How to Establish a Baby Nighttime Routine

Need examples of a baby nighttime routine to do every night? Learn how to establish a consistent evening routine to help your newborn sleep.

Baby Nighttime RoutineWhen I took my eldest home from the hospital, I felt like I was always scrambling from one activity to the next. Other times, I was so afraid to be home alone with him, doubtful I’d know what to do on my own. And the nights were the worst, waking up multiple times feeling delirious and disoriented.

I knew I needed a routine, fast. I then developed and began to rely on a consistent bedtime to help my baby—and me—get ready for sleep.

When the twins arrived a few years later, I was on new territory once again, this time juggling a routine for two. But I did, and those routines helped smooth my evenings more than if I didn’t have them in place.

The benefits of a nighttime routine for your baby

With so much talk about nighttime routines, why exactly should you start and keep one for your baby? I’ve found four major benefits of nighttime routines:

  • You’re able to incorporate changes: Consistency allows you to make changes in your baby’s life much easier. Adjusting to a new caregiver or going on vacation won’t seem as jarring when he maintains the same routine he’s grown used to.
  • Routines signal the time to sleep: A routine gives your little one the predictability he needs to know what will happen next. Babies don’t understand words yet, but they can comprehend rituals. Doing the same things in the same order signals that it’s time for bed.
  • Your baby can feel relaxed and more likely to sleep: Like you and me, babies enjoy a calming ritual to relax their minds and bodies. After all, it’s too difficult to fall asleep when we’re wired and awake. A routine transitions him from being awake to getting ready for sleep.
  • It’s one less thing for you to think about: Imagine coming up with solutions on the fly every night! A routine not only benefits your little one, but it also frees you from always having to think of “what’s next.” Routines allow you to run on autopilot and relieve you from having too much to think about.

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How to establish a routine

Now that you know how beneficial nighttime routines can be for your baby, let’s dive into how to establish one. We’ll talk about the ideal time to start—both in age and time of the night—as well as activities to do during your routine.

So, at what age should you start implementing a routine? You can start from day one. Yup, even in the newborn stage, you and your baby can enjoy having a rhythm to your evenings.

What this doesn’t mean though is being strict with your routine. All children grow and change. As consistent as we should be, we also have to be flexible for off days and developmental milestones.

Newborns are also notorious for throwing routines out the window. They need us to be flexible enough to accommodate their fast-changing needs. Plus, they’ll grow out of old routines and into new ones, too. A 3 year old still benefits from routines, but not the ones he had as an infant.

Starting from day one can give your baby the reassuring comfort of routines. He’ll know what to expect and when, and routines can give you a framework for structuring your evenings.

What time in the evenings should you start your routine?

Bedtime can vary for each baby. One might begin his long stretch of sleep at 8pm while another starts at 6:30pm. What you should note though is when your baby can typically sleep for his first long stretch of the night. Then, add about 30 minutes to an hour before that time to start your routine.

Let’s say his long stretch tends to start at 7pm—start your routine around 6pm or 6:30pm. By the time you’re finished with your routine, it’s time to lay him down for sleep.

How long the routine lasts depends on many factors, like how long he feeds or the activities you’ve planned. But typically, keep it to about 30 minutes and no longer than an hour to be effective and doable (after all, you have to do this every night!).

You also want to include enough time for him to be awake between his last nap and bedtime. It might be tough to put him to sleep after he had just woken up from a nap not too long ago, routine or not.

Activities to do during your routine

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With routines, you’re not bound to any particular activity. Do the things you and your baby enjoy, and leave the rest. Plus, there are so many activities to choose from that you’ll have plenty of chances to see which ones you like. Here are a few ideas:

  • Bath: I bathed my babies every night because it was the one activity that was different from anything else we did during the day. A soothing bath can signal that this is the time to sleep for the night rather than for a nap. That said, bath time should also be positive and relaxing. If your baby shrieks and cries with every bath, don’t force it every night, or don’t include it as part of your bedtime routine.
  • Baby massage: Whether you bathe your baby or not, a massage can signal that the day is winding down. Not only is this a special treat, but the massage itself can also relax her mind and body, making it a conducive activity right before sleep.

baby massage

  • Pajamas: Dress her in pajamas she only wears in the evenings. For instance, you can dress her in a zipped one-piece suit on top of the usual onesie. Tip: Go with zipper pajamas and not buttoned ones, which aren’t convenient in the middle of the night! (What should your baby wear at night? Take a look at these guidelines.)
  • Swaddle: Many babies enjoy wearing a swaddle during sleep. Placing your baby in a swaddle can feel comforting and remind her of the time she spent in your womb.
  • Special conversations: A wonderful way to cap the day is to spend time talking with her. You can start a tradition of what you liked best and least about your day, or what you look forward to tomorrow.
  • Songs: One of our nighttime routines was singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, and The Itsy Bitsy Spider before laying my kids down in bed. It became a tradition all through their toddler years, too!
  • Books: I’m a fan of reading books to kids, especially in the evenings. It becomes a fantastic time for you to snuggle and share a special moment, all while building a habit of reading.
  • Music: Use this time to play lullabies as she gets ready for sleep.
  • Say “good night”: One of my favorite nighttime activities was carrying my baby around the room and saying good night to certain fixtures. I got this idea from the book, Goodnight Moon. Before turning off the lights, say good night to pictures, lamps, and special toys before laying her down in the crib.
  • Dark room: A dark room is helpful for her to sleep for long stretches. Install darkening curtains to block lingering evening light as well as the early sun the next morning.
  • White noise machine: Babies love white noise, especially since it reminds them of being in the womb. White noise also muffles startling sounds in the room or out in your home.
  • Nurse or feed: During the day, I’d feed my baby after he woke up, not before, to develop good sleep habits. But one exception was during our bedtime routine. This was the only time I’d feed him before sleep.

Conclusion

Every baby will have a different nighttime routine, and even this routine will evolve as he grows.

And while off days will happen, the most important factor in an effective routine is consistency. Be consistent so that if the time comes for you to change plans, your baby is more willing to oblige. Having grown so used to a consistent routine, he can see off days as exciting changes, not overwhelming disruptions.

Even now, my kids still have a routine that has evolved as they grew up. We’ve replaced feedings with tucking in, though we still read books as we did when they were babies.

I credit routines for accommodating changes or special occasions thrown our way. Routines have given my kids a consistent ending to their days, one they’ve come to rely on and expect.

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