This month I want to talk a bit about the bedtime routine, and the number one mistake parents make when they are creating a bedtime routine.
Now, if you go to any baby site on the Web, search “my baby won’t sleep,” or
whatever you’re looking for in regards to sleep, almost every single site will tell you about the importance of a bedtime routine. So will I.
I think a bedtime routine is a crucial first step in creating predictability to your baby and teaching your baby that it’s time to make that transition from day into night.
Even adults have routines. We all do things in the same order before bed every night. Without them, we would feel a little anxious or out of sorts, and it would be harder to sleep. So it definitely is important, but sometimes parents just skip right over the routine because we’ve heard it so much! Please don’t do that.
There are a few dos and don’t around the bedtime routine, and the first deals with its length. Don’t make it too long! A lot of people drag out the routine with watching tv or extra games and it takes an hour to finally get the baby in bed. A good length is somewhere between 20-30 minutes. That is enough time to send the proper cues to baby’s body and brain that sleep is coming, but not too long that he’s getting confused because the routine isn’t predictable.
We really want our children to understand, “First we do this, then this, then this,” every night, it’s the same, no change. It really should start to get boring to us as parents, but that consistency is exactly what we want for our babies.
We don’t want the routine to be too short, either. Just changing their diaper and plopping them in their crib is not going to be enough time to cue their bodies and brains that sleep is coming. A majority of the steps should take place in the child’s bedroom. This takes you away from the distractions of the house, the tv, this noise of doing dishes, and gives you a little quality time to spend with your baby before putting them to bed for the night.
While making sure the length is appropriate and that the routine is taking place at the ideal time in the evening hours, the biggest mistake that parents make is that somewhere in the routine, the baby sleeps!
For example, you’ve heard that baby should have a bath, so you’re going to do a bath, you’re going to get jammies on, you’re going to read a book maybe, and then you’re going to do a feeding. There, right there, that’s the snag.
You feed your baby to sleep, either on the breast or with the bottle.
Most people turn off the lights when it’s feed time, get the environment nice and cozy and comfy, and then that’s your child’s cue that it’s time to start the journey into sleep. That is where you need to make your changes.
If you nurse or bottle feed your baby to sleep and then transfer them to the crib, well you’re not going to have a baby that sleeps through the night, that’s for sure. You’re probably going to find half an hour later, 45 minutes later they are awake again, and you’ve got to start the process all over again.
Bath, great; PJs, great; feeding, fine. It’s totally acceptable to feed a baby before bed. In fact, I encourage it, but keep the lights on high enough that you can watch your baby, and don’t even let sleep start.
If you think of sleep as a journey, I don’t even want you to allow your baby to start the journey. Starting a journey looks like doziness, so heavy blinking, closing the eyes, opening them, anything like that is the beginning of the journey, so don’t let that start! Our main goal is helping baby learn to make this journey on their own.
Keep that baby’s eyes open so that they start to realize that food is a nice lovely step in the bedtime routine, but it is not for the purpose of sleep. That comes next. You can use tickling, stimulating touches, shaking a fun toy, or even taking the bottle or nipple out of the baby’s mouth for a moment as methods to keep your baby awake during the evening feed.
If your baby has a really strong association between eating and sleeping, I suggest you break it up with an extra step even after the feed. Feed, sit baby up on your lap, maybe read a story together after the fact, just to break that connection a little bit further and to start to teach that baby that there is no way and no reason to fall asleep while feeding.
Then the baby should go into the crib awake. That is how you start down the road to a full night’s sleep for the entire family. What happens next??? I’ll teach you how to do that, 🙂 but remember that falling asleep on their own is the number one way your baby is going to learn the skills she or he needs in order to become a great sleeper and start sleeping through the night.
So have a look at your bedtime routine. Even though you know you have one, you probably had one since the baby was born, but you probably need to make a fairly significant change to it. That is, to stop feeding your baby to sleep as part of the routine.
You might also be rocking or bouncing your baby to sleep, which, you guessed it, is still inhibiting your baby from making the journey on their own. You might have to say goodbye to any kind of rocking or bouncing in the routine as well.
Following this advice is a great first step to teaching your baby to develop those internal self-soothing strategies that are essential for sleeping through the night, but figuring out what to do after you put your baby into the crib awake might be a little tricky on your own. That’s what I’m here for! If you’re ready to get a full night’s sleep for your baby – and yourself! – then we should definitely chat about the best way to move forward. Simply click the “Book Online!” tab and you’ll be one step closer to saying goodbye to those sleepless nights.