Blundering Through Bedtime: How Not To Put Your Baby To Bed

The do's and don'ts of putting your baby down for a nap or for the night

The bedtime routine. In practice, a predictable sequence of activities prior to bedtime that signal to our little ones that sleep is soon to follow. And in theory, a calming time of day or night that allows us to connect with our babies and ease them into a frame of mind and body that is accepting of sleep. Sounds easy, right? For some parents, absolutely. But for others, it’s a time of day/night that leaves them feeling anxious, flustered and flailing. 

Without realizing it, some of you may be ticking a box or three in the “How Not to Put Your Baby to Bed” list. That’s not to say that you’re failing as a bedtime facilitator, it may just be that there are some tweaks that could be made to smooth the road to sleep for your little one and sanity for you. 

Keep it simple.

This is one of those moments in parenting that we don’t want to overcomplicate. It’s objective is clear—the bedtime routine sets the stage for sleep, but should never be a means to sleep.  Which means that if at the end of your routine, your little one is actually asleep, you’ve gone one or two steps too far.

So think simple… bath (on bath nights), diaper/pj’s/sleep sack, book, song and into bed. If you are still nursing/feeding, then offer this within the routine but not as the very final activity so as to avoid a feed-to-sleep association. And no longer than 30 minutes usually does the trick. Concise, predictable and easily repeated—these should be your goals.      

There is a beautiful bi-product to a routine that follows this strategy; it becomes one that can be seamlessly passed over to dad/mom, grandparent or caregiver and also be easily implemented when you travel. And don’t stress about variation from one parent to another, if dad is a fan of Twinkle Twinkle and mom is loyal to You Are My Sunshine, it’s not a bedtime deal breaker. 

Remember, this is a routine full of moving parts and doesn’t come down to one single factor.       

Stay the course with consistency.

It’s a rare day as a Certified Sleep Consultant that I don’t utter the word consistency. And once again, that handy term comes into play. If there was ever a “secret” to a successful bedtime routine, this is about as close as it gets.  

Remain consistent with timing.
Be as consistent as possible with the time that you offer the routine (whether night or day sleep) from each day to the next. After 4 months of age, our little ones respond best to being offered sleep at predictable times of the day that compliment when their bodies are ready for sleep, from a biological perspective. 

Offer consistent cues to sleep.

A successful bedtime routine, whether abbreviated (and no, this doesn’t mean rushed) for naps or not, is one in which many moving parts (cues) come together to signal to our little ones that sleep is near.

Cues can be audible (white noise played for the duration of sleep, singing a familiar lullaby), visual (dimming the lights) and sensory (using the same sleep sack for each sleep, consistently offering crib sleep).  All of these factors combine to support our little one’s penchant for learning through pattern and routine and with consistency, the routine is one that is both familiar and comforting to our littles. 

Be adaptable.

So this is where I am going to completely contradict myself. Just a few short moments ago I was singing the tune of unwavering consistency and now I’m suggesting you be adaptable. Huh?  Here’s the thing. There are going to be days when you intuitively know that your little one just needs to be put to bed. They are ready for sleep, book or no book, and to pursue the routine would be counterproductive. Know when to pull the chute, so to speak.

At the end of the day, I can’t stress enough how important it is for you to find a routine that works for you and your baby. There is no “right” way, no one routine that is better than another.  We know it’s purpose but how you choose to get there with your baby is just one more path that you have to travel independently and make your own way.

With practice, consistency and an air of calm you’re going to become a rock star at the bedtime routine in no time, I just know it.

Kim Pawlak is a Certified Infant & Child Sleep Consultant, trained Good Night Sleep Educator, and mama to two adventurous, funny and heart-warming little ones.  She feels so fortunate to be a part of the journey to healthy sleep with so many families and strives to educate, support and empower those families along the way. She invites you to join her Facebook Page and website for current sleep tips and free sleep clinics. 

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