 p.m.
- Choose a baby bedtime that fits around the other kids’ bedtimes. If it takes you a bit longer with baby than everyone else, put other kids to bed then do baby just after.
- “They” say that every hour of sleep before midnight counts as two so, unless baby takes a nap that goes on into early evening, don’t push bedtime back too far.
Cluster Feed When Possible
Cluster feeding is when you feed baby closer together than normal in a given period of time.
If you normally feed baby every 3 hours, a cluster feed might be feeding baby every 2 hours from 4:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. If you are nursing, cluster feeds are very effective for settled babies.
Benefits of Cluster Feeding
- The quality of breast milk can deteriorate as the day goes on due to a variety of factors (diet, stress hormones, etc.) so cluster feeds at the end of the day mean baby does not get fussy from hunger due to lower calorie milk. (Here’s how to tell if baby is getting enough milk)
- Cluster feeds will fill baby’s belly so they’re more likely to go to sleep easier, without fuss, and stay asleep longer.
- Cluster feeds will help you make sure baby is getting enough of their nutritional needs during the day so they wake less frequently at night.
- Frequent feeds will keep up your milk supply.
- Cluster feeding minimizes witching hours. They are somewhat unexplainable and unavoidable, but you can minimize both witching hours and colic by providing baby frequent feeds in a short period of time in the early evening period.
Put Baby In Their Own Space
Imagine going to sleep in your comfy safe bed and then, an hour or two later… waking up on a new pillow in a new place. Would you be disoriented?
Yes, and you’d probably fully wake up to investigate your surroundings.
This is what happens if you try to put baby to down in one place (including your arms) and then expect him to keep sleeping when he wakes up somewhere else.
Things To Consider:
- You can have a separate napping bed than nighttime bed, but be consistent with where you put baby to sleep and where you want them to remain sleep.
- Choose an area for nap away from the hustle and bustle main living areas of the home. Here’s how to keep noisy siblings from being a problem.
- Have a naptime routine that will help baby calm down from the normal stimulation of the household to being ready to sleep.
A Good Wind Down Routine
A good wind down routine is an essential ingredient to helping baby’s body calm down in order to sleep.
If baby is in a room with loud siblings then you march him into his nursery, turn off the lights, and put him in his bed, that’s a recipe for frustration and crying.
In order for baby’s body to begin to calm down, release melatonin (sleep hormone), they need a short period of time in which you repeat your chosen sleep associations.
Babies will begin – from that very first week – to associate things with sleep.
If you always nurse a baby to sleep, rock a baby to sleep, or lie down with baby to help them go to sleep they will need this. These are called sleep props because they prevent baby from learning how to get to sleep on their own.
Essential elements to a wind down routine include positive sleep associations which are those things that baby associates with sleep that help them calm down and get to sleep on their own.
You may want to print these beautiful wind down routine cards and hang them in your nursery as well.
Wind Down Routine Essentials:
- Turn down lights so the room is dim.
- Use your phone app or a machine and turn on white noise.
- Hold baby in a relatively still and comfortable position so they become calm.
- Rock, swing, or move gently to help baby get drowsy.
- Put baby into their own sleep space while drowsy, but still awake.
- Swaddle baby and then, if desired, offer baby the pacifier.
Want to help your baby’s bedtime be more calm and relaxing? Get your wind down routine checklist here!
All in all, baby bedtime doesn’t have to be such a big battle. It may take a few nights of tweaking your current routine, but I’m confident you can see positive changes in just a few short days.
You can begin making positive changes that take the bedtime from 3 hours of shenanigans to 20 minutes of precious bonding time.
Baby bedtime can begin to feel like an actual nightmare. You just want baby to sleep well.
You just want to have some peace and quiet after a long day of momming and yet you are spending so much time trying to comfort an exhausted baby and wondering where it all went to pot.
Because moms with babies are busy (and tired) I created a set of nitty gritty baby sleep checklists that get straight to the point.
- What to look for if your baby is sick.
- What to check if your baby won’t sleep at night.
- What to do if your baby won’t go back to sleep at night.
- And so much more!
I’ve created a free email series just for you! There are truly only a few reasons why babies and toddlers have struggles sleeping… really, I mean it. I am going to teach you the main 3 reasons and how to start making small changes to help your baby go from:
- fighting sleep to embracing it
- night wakings to sleeping through
- needing you to jump through hoops to going to sleep on their own
Click here to sign up for my free email series or simply click on the image below.
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