As a new parent, bedtime probably feels a little less structured than you hoped it would be. The days tend to blur together into a series of feedings and unpredictable sleep times—often leaving bedtime to fluctuate daily and making the bedtime routine feel nearly impossible.
And although your baby likely sleeps an average of 17 to 20 hours per day during the first few months of his life, it is not the type of consolidated sleep that would allow for a full night's rest for either of you.
You might think: What is the point of going through a bedtime routine if my baby will just be awake in an hour?
I hear you, mama. And I just want to reassure you that establishing a bedtime routine with your baby will make a difference.
Even at a young age, your baby is starting to form her own sleep habits. Around 3 months of age, your baby will start to sleep in longer stretches (?) and be able to distinguish daytime and nighttime sleep—which makes it an optimal time to think about introducing a bedtime routine.
When babies have consistency and a sense of what’s coming next, it can help them feel secure and therefore primed to doze off. (Not to mention that bedtime routines are prime opportunities for snuggles and bonding!)
Here’s what to keep in mind as you establish a bedtime routine for your baby:
There is no need to implement every “best sleep practice” at once. You might find your baby doesn't respond to each part of the routine the way you expect. Try to be patient with yourself and with your baby during this process—which will likely take weeks to establish. And, even then, your baby is one growing machine, so the bedtime routine will naturally continue to evolve.
Choose a bedtime that fits into your baby's current sleep cycle
Your child will usually start to show signs she is feeling sleepy—such as rubbing her eyes, fussing or yawning—during a certain timeframe each night. Catching her in that window (or even before) will help her avoid becoming overtired.
For example, if you know your baby normally starts acting tired around 7 p.m., consider starting to help her wind down around 6:30 p.m. in order to help prepare her for rest.
Create a calm environment
Throughout the day your baby is experiencing many exciting firsts and constantly learning new things. The best thing we can do for our bodies (even as adults) is to calm down and feel relaxed before sleep.
Some examples of this are reading softly to your baby, singing, rocking her and shooshing in her ear. I also suggest moving bathtime to earlier in the day, at least for little ones; the transition from splashing in the tub to trying to sleep isn’t very natural.
Be as consistent as possible
Once bedtime starts to feel like a natural process, your baby will actually want to go to sleep at this time—amazing right? Although I know (and even encourage) bedtimes will vary on some days, it is important to stick with the routine most of the time. This might mean occasionally leaving a family dinner early to get home or saying no to a late-night activity.
Establishing a bedtime isn't going to happen overnight and there will likely be adjustments made along the way. But once you start to incorporate the routine that works for you and your baby, you are already on your way to a happy and healthy sleeper!