For some, bedtime is the sweetest part of every day. For others… not so much.
If you’re in the latter camp and finding bedtime to be a constant battle or a long, drawn-out process that stretches on into eternity, this post is for you. We asked our baby & toddler sleep expert Natalie Willes how to create an effective routine (you know, one that actually signals to your child it’s time to lay down and go to sleep), and it turns out, it’s much simpler than you might think. In fact, when it comes to bedtime routines, Natalie has just 3 major guidelines.
1. Do the feeding first
“This is perhaps the most crucial part of building your bedtime routine,” says Natalie. Many families opt to do the feeding last and allow their baby to fall asleep while eating. But according to Natalie, this can create problems and lead to multiple middle of the night wakings. “When you nurse or feed your baby to sleep, you are creating a sleep prop, something your baby needs in order to be able to sleep.” So when they wake at night, they need to nurse or feed in order to fall back asleep, even if they aren’t hungry. But by flipping your bedtime routine and putting the feed first, you are helping break that sleep association, so that when baby is put in their crib, they can fall asleep 100% on their own and stay asleep for the remainder of the night.
This particular sleep prop can often be hard to break, so if you find that baby falls asleep while feeding, no matter what you do, know that Tinyhood’s Sleep 101 course can show you exactly how to make the transition, providing plenty of expert tips for keeping baby awake throughout the entire feed.
2. Keep it short & sweet
We know crafting a bedtime routine can feel like some sort of science experiment - first A, then B, then C and always in that exact order. But Natalie says it can and should be much simpler than that. “I’d aim for your routine to take somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes including feeding time,” she says. And as for what to include, Natalie says you don’t need to include baby massages, bath time or bedtime stories (unless you want to) . “The trick to good sleep habits doesn’t lie with your routine and what you choose to include or not include,” she says. “So long as you start with a feed, change into some clean pajamas and diaper, and have some connection time, you have everything you need for your bedtime routine.”
3. Soothe, don’t rock
While connection time is important, Natalie stressed that you should not let rocking (like feeding) become an unintended sleep prop. Instead of your sleep routine including rocking, try 5 minutes of soothing time, so your baby is calm and relaxed enough to fall asleep on their own with minimal tears. Instead of rocking, you can try calmly walking around the room with baby or sitting and cuddling them for a bit. Natalie describes this time as “meditative” for baby, and walks through it in-detail in our Sleep 101 course.
But of course, effective bedtime routines are just one part of fostering healthy sleep habits. If you are running into other sleep-related issues, like short naps, early wake-ups, or never-ending sleep regressions, our Sleep 101 course covers all these and more, so you can effectively troubleshoot any scenario from now through toddlerhood. Sweet dreams!
About our Expert
Natalie Willes is a certified baby & toddler sleep expert who has helped 10,000 families worldwide. She roots her method in safety & science to help empower children & bring families the rest they all deserve.