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Improve How Well Your Baby Sleeps by Using Bedtime Routines

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Updated May 06, 2014

Mother taking care of baby at home.
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For ages, sleep-deprived parents have endeavored to improve how well and how independently their baby sleeps. Sometimes in their desperation and frustration, they jump to the “cry it out” method to improve how their baby sleeps well before the baby is developmentally ready for such a tactic. However, one of the easiest, least stressful ways to encourage better sleep behavior is to establish a bedtime routine for the baby.

When Routines Can Be Established:

In those early weeks, it won’t hinder your baby’s sleep patterns if you let her doze off while nursing or drinking a bottle. As a newborn, she hasn’t established sleep routines and essentially is still getting acclimated to life outside the womb. But around 3 months of age, you can begin developing a bedtime routine. The activities you choose will soon become associated with signaling that bedtime is to come. Bear in mind that at this age babies still likely will need to be fed throughout the night, so don’t expect her to sleep through just yet.

Before the Bedtime Routine Begins:

In the hour or so before you plan on beginning the bedtime routine, start to help your baby unwind for the evening. Decrease the activity level and the volume of noise in your home. Rather than have all of the lights on, dim the lighting in the rooms. This simple change in environment can help calm and settle your baby, further preparing her for her nighttime ritual.

Make Wise Selection of the Bedtime Ritual:

You will need to be consistent with whatever bedtime routine you select, so make sure whatever you do choose is something that you can live with – night after night after night. Reading through that 100 page story book might get more than a little monotonous each and every night, so select something that is practical and easy to live with. You might want to consider some of the following options to incorporate into your bedtime routine.

  • Infant Massage: Often hospitals offer baby massage classes to children or consider purchasing a book on the topic.
  • Bathtime: For some babies, a nice soak is just the trick to soothe the weary body.
  • Storytime: Select an easy-to-read, short and sweet story to read each night.
  • Gentle music: Listen to 2-3 calm songs together.

Focus on Your Baby:

During those minutes of the bedtime routine, be sure that your attention is fixated on your baby. Don’t worry about watching the news with your favorite anchorman. Tell Estelle, your best childhood buddy whom you haven’t heard from since your last class reunion, you'll call her back. Keep this time with your child sacred, special, and calm.

Keep It Simple:

Bedtime routines don’t need to be long and drawn out and should be tailored to match the developmental needs of your child. Older babies may only require a short, ten minute bedtime routine. Younger infants may need a bit more to help signal bedtime.

Naptime and Nighttime Bed:

Allow your child to associate where she sleeps for naps as the same place she sleeps at night. If you are constantly switching where she sleeps – the car seat for one nap, the swing for another, and then a completely different place for nighttime, she might easily become confused. You want her to realize that whatever spot you choose – be it her crib, her bassinet, or her cosleeper, is the place where sleeping is done.

Consider How Naps Effect Nighttime Sleep:

Often parents do not realize that day time sleep does affect nighttime sleep. If your baby is having trouble settling at night, doesn’t seem ready for sleep, or doesn’t sleep for as long through the night as you would expect, take a look at how much she is sleeping during the day. There are general guidelines for the amount and frequency of infant sleep that can help you tweak your naptime schedules to improve the quality of nighttime sleep.

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