When to start a bedtime routine is a popular question from many new parents and there is a lot of conflicting advice out there. This post will help you to decide when to start with a bedtime routine, what you need to consider and which sort of routine is best for you.
When should I start it?
it is never too early to start a bedtime routine, most people suggest starting it at around 6-8 weeks but there is absolutely no harm in starting a good bedtime routine from day one and adapting it slightly as your child grows. For example, in the first week or so you may top and tail your newborn before bed and once the umbilical stump has fallen off start bathing him. Over time you will find what works well and what is pivotal to the routine working.
What does a good routine involve?
A bed time routine should have a calming influence that relaxes and reassures your baby. Over time your newborn will come to expect each and every structured step and will accept that last step as being time to sleep. A good routine should include a bath, a story or stories, some cuddles, calming background music and dimly lit lights. It will also help if you incorporate a massage. The routine should start no later than 30 minutes before bedtime although some routines can take up to one hour. It should be a calm, enjoyable environment that is geared towards calming down and relaxing both body and mind (no bright lights or loud games/music).
How do I know what will work?
in simple terms, a good routine is a good routine and the routine you choose is determined by you. Don’t set yourself up to fail by making it too complex. The best and most effective routines are the most simple as they are easy to follow, calming for both Mum (and Dad) and baby, and are most likely to be implemented long term rather than you giving up after a week or so because it is so exhausting. After 5-7 days of using the same routine you should notice an improvement in your child’s attitude to going to sleep and ability to fall asleep unaided. As your child grows this will also aid your child to sleep for longer periods at night time as her body will have recognised the difference between day and night and her feeding and day time naps will be aligned towards this cycle.
How much sleep your baby needs during the day is dependant on her age; as your newborn grows she will gradually need less nap time, it is important you don’t let your little one get over tired as this often results in an extremely hard to settle, tired little monster!
Establishing a routine
Babies respond well to routine as the visual and audible clues you give them helps them to understand and expect what is likely to happen next. This helps them to feel secure in their new world. Ideally, your baby’s day should begin at around 7 o’clock and end at 7 o’clock. If your baby wakes earlier than this then she should go to bed earlier in the evening – beware, putting her to bed later does not necessarily mean she will sleep in later! The amount your little one needs to sleep during the day and the number of naps needed is decreased little by little as she grows.Newborn (0-4 weeks) : Allow your newborn to sleep when she is tired, this will help you to establish a routine that suits her needs rather than goes against her, and avoid rocking! (unless you want to rock her to sleep for the next 18 months)! A newborn is usually asleep more during the day than awake, ensure you wake her for feeds and try to establish a night time routine as soon as possible.4-8 weeks : Now she is out of the newborn stage you will start to notice a pattern to her day time sleep behaviour. This should form the base of your routine. It is likely your little one will need 3-4 naps a day, ranging from 40 minutes to 2-3 hours. You will probably find she gets tired after being awake for around 2-3 hour stretches. If you are looking to establish a good day time routine, the ‘feed, play, sleep’ routine is very popular as it is structured around your little ones needs and stops her from building an association with being fed and going to sleep.8-12 weeks – You and your baby will know the routine now and you will have become accustomed to her ‘clues’ that she is tired (rubbing her eyes, pulling her ear or being a bit tearful etc). You may find she has one big nap and two shorter ones but the length can differ depending upon the individual. Remember: there is no need to keep the house quiet during daytime naps, the more noise your baby can sleep through the better! Average nap time needed: 3-5 hours per day.3-6 months : There are some huge developmental milestones for your little one during this period, however, 3 naps a day- one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one late afternoon is still the perfect routine. If the late afternoon sleep is having a negative impact on your baby’s bed time then try putting her down a little earlier or waking her up after 40 minutes or so.6-9 months : As your child’s development continues, she may be more interested in crawling, sitting up or even pulling herself up than going to sleep. It is not uncommon for the late afternoon sleep to be dropped within this age range. Average nap time: 2-4 hours per day9-12 months : As your baby approaches 12 months you will find the length of time she naps for has reduced drastically when compared to 6-9 months ago. She is likely to be able to stay awake for between 4-6 hour stretches. 2 naps a day is the ideal – one in the morning and one early afternoon but it is not unusual for 12 month olds to only need one nap or to still need 3 on some occasions.
How many naps a day? For the first few weeks I would suggest letting your baby sleep when she is tired, the process of ‘being born’ is absolutely exhausting. You of course need to make sure you wake your newborn for regular feeds every 3-4 hours. Children tend to need naps up to the age of 3 or sometimes even 4 or 5. A good night time routine will compliment a good day time routine. In fact, it is rarely possible to have one without the other.