Having a relaxing bedtime routine for your baby will not only help them get to sleep quicker but it’s also a lovely opportunity for you to bond.
Throwing the word routine in there makes it sound like it might be a complicated affair, but a bedtime routine for a baby is really all about signalling to them that it’s time for sleep, whether they’re six weeks or six months old.
A bedtime routine lasts around 20 to 30 minutes and involves having a bath or wash, the final feed of the day, reading a bedtime story and saying goodnight.
What time you start the bedtime routine is up to you, but a good bedtime for a baby is between 7pm and 7.30pm.
You may choose to put your baby to bed later if they don’t need to be up early in the mornings to get out of the house for childcare or other activities.
For me this sleep routine – involving quiet time, a book, milk and lullaby – is one of the key things that got both of my children to fall asleep without help in their own beds.
It works best when you have a look at overall daytime sleep and know that your baby isn’t getting too much sleep in the day. I have a detailed post about the Baby Whisperer’s EASY baby routine and how you can get started with it. Do check it out!
But I don’t want to overcomplicate this or stress you out, because a bedtime routine is more about consistency than immediate results that see your baby sleep through the night. That’s not going to happen in the early months, I wish I had the secret to making that happen though!
It’s about setting your baby up for good sleep habits in the future and giving them a chance to wind down at the end of a busy day.
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Your baby takes in so much during trips out in the buggy and playing with their toys that it’s good to give them some quiet, calm time where there’s not so much stimulus around them.
I’ll be recommending some products as we go, so this post may contain affiliate links, but these do not cost you a penny more. It just means I get a small slice of the payment for referring you.
If you’re looking to introduce a bedtime routine for your baby, here’s everything you need to know.
Is my baby too young for a bedtime routine?
There’s a yes and no answer to this.
If your baby is in that horrendous witching hour phase where they cry all evening, then trying to force a bedtime routine on them is only to be stressful for you.
The fussy evenings phase generally hits at around two weeks and can last for a couple of months. It may make a return when the four-month sleep regression hits, and if your child is having a growth spurt.
But once the early fussy phase is over, or you’re finding evenings aren’t too bad, then your baby is never too young to start a bedtime routine. Of course in the first month or two you won’t see much benefit to it, but you will quickly find it does make a difference once they are eight weeks old.
Even if they are going through a very fussy period, you can still feed them and comfort them in a darkened room at their usual bedtime, just to reinforce the difference between day and night.
How do I make a bedtime routine work for my baby?
The key to making a bedtime routine work for your baby is to be consistent with it.
Trying it out for two days and then giving up because it made zero difference is not giving it a real chance to work.
For a bedtime routine to make a difference to your baby, you’ll need to keep at it every day for a couple of weeks.
Years on, my kids still have the same bedtime routine. My toddler is currently going through a very fussy phase of getting out of bed repeatedly to come downstairs and speak to us, however my youngest child, who is two, has been getting herself to sleep in her own bed since she was seven months (although she didn’t sleep through until 13 months!).
There may be a few products that can help with the bedtime routine, but you don’t need to go out and buy every sleep contraption on the market to get your baby to fall asleep on their own.
My favourite bedtime products are:
- Baby sleeping bags. These are fab as they come with guides to show you what to dress your baby in depending on the temperature. They mean your baby won’t kick their covers off at night. You can get swaddles for newborns that simply zip up or do up with poppers.
- White noise. There are various noise and music machines for babies. Some project stars on the ceiling or emit a low light that’s suppose to emulate the womb. I suggest shopping based on your budget as these won’t necessarily be a miracle solution to getting your baby to settle on their own. Ewan the Dream Sheep worked for my second baby, but not for my first.
- Johnson’s Bedtime Bath. The smell of this is divine. It’s designed to be soothing for your baby. I also love their Cotton Touch range of bath products and body lotion.
- Bedtime books. Reading a story is a really important part of our bedtime routine. Choose stories that are about bedtime, or just ones that have soothing rhymes or themes rather than noisy books packed with action and adventure. I’ve got some lovely bedtime books that are perfect for babies on another blog post so do check that out.
Fussy evenings and the bedtime routine
Cluster feeding and those fussy evenings can make the bedtime routine pretty difficult to implement. When your baby is going through a phase of wanting to cluster feed (where they breastfeed off and on for hours on end, mostly in the evenings) or being difficult to settle in the evenings (also known as the witching hour), I suggest you stop having any expectations of baby going to bed at the time you set.
Instead try feeding your baby in a darkened and quiet room after bedtime, just so that they get the message for the their internal clock that it’s time for bed.
However you shouldn’t expect them to go to sleep. This type of phase does not last forever, although the fussy evenings where babies cry off and on for several hours may feel that way. They usually only last four to six weeks.
Cluster feeding is a difficult phase but it doesn’t last forever.
If you’re looking for more tips about breastfeeding, do check out my post with loads of practical advice.
What is the best bedtime routine for babies?
Your bedtime routine should be put together to suit you and your baby but here are a few elements that you may want to include.
As to what time this bedtime routine should begin, that’s up to you and what time you want your baby’s bedtime to be.
As a guide, my bedtime routine would start at 6.30pm with my baby in bed by 7pm. Most babies need around 12 hours sleep (once they are sleeping through the night) so try to factor this in, thinking about what time in the morning you need your baby to be up.
The length of the bedtime routine should be more than 20 minutes but less than an hour. If you stretch it out for too long your baby may become overtired.
However if it’s not long enough then your baby won’t have a chance to relax and wind down. It’s about giving your baby a chance to read the signals that it’s bedtime and start to become sleepy.
- Bath. I don’t bathe my kids every day, so if you’re the same as me this could just be a simple wipe with a cloth and a nappy change.
- Moisturise. My youngest had eczema so I always pile on special moisturiser at night. This is also a great way of massaging your baby, which is so relaxing for them. Just make gentle sweeps over their tummy with your hands and rub down their legs and feet.
- Lullaby. You may want to sing your baby a lullaby when changing them into their PJs or giving them their last feed.
- Feed. Give your baby their last bottle or breastfeed of the day. Try to stop them from nodding off during this point so that they get the full feed, though I realise this is tricky.
- Keep it quiet and dark. When putting your baby to bed, keep the lights down low and noises quiet. Try to do the routine in the room where you want your baby to get used to settling at night.
- Book. Read a baby bedtime story.
- Soothe. Have a phrase that you use every time you put your baby to bed. This might be “night night, I love you” or “it’s sleepy time now”. This is a good cue for them to learn.
- Say goodnight. From here you may have varying degrees of success at actually putting your baby down to sleep. My first baby used a dummy to soothe herself to sleep in her own cot. My second slept on me for several months and refused to be put down in her cot. It’s a personal choice how you handle this. You may be happy with co-sleeping, which is fine. You can check out my post about sleep training if this is something you’re interested in.
I hope you found this post useful. Do you have a bedtime routine? What are your favourite bedtime stories?