From the moment your baby is born, the question you get asked more than any other is “Does she sleep well at night?” It can be difficult to answer this, as each parent has a unique definition of “sleeping well” which will depend on baby’s age and the parent’s sleep needs. Some parents are content with 4-5 hour stretches of sleep overnight, while others see their energy and focus return only with an 8+ hour stretch of sleep.
Newborns are expected to wake (and feed) often throughout the night. But many 4-5 month olds can sleep for 5-6 hours straight at night. Some do this naturally, and others need gentle guidance. So, if your baby needs a little encouragement to sleep longer at night, don’t worry. You have to start somewhere, and that somewhere is here!
The importance of a bedtime routine
When teaching your baby to sleep well at night, where do you begin? Naps? Bedtime? During the night? The majority of baby sleep experts agree that the best way to set your baby up for sleeping long stretches at night is to begin a bedtime routine.
The purpose of a bedtime routine is to calm your baby in the evening, so that her body can relax and welcome sleep. Certain activities have been proven to relax babies, and when done in the right order, it sets your baby up for sleeping well at night.
A 2009 study of 400 infants and toddlers showed that starting a consistent nightly bedtime routine helped children fall asleep quicker, wake less often at night and improved maternal mood.
The best age to begin a bedtime routine
Most newborns sleep around the clock quite easily. So, unless you’re a routine-lover you don’t need to start a bedtime routine right away. Instead, 2-3 months is a great age to introduce a bedtime routine, because this is when your baby is learning to distinguish night versus day. If you have an older baby or toddler, it’s never too late to begin a relaxing evening ritual.
The routine laid out below has the essential elements for relaxing your baby. Following these steps in the right order is important for helping your baby sleep longer at night. A 3-6 month old needs a shorter routine, while an older baby or toddler will often need a longer routine to help them settle for sleep.
With a bedtime routine, consistency is key to success. Doing the same activities, in the same order, at the same time each evening, signals to your baby’s body and brain that it’s time to relax and welcome sleep. Over time, your little one will adapt and settle peacefully to sleep.
Steps for a relaxing bedtime routine
1. Bath time
The first signal to your baby’s body that it’s time to relax and prepare for sleep is bath time. What could be more relaxing than a nice, warm soak at the end of a long day? Lavender and chamomile help babies & adults relax, so choose a baby-friendly bath soap with these scents.
Newborns don’t need a bath everyday, as it can dry out their skin. Opt for bathing every 2-3 days instead, or just use warm water without soap.
If your baby is spirited (AKA really energetic) and you suspect bath time is exciting her rather than calming her, feel free to skip it and instead bathe earlier in the day.
After bath time, dress your baby in only a nappy and give her a relaxing massage. Infant massage has been proven to reduce fussiness, crying, constipation, colic and teething pain.
Use a baby-friendly cream or oil to replace natural moisture that may have been lost in the bath.
If your baby suffers from tummy pains, make sure to bicycle her legs during massage to mobilise any trapped gas.
Energetic children will especially benefit from a nightly massage as it melts away excess energy. This is essential for them to relax enough to fall asleep, rather than fight bedtime.
Baby massage is a great activity for Dad and helps him bond with baby every evening.
3. Dress for bed
After massage, it’s time to get baby dressed for the night and into a sleep sack. Sleep sacks, or wearable blankets, are the safest sleep attire for babies. To reduce the risk of SIDS, never put a loose blankets, pillows or blankets in your baby’s bed. Over time, putting on your baby’s sleep sack will serve as a cue for her that it’s time to relax and fall asleep.
Use a swaddle blanket for your younger baby so that her startle reflex doesn’t wake her throughout the night. Once she’s able to roll over, transition her to a regular sleep sack.
4. Top-up feed
Now it’s time to give your baby a top-up feed to help her sleep longer at night. Keep the lights dimly lit, as it will help her stay awake long enough to finish the feed. Once she’s done, sit her upright to burp.
5. Story time
Separating the activities of feeding and falling asleep will lessen your baby’s dependence on you as a sleep prop. The reason you want this is because it gives your baby the ability to resettle herself when she wakes in the night, rather than crying out for you. A great way to separate feeding and falling asleep is by adding story time in the middle.
Sit your baby up to burp while you read 1-2 bedtime books together. Have calm energy and a soft voice, and avoid stimulating books that light up or play music.
Reading to your baby before sleep has been shown to increase memory development in babies.
Just like with bath time, if you think books might be revving your baby up, rather than relaxing her, try singing calming lullabies instead.
6. Tuck in
By now your baby should be nice and relaxed, so it’s time for bed! Place your baby in her cot, tuck her in and sing a few soft lullabies while you turn out the lights. You may need to pat her back, rub her head, or offer a pacifier to help her settle into sleep. Over time, lessening your hands-on comforting will help your baby sleep through the night.
Every baby will benefit from a calming bedtime routine each evening. Although 3 months is the ideal age to begin, it’s never too late! Your consistency and following the steps in the right order will ensure your baby sleeps long, restorative stretches over night (as will you!)
Please note: This article is not to be used as medical advice. If you are considering a sleep treatment please consult your doctor or medical professional. This post may contain affiliate links.
Baby Sleep Made Simple
Jilly is a Pediatric Nurse, Lactation Consultant & Mother. She helps exhausted Mums get their babies sleeping well, so they can have the energy to enjoy every day. She offers a free which guides you through getting your baby sleeping better at night. You can message her and get free, helpful baby sleep tips