Our baby nighttime routine as a family
Written by Lauren Brenton (@OneMamaMidwife), Clinical Midwifery Specialist (CMS).
When you have a newborn it is important to follow your baby’s cues rather than be focused on putting them into a routine. In the first few weeks, most babies will put themselves into their own little routine, so it is important to follow this and adapt it to what you prefer. Whilst you won’t be able to get your baby into a routine when they’re first born, it can be helpful to start and incorporate some elements of a routine and bedtime associations early on. Some people love routines while other people don’t so, I think it's best that you do what works for you and your family.
Before we move on, I want to clarify that by routine we are talking about the activities that occur right before lights out for bedtime. A consistent bedtime routine is participating in the same or similar activities three or more times a week. Studies have shown that establishing a consistent bedtime routine can create healthy sleep habits. Furthermore, bedtime routines are associated with less sleep disruption, less bedtime stress (separation stress and fears) and longer total sleep time for babies and children. Parents of pre-schoolers who had a current bedtime routine were less likely to report current daytime behavioural problems (ie. Hyperactivity, attention deficit or difficult behaviours). Therefore, a bedtime routine can be an essential tool in helping your baby get a better night sleep as well as grow and develop into childhood.
What is normal sleep?
Newborn babies usually sleep for most of the day and night, only waking for feeds every 1-3 hours. Over the first few months the baby’s ability to retain calories in relation to their growth increases, meaning they can take in adequate calories during the day and fewer overnight to sustain their growth. By 6 months of age, babies should have a long stretch of sleep overnight with around 0-2 feeds overnight. By the age of 1 baby’s should sleep 10-12 hours overnight without waking, followed by two daily naps.
It is still important that you take into consideration that babies will have periods of unsettledness or cluster feeding where they may be needing more milk as well as when they learn new developmental skills this may also impact sleeping (sitting up, crawling and walking). Therefore, it’s important that you attend to their needs outside of your routine as well. Therefore, having a flexible routine that you can adapt as your baby grows into childhood is much more important than having strict routines.
Our Baby Nighttime Routine:
Personally, we do not have a daytime routine and like our days to be flexible for our baby Wilder (who is 3 months old). We have four children, so for us it is important that the baby learns to sleep anywhere during the day (including in lights and lots of noise). Once it comes to the evening, we have implemented positive sleep associations since Wilder was a newborn in the hospital. Our night time routine still allows us to be flexible and go out for a cheeky family dinner every now and then as well. Again, flexibility is key and can really help you live life without being bound to a sleep routine.
Our night time routine with Wilder consists of:
- Breastfeed at 6pm in a dimly lit, quiet room
- After the breastfeed, we bath Wilder in a warm bath using Lovekins Baby Hair and Body Wash (every 2nd day)
- We then dry Wilder and give him a calming massage (still in the dimly lit room) with Lovekins baby massage oil
- We then dress Wilder and swaddle him in a firm swaddle
- We give Wilder a top up feed to help settle him off to sleep and have white noise playing whilst giving him this feed
- We then place him feet first into his bassinet
- He then sleeps quite well and will either wake himself at 10 pm for a dream feed otherwise we wake him. With all our feeds from 6pm we try to make sure that they’re done in a dark room with white noise on so, that he can start to learn the difference between night and day but also so that we aren’t stimulating him (which may keep him awake instead of helping him drift off to sleep).
How to introduce a night time routine?
This is different for everyone, and what works for one family may not work for your family, so it is important that you and your partner brainstorm what you think would work best for you.
- Discuss with your partner the benefits of a routine so that you are both on the same page.
- Write down a rough bedtime routine that you would like to follow based on your child’s age. This should include an element of feed, play, sleep and rough times that you would like these to be. It is important that you adapt these times daily to suit your baby’s cues and age-appropriate awake times.
- Consider how often you would like to bath/shower your baby (It is currently not recommended to bath newborn babies more than 2-3 times a week).
- Trial your bedtime routine over a week, keeping in mind it may take a couple of weeks to notice a difference to your baby’s sleep or behaviour.
- Discuss the routine, rejig your routine based on what you have found that works and what you would like to change. Keeping in mind this routine needs to be fluid and change as your baby gets older.
Remember to implement some positive sleep associations for your baby and follow your own baby’s cues based on their individual needs. Try not to compare your baby to other babies, as this can make it much harder on you. Remember every baby is different.