Do tearful evenings make getting your baby to bed feel impossible?
You may be struggling to get your baby to go to sleep in their own bed. They may seem like all they want to do is eat and eat all evening.
Your baby might be screaming and resisting bedtime, or maybe all they seem to want to do is play when the clock hits 7pm.
Whatever the reason, if you’re struggling at bedtime it can be totally exhausting.
When you’ve already spent a whole day running around after a baby, having an evening to yourself is a precious thing, and something that you really need as a parent to recharge your batteries.
I know exactly how you feel, because I despaired at the loss of my evenings when my two kids were born. It’s awful not even getting half an hour to watch some trashy TV with your other half, or be able to eat your dinner in peace and quiet.
However, I have managed to get both of my kids to the point where they happily go to sleep, without any help, in their beds at 7pm every single night.
It’s absolute bliss and I am so happy that they do this. I’m not sure what I would do without my evenings, as much as I love being around my children!
I’m going to give you a full rundown of the best bedtime routine for your baby and how to go about introducing it, as well as what to do when it seems like it just isn’t working.
If you’ve tried starting a routine before and it didn’t go well, don’t worry! It really does work, but some babies are a lot more stubborn than others, so keep at it and I’ve got loads of advice for you in this post.
You can also pick up my free printable baby bedtime routine by subscribing to my mailing list! Print it off, and stick it to your fridge so that you and your other half, as well as babysitters, are being consistent with what you’re doing, because it’s consistency that’s going to make this work!
Let’s start off with a few key questions.
How old can you start a baby on a bedtime routine?
You can start a bedtime routine from day one if you want! It’s never too early to begin to familiarise your baby with bedtime, because it will help to set their internal clock, which is all over the place when they are born.
BUT that doesn’t mean it will be effective in a newborn. Most newborns are on their own clock for the first six weeks, and your best bet is to ride it out as best you can.
Don’t try to force a baby of a few weeks old to conform to the bedtime routine, if they’re crying then comfort them.
But keep trying to introduce the routine wherever you can. It won’t work every single night, and it shouldn’t be something that stresses you out. But if you can try to introduce these same practices at the same time every day, your baby will start to get the message that evenings are for sleeping.
Many newborns will spend the evenings cluster feeding. I’m not at all suggesting you fight that. If your baby is hungry, feed them. However, try to do it in a quiet and darkened room, so that your baby gets the message that this is night time.
The sooner you can teach the difference between day and night, the better.
So when does the bedtime routine work?
It varies. My first baby responded to the routine really well and would be in bed asleep from 7pm at eight weeks old. It took my second baby much longer to settle into it and she would go to sleep at 7pm from around four months.
I would say by five months your baby should be able to get to sleep by the time you want them in bed, although that’s not to say they will be sleeping through yet!
The bedtime routine isn’t about making your child sleep through, it’s about making bedtime a peaceful and calm experience where you can get your baby to settle themselves to sleep without you having to rock them.
My baby just screams and screams at bedtime, how can I make it relaxing?
The bedtime routine isn’t about leaving your baby to cry it out. It’s about comforting your baby when they need it, but showing them through a series of cues that this is the time when they should be closing their eyes and going to sleep.
It’s amazing how when I say the words, “it’s sleepy time now” to my one-year-old, she immediately rubs her eyes. Because she knows those words mean it’s bedtime, and she accepts that, because it’s what happens every day!
Some kids fight routine, but both of mine responded to it eventually.
What time should my baby be going to bed?
This is a huge area of debate. Both of mine, aged one and three, still go to bed at 7pm on the dot. However that may not work for all families! I would say you need to be sure your child is getting enough sleep for their health. So most small kids will eventually need a full 12-hour stint of sleep at night.
Therefore, if you get up at 8am in the mornings, then you should be aiming for an 8pm bedtime. Don’t get too bogged down in counting the hours, but having a small baby up and playing at 10pm probably won’t do you any favours in the long run.
I hope those questions cleared a few things up! Now on to the actual routine.
For the purposes of this post, I will set out the timings as I do them every night, but you don’t have to follow my 6.30pm start if you don’t want to! Just move it back half an hour, the principle remains the same.
6.30pm – Bathtime
I don’t bathe my kids every single night, because actually in the winter they don’t really get that dirty every day.
I will generally bathe them three times a week and in between those days give them a wash by the sink with a flannel.
We have a fun splash about in the tub with their toys and sing a few songs before getting out and having a good cuddle. If you have two kids this time can feel a bit stressful. I recommend having a special bath seat for your baby, so that you can go handsfree.
I also suggest having all the PJs and nappies in the bathroom so you can get the kids dressed there one at a time, and you’re not leaving either unattended in the bath.
I like to rub a bit of moisturiser or baby oil into my baby’s skin at this time, as it’s actually really relaxing for her to have a little massage and I sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, as that it also a cue that it’s nearly time for bed.
6.45pm – Book
Once the children are in the PJs I put the lights down low.
I keep my voice calm, and encourage the kids to choose a book. With a baby pick a simple nursery rhyme book and have a cuddle.
Newborns and younger babies will be starving after their bath, so give them a bottle or breastfeed and talk softly to them.
I give my toddlers a cup of milk each at this time, just so I know they have had a good drink before bed.
It’s quite important now to keep the lights low and to speak softly. It’s also a good idea to hide and put away any toys your child usually plays with in the daytime.
Comforters are a great idea at this time of day, because they have a good calming effect. Both of my kids have had comforters from an early age because I wanted them to bond with something that they associate with going to bed!
6.55pm – Brush those teeth
Brush their teeth after they have had milk, because it contains sugar and you want to keep those pearly whites healthy.
This can be the time when fussing and crying starts.
Try to remain calm and keep your voice quiet and comforting.
7pm – Bedtime
This might be the moment that fills you with dread. If you are just starting out on implementing a bedtime routine, don’t expect it to work miracles on the first night.
The trick is to be consistent with the above steps every single night.
Try to have a particular phrase you say when putting your baby down every night. I say “it’s sleepy time now, night night”.
It’s about showing your baby that they are building up towards bedtime and signals to them to start winding down.
If you have lots of tears and screaming at this time, don’t stress. If your baby is still young, and needs to be rocked to sleep, then rock them to sleep.
Doing this with a four-month-old baby does not mean you will still be rocking them to sleep at age one! Leaving little ones to cry only makes the process stressful for everyone.
Having said that, my two do occasionally cry now and if it is just a grumble, I will leave them for around 10 minutes before checking on them. If they start crying again, and it’s only low level whinging, I will leave it another 10 minutes before going back.
Nine times out of ten, they will simply settle on their own.
I remember tearing my hair out at times thinking that bedtime would always be a total nightmare, but it’s so much easier now and I totally put that down to having a solid bedtime routine that we practice every night.
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Did you find this post useful? I would love to hear from you, and I am more than happy to answer any questions!