Bedtime routines for babies
One of the best ways to help your baby sleep well is by introducing a bedtime routine. Find out when to start a bedtime routine for your little one, plus top tips on what to include and how to make it work for your family.
To help you set up the perfect bedtime routine for your baby, we got the lowdown from children’s sleep expert Andrea Grace about when to introduce a bedtime routine, what to include ... and what to do if your baby still won't sleep.
She says: ‘A good bedtime routine incorporates a sequential set of "sleep clues", which tell your baby that sleep time is coming.
'If repeated consistently, it will help them to feel safe, comfortable and sleepy.’
Read on for Andrea's top tips. And for even more advice on bedtime routines, why not turn to the lovely folk at Fairy Non Bio.
We have teamed up with Fairy Non Bio to share six tips for a snuggly soft bedtime routine to give you and your little one the best night’s sleep.
Follow the hashtag #SnugglySoftBedtimes on social media for brilliant sleep-inducing ideas.
When can I introduce a baby bedtime routine?
In the first few weeks of your baby's life, having any sort of bedtime routine is pretty much impossible. Their body clock is yet to kick in, they still need to feed really often, and they don't yet understand the difference between night and day.
Official guidance from the NHS recommends introducing a bedtime routine when your baby is around three months old .
According to Andrea, by this stage your baby is likely to:
- have developed natural circadian rhythms (their body will know the difference between night and day)
- have a regular sleep-wake cycle
- sleep for 14-16 hours per 24 hours, with the longest stretch at night
- have deeper sleeps lasting for longer periods
They also won't need to feed quite so often, meaning they should be able to sleep for longer chunks at night.
She adds: ‘When your baby shows signs of settling into a regular pattern of taking a longer sleep in the evening, it's your cue to start a bedtime routine.’
What time should my baby go to bed?
Every baby is different, so the time your little one needs to go to bed will vary.
Andrea says: ‘It’s pointless doing a bedtime routine at 7pm if your baby’s natural sleep onset time is still set at 11pm.’
So the first step in establishing a routine is working out your baby's natural sleep cycles. Keep an eye on your baby, and try to notice when they start to get sleepy in the evenings – then put them down when they naturally get sleepy.
As a guide, newborns often want to sleep later in the evening (as late as 11pm), and this can gradually get earlier until it's closer to late afternoon (as early as 5:30pm) by the time they're one year old. But it's different for every baby, so see what works for your family.
How do I introduce a baby bedtime routine?
The good news is babies love routine. Yet working out when to introduce a simple yet consistent routine at bedtime can be tricky.
Here’s Andrea’s step-by-step guide to creating a successful bedtime routine …
1 Start the bedtime routine before your baby is ready for sleep
Over time, you'll get to know the early signs that your baby is tired. For example, they may fuss, yawn or rub their eyes. It's ideal if you can put your baby down as soon as you see these signs. If you wait until they start crying, they may be too unsettled to get to sleep easily.
The trick, says Andrea, is to work out when your baby is usually ready for sleep and start your bedtime routine about 30-40 minutes before that point.
‘Try to recognise your baby’s tired signs and then work out a series of steps leading up to putting them down into the cot that are simple and doable for you,’ she says.
2 Decide what to include in your baby’s bedtime routine
What your bedtime routine involves is entirely up to you, but the aim is to help your baby gradually wind down so that by the time you switch the lights out, they're ready to sleep.
A bedtime routine might include:
According to Andrea, a bath is an important part of your baby's bedtime routine.
She says: 'Bath every night about half an hour before you think your baby needs to sleep. Even if your baby is clean, it is good to bath them, as the experience serves as a very powerful sleep clue.
'It also allows your baby to expend reserves of energy.'
If your baby's teeth have started coming through, be sure to brush them , too.
A baby massage
After the bath, don't be tempted to take your baby back into the living room — this will wake them up!
Instead, Andrea recommends going straight to the bedroom.
She adds, 'When you’re in the bedroom, keep the atmosphere calm, with soft lighting and so on. If you normally give a baby massage , now is the time to do it.'
Baby massage oil doesn't have to be expensive – Boots does a well-priced bottle for under £2 – see more details here.
Your baby is now super relaxed, so Andrea suggests giving them a bottle-feed or breastfeed ... with the light on to stop them dropping off during the feed.
To establish good sleep habits it's important your baby learns how to self settle and fall asleep on their own. If you rock or feed your baby to sleep, then when they wake in the night, they may expect to be rocked or fed back to sleep. Of course, that's fine if you're happy to do it, but it means less shut-eye for you, so it doesn't work for all families.
Instead, if you gradually teach your baby to go to sleep on their own (by putting them in their cot when they're drowsy, but still awake), they'll also be able to get themselves back off to sleep when they wake in the night.
A bedtime story
After feeding your baby, why not read your little one a bedtime story. This is a favourite tip from Fairy Non Bio and the GOSH team and it's a lovely thing to build into your routine.
Andrea says: 'Look at a little baby book together, sing a familiar lullaby or repeat a consistent goodnight phrase.'
Reading to your baby is a lovely chance for some cuddly bonding time, and it can also help them learn the basics of language, making it easier for them to learn to talk later on. You may find that your baby develops a favourite book that they love to hear every night.
Finally, put your baby down in their cot or Moses basket, ideally while they're drowsy, but still awake.
To make bedtime even more cosy, make sure their pyjamas and bedsheets are as soft and snuggly as possible. Fairy Non Bio’s Sensitive Skin Dream Team – Fairy Non Bio PODS® and Fairy Fabric Conditioner – gently clean clothes and leave them huggably soft.
3 Be consistent
Keep the routine the same every night so your baby knows it's time for bed. You may have to do it for many days or even weeks in a row before your little one starts to associate your routine with sleep, so don't give up!
Andrea says: ‘The sequence of your routine is more important than the time at which it is done.’
So no matter what stage your baby is going through, just stick to the normal steps of your routine as best you can, even if you have to do it at a different time.
4 Don’t make the bedtime routine too complicated
If you have other children, it might not be possible to do an elaborate bedtime routine every night. So Andrea recommends keeping it simple yet consistent.
She says: ‘It might not be possible to do a massage every night if you have older children to care for, but you can sing the same song each night as you put your baby’s night clothes on.’
Some parents swear by the four Bs, which make this easy to remember: bath, bottle, book and bed!
Problems establishing a bedtime routine
If your baby is still finding it hard to fall asleep after the bedtime routine, Andrea recommends giving them time to adjust.
She says: ‘If your baby struggles to settle, you may have to stay with them until they're calm enough to sleep. It's better to gently ease them into falling asleep independently rather than leaving them alone to cry.’
As your baby gets used to falling asleep on their own, you could try the gradual withdrawal method , or some other sleep training techniques . If you do want to try them, be sure to wait until your baby's at least three months old.
Another issue might be the length of your baby bedtime routine : if you cram too much in, it might overstimulate your little one.
‘If your baby is older and you’re struggling to establish a bedtime routine, you may be overthinking it or asking too much of yourself’, says Andrea.
‘Remember that all a bedtime routine really is is a repeated series of steps leading up to bed time. The simpler these steps are, the better!’
Safe sleeping for your baby
With any bedtime routine, make sure your baby is safe.
For the first six months, your baby should sleep in a separate cot or Moses basket in your room, even during the day. Don't put any pillows, duvets or toys in your baby's cot.
Find out more about safe sleeping for your baby.
A baby sleeping bag is the best way to make sure your baby doesn't get too hot or cold. We like this snuggly grey Grobag by Tommee Tippee. See more details here at Amazon.
What age did you start your baby's bedtime routine? Join the chat in the thread, below.