I've written before about the importance of having a bedtime routine, and shared some routine examples here, but how do you go about deciding what the best routine is for YOUR baby? Let's dig a little deeper.
When I write sleep plans for my clients, I always take into consideration the family's scheduling needs as well as their little one's age to determine what I include (or don't include) in the bedtime routine. Who knew that there was a lot more to it than singing, snuggling, and laying your baby down in the crib?!
First things first, I focus on your child's age and what their needs are for feedings. When your baby is a newborn, they feed more frequently because their stomach is so small in size. Here, we definitely want to include a feeding towards the end of the bedtime routine to help your little one go to sleep with a full belly, and to maximize the amount of time they can sleep at this age before they are hungry and need to feed again.
However, after your child has reached a certain weight and can go a bit longer between feedings, we want to start to move the feeding toward the beginning of the routine. Why would we do this?! Well, to teach our little ones independent sleep skills, we do not want any kind of association between feeding and sleep. We want them and their body to learn that nourishment is for day time and night time is for sleep! So, moving the feeding to the beginning of the bedtime routine helps establish that notion. Around a year, you can remove feedings from the routine completely if there seems to be an association there, and if not, feel free to keep it if you so choose. I still give my toddler a cup of warmed milk when we read books and snuggle because he sleeps a solid 12-13 hours at night. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
I also look at your child's preferences. I love to include bath time in a routine because it can be a great activity for burning off that last bit of energy at the end of a day. For most kids, bath time is a joyful time. We want the bedtime routine to be a fun and special time. Also, who doesn't love a fresh and clean baby to snuggle up with at the end of the day?! Reading books is another fun and beneficial activity to include in your routine. Reading helps with language development and allows for some extra cuddles. Some of my favorite memories are all three of my siblings and I crammed on the couch with my mom every night reading books before we went to bed.
Now, because we want the routine to be a joyous time of the evening, DO NOT include any optional activities your child doesn't like. So, if a bath brings your little one to tears instead of giggles, do it at a different time of day. Bedtime should be a time to connect and relax, not get all worked up.
In addition to what I've already shared above, I also look at when you should be starting your bedtime routine. A nap routine is much shorter than a bedtime routine; 5-10 minutes and 30-40 minutes, respectfully. Start times for routines also vary depending on your baby's age - if you have a newborn, you should be having a later bedtime that gradually moves earlier as your little one gets older. We also look at your baby's day being twelve hours long. So, if they woke up at 8:00 a.m., you should shoot for a bedtime of 8:00 p.m. This is a good rule of thumb for all children, actually - twelves hours of day time and twelve hours of night time. Before being on a two nap schedule, bedtime is fluid, depending on when your baby woke from their last nap, and what their current "awake window" is - more information (and a FREEBIE!) on that here. As your little one gets on more of a set schedule, typically around 6-9 months, their bedtime can be a set time.
There are also environmental factors to be considered and included in the routine - for example - lights on, lights dimmed, fan on, lamp off, white noise on, door open or door closed, curtains being drawn, nightlights, etc. These little things (and doing them at a certain time during the routine) can help cue your baby's body that that looooong stretch of night time sleep is coming. As your little one grows, they can help with these parts of the routine - what fun!
Following a routine specifically for your child allows you FREEDOM when it comes to sleep, and it teaches your little one the lifelong skill of FLEXIBILITY.
I've found that my good little sleepers can sleep almost anywhere and can be put down for a nap or bed time by almost anyone. I kid you not, last summer my toddler (who was then ten months old) took daily naps on the boat when we were on vacation. Just this past week/weekend he has been put to bed by three different people on four different nights - his aunt, his grandma, and his daddy - because he knows that after his routine, sleep is what happens next, regardless of who is doing it with him. If you are looking for this kind of freedom with your child's sleep, please reach out to me. I would love to help you and your family get the same freedom and flexibility that healthy, consolidated sleep provides for mine.