As your baby's night sleep settles into more predictable patterns sometime around the third month, you may decide to instigate a bedtime routine. Starting a bedtime routine is a practical way to smooth your little glo-worm's transition into a healthy and long lasting night sleep rhythm. I've put together some simple suggestions for parents to use as a reference while they are settling on the slumber starting system that seems the most suitable for their little sweetheart. And for no reason at all, each of my bedtime routine tips start with an "s".
Yes, keep your routine simple. You don't want to have to remember any complicated steps or new-fangled techniques while you are trying to soothe your little angel at night. Things like a well-known lullaby, a book or a simple baby massage after a diaper change are popular elements for an effective bedtime routine. I recommend that parents only incorporate 2 or 3 elements that are not strictly essential.
Try to keep all of the elements of your baby's bedtime routine nice and soothing. You may find baths very relaxing, however, for a baby, bath time is not only exciting, but quite often it can be somewhat stressful as well. Some baby books also are exciting and interesting and should be excluded from the bedtime reading list. Turning the lights low, ambient music, swaddling and a relaxing scent like lavender or chamomile are great soothing elements to consider including in your little snoozer's run up to bedtime.
There is no need to drag things out. All a bedtime routine is meant to do is identify a clear moment of down-shift from day time levels of activity and play to long uninterrupted periods of sleep throughout the night. There are three elements that need to be included at some point, a feeding, a burping and a diaper change. These three elements, in combination with insuring your baby is warm enough (but not too warm), are important because they help your baby avoid the things which usually disrupt sleep. Other elements you might include in your bedtime routine can also be practical, like swaddling or massage, but don't over load the routine by including everything you can think of which is both soothing and which could help prevent waking. A healthy bedtime routine should take between 10 and 30 minutes.
When I say "strategic" I must admit that I was getting a bit carried away with the "s" theme. However, what I mean by it is that there should be a natural flow throughout the routine. For example, a parent may begin with feeding, then burping, then changing the diaper, followed by a swaddle, a song and turning out the lights. Each element flows naturally from one another. As I have mentioned in other posts, I do recommend that parents wipe their baby's mouth out with a damp cloth after feeding to help prevent thrush, this is a good thing to consider including in a bedtime routine just after feeding. There are a few reasons I don't list the feeding as the last thing to do before laying your baby down for the night. Firstly, eating often stimulates bowel and bladder relief, and a cold wet or dirty diaper can cause a lot of problems through the night. Secondly, there is the risk of developing "thrush", which is basically a yeast infection of your baby's mouth. Developing a habit of cleaning out your baby's mouth is also beneficial when it comes to preventing tooth decay after your little punkin' eater starts cutting teeth. Thirdly, it has been my observation that laying a baby down slightly awake for night sleep, and allowing him to nod off there, rather than in your arms, is an extremely effective element that encourages long periods of uninterrupted night sleep.
Whatever routine you arrive at, it should be flexible enough to grow with your baby. Though once your baby is consistently sleeping through the night you won't need to maintain the entire routine all the time, you'll want to be able to keep certain elements for quite a long while. The reason for this is that when you have a toddler or small child they can often suffer quite a bit of sleep disruption from simple things like travelling, potty training or teething. I have found that if there is a soothing routine that you can reiterate when these disruptions occur, they tend to pass much more quickly. As an adult I was surprised to discover that I am still ridiculously soothed by my mother singing certain songs to me while she gently strokes my hair.
1. Feed, change, swaddle, burp, mouth wipe, snuggling and humming time, lay down.
2. Massage with lightly scented oil, swaddle, feed, burp, mouth wipe, story, lay down.
3. Turn lights low, turn ambient music on, feed, burp, mouth wipe, change, swaddle, sway to the music together, lay down.
4. Turn lights low, spray a light mist of relaxing scent over bedding, feed, burp, mouth wipe, change, swaddle, sing 1 or 2 songs, lay down.
5. Feed, burp, change, mouth wipe, swaddle, turn ambient music or white noise on, story, lay down.
Obviously you can see that the subtle variations on this basic structure could go on for quite some time. When deciding on the elements of the bedtime routine and the order they should be implemented each night, remember to include the input from everyone who will be putting your sweet little sugar muffin down at night. Consistency really is an essential part of establishing an effective bedtime routine, and consistency depends on everyone being on the same page. I hope you have found these tips helpful. please do forward them to any new or expecting parents you know, and feel free to leave questions and comments. Happy parenting!