When Your Baby Cries During the Bedtime Routine

Struggling when the baby cries during the bedtime routine? Learn how to keep evenings calm when you put your little one down before sleep.

Baby Cries During Bedtime RoutineEveryone says to get a consistent bedtime routine for your baby. To create a calm, relaxing environment at the end of the day so that she knows it’s time to sleep.

But what do you do when she screams hysterically before bed? The minute you bring her into the room and turn down the lights, she senses that bedtime is coming and starts to cry. The more you try to soothe and comfort her, the more upset she gets.

What gives? How is bedtime going to get any easier when the nighttime routine leading up to it is making your fussy baby miserable?

Rest assured that bedtime doesn’t always come easily for many of us. Thankfully, there are a few adjustments you can make to turn things around and help your baby sleep.

Bedtime should be a relaxing transition to sleep, not one filled with tears. By making a few changes before and during your bedtime routine, you can help her sleep soundly:

1. Separate activities your baby doesn’t like

Which bedtime activities get your baby riled up and crying uncontrollably at night? Is it bathing in the bathroom, or getting his diaper changed? Take note of which activities aren’t fan favorites and separate them from your bedtime routine.

For instance, if baths send him screaming, try bathing him in the morning. If he suddenly hates diaper changes, change him a good 30 minutes before your official bedtime routine starts.

That way, he doesn’t associate activities he doesn’t like with what should be a pleasant, relaxing part of the evening. And even if he does cry during those activities, at least you’d have done them early enough for him to calm down.

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5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing

2. Start with favorite activities

It’s not easy when your baby starts crying at bedtime the instant she senses that the routine is starting. But what if you began with activities she loves?

Let’s say she enjoys reading books with you, but you tend to save that toward the end, right before you turn off the lights. See what happens if you start the routine by reading books instead. She just might take to it more so than if you’d started with what you normally do.

Or let’s say she likes nursing. While feeding is usually reserved for the end, there’s no rule saying you can’t start with nursing instead. This could help her calm down for the rest of the evening while you do the other activities to get ready for bed.

3. Do the routine where your baby sleeps

Do you do the bedtime routine in a separate part of the house from where your baby will eventually sleep?

For instance, you might change diapers and nurse her in your room before carrying her to the crib in hers. Or you read books in the living room before transitioning to where she’ll sleep for the night.

The trouble is that the room she’ll be sleeping in might feel different from where she had been doing the routine all this time. Imagine relaxing with a good book in the living room, only to have to get up to sleep in your bedroom.

If you find that she gets upset when you put her down in her room, try doing the routine there instead. That way, she had already been in her room the whole evening—the transition to sleeping can feel much smoother.

4. Spend time in your baby’s room during the day

How much time do you spend in your baby’s room during the day? If you’re like me, perhaps not much. Save for diaper changes and sleep, you might hardly spend time there.

You can imagine how unfamiliar her room might feel. No wonder she cries the minute you step in to do the bedtime routine.

Try to spend time in her room during the day. Play with toys, read books, make funny faces—all these experiences can help her associate her room with something positive.

That way, she doesn’t see her room as just for sleeping or, worse, time away from you. Instead, it’s a source of joy and fun as well.

5. Start the routine earlier

One of the biggest culprits of a bedtime routine gone wrong is that your baby is already overtired by that point. Nothing you do matters if she’s already miserable to begin with.

If you suspect that she’s simply too tired, start the routine earlier than usual. Watch for tired signs that signal she’s ready to wind down and start the routine before you see too many of them.

You can also track the time. If she can only stay awake for two hours and your routine takes 45 minutes, start the bedtime routine an hour and 15 minutes before you put her down.

Either way, aim for an earlier bedtime to help her catch up on lost sleep. An earlier bedtime could mean avoiding potential crankiness in the early evening.

6. Experiment with a night light

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For many parents, the bedtime routine goes much smoother once they install a night light. Babies don’t understand object permanence from the start, or the idea that something can still exist even if they don’t see it. As Crystal Raypole writes on Healthline:

“Separation anxiety also tends to develop around the same time as object permanence, and this may be somewhat less exciting. Now your baby knows you still exist whether they can see you or not.

So when they can’t see you, they aren’t happy, and they’ll let you know that right away.”

Installing a night light can help your baby see the room, easing fears that come with the dark. The room should still be dim enough that she knows it’s time for sleep, but a night light can avoid leaving it pitch black.

7. Keep evening activities subdued

One simple hack that can help your baby stay calm is to simply keep your activities subdued. Keep those 20 minutes before you start the routine calm and relaxing. You might want to dim the lights, lower any sounds, or keep your movements slow-paced.


It’s pretty hard to rely on a bedtime routine when your baby wants nothing of it. Thankfully, you can try a few tricks to help her take to her evenings again.

Don’t feel compelled to include activities she doesn’t like in your bedtime routine—it’s totally fine to do them at another time. If she cries the instant she senses the bedtime routine, start with an activity she likes.

Do most of the routine in her room (or the room she’ll eventually sleep in) so the transition doesn’t feel so different. In fact, spend time in her room during the day so she associates it with positive experiences. If you suspect she’s overtired, start the routine earlier while she’s still content.

Experiment with a night light to ease fears of the dark she might have. And lastly, keep your evenings subdued—this can help her calm down enough to start the routine.

Bedtime routines are important—and now you can finally say you have one that won’t make her cry.

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5 Mistakes That Keep Your Baby from Self Soothing

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  1. I’m currently struggling getting my 7 month old back into a routine. We try to do 3 naps a day and bed by 8pm but lately he’ll fight his naps and be overtired all day. Finally taking a nap late afternoon and second nap close to bedtime, (making us think it’s him going to bed, but he wakes up an hour later) and he’s awake until 11:30pm.

    We tried stopping cereal for a bit, we tried increasing cereal. We tried more formula than food as recommended by the pediatrician but he still wakes and sometimes is inconsolable. He did get two teeth a few weeks ago so we think it’s teething? But we’re stuck.

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      That 7-8 month range can definitely be tricky, because more than likely, he’s dropping that third nap gradually. Of course, it’s never a one and done deal—he might need that third nap some days, and not at all on others, so it can be hard to transition.

      If you think he’s overtired, he likely still needs that third nap, but that means you can move the first two earlier. For instance, one can start at 9:30, the second can start at 1pm, and the third at 5:30 but wake him up after half an hour so that he still has enough time before bedtime. If he’s cranky even by the first nap, move that first nap earlier so that he’s not overtired even at that point.

  2. Our routine with our 9 month old is to turn on his sound machine, put him in his sleep sack, and lightly bounce/sway back and forth until he’s drowsy but not asleep, then kisses and in the crib he goes. However, he’s gotten a lot heavier and is taking much longer to settle down so that we can put him down drowsy. It used to take 5-15 minutes to get him there, now it’s taking anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Do you have any tips on how we might transition from holding him for so long before we put him down?

    1. Nina Garcia says:

      They definitely do get heavier by the month, making it harder to hold them to sleep. By this time, it’s likely he’s very capable of simply being put down in his bed without needing to be rocked or held to sleep. I can see why you did that when he was a newborn, but by now, it’s likely you can simply set him down wide awake, with no rocking or swaying, and teach him to sleep that way.

      That way, you no longer have to rely even on swaying and lightly rocking. You could literally just put him down and know he’ll fall asleep without your help rocking. I’d follow the guidelines of the book once again, setting timers for check-ins, as this will be a new experience he’ll now have to get used to. But this way, you don’t need to even hold him to sleep at all—just put him down and know that he’ll fall asleep on his own.