Having a consistent bedtime routine is critical to your child getting a good night’s sleep.
The hour leading up to bedtime needs to be focused on getting your little one prepared for sleep. None of us sleep well when we are hyper, anxious or not relaxed, and children are no different. Having a consistent routine before bed means that your baby knows what lies ahead and that there are no surprises. So before bedtime, take steps to ensure that your baby is fed, clean and relaxed.
You can create any bedtime routine that suits you and your family best. The NHS have a great resource (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/getting-baby-to-sleep/) on the topic; however they say the routine can be started from 3 months old and I am a firm believer that you can and should start a bedtime routine from newborn. Getting your baby into a pattern that they recognise early is what will help make them relax, feel secure and ultimately help them sleep better and longer.
For babies, whether you are breast or bottle feeding them, the pre-bed feed is essential. This should be one of your baby’s biggest feeds of the day so that they have a nice full tummy to get them through the night. For weaned babies or toddlers, having a filling and nutritious dinner will also help with them be content for bed. This may also include topping them up with milk before or during the bedtime process.
Whether you bath your child each night or prefer to wash your newborn with cotton wool and warm water, it’s important that you make it consistent. As mentioned, the feed or meal before bed is the most important one of the day for helping your child sleep, therefore I always advise parents to feed their babies milk before and after the bath to increase their milk intake. Also, it’s important that the bath water is not too warm or this could make your little one too sleepy to take more milk after their bath.
Teeth brushing should begin as soon as your baby has some to clean! Make sure the toothpaste is age appropriate and that as the child gets older they start to learn how to do it themselves. I’ve always brushed my toddler’s teeth first then given him the brush to ‘finish the job’ which not only helps him learn how to do it, it’s something he finds fun.
Changing your little one into the appropriate night clothes and a fresh nappy is important. Gro have a great layer’s guide for safe sleeping depending on the temperature of the room.
The same as us adults, children like to be comfortable in bed. Older children will start to develop preferences for sleeping such as having their socks on or off, or sleeping with a cuddly toy. Let them make these decisions - as long as they are sensible! - to help them with their own comfort.
You can read a bedtime story to children from newborn age. At a very young age your little one just likes to hear the sound of your voice. It also can be a fun task for all members of the family to read the baby a story including older siblings.
You can read a book anywhere - it doesn’t need to be in bed with your child. It can be downstairs on the sofa as a family or in a rocking chair in their room. As your baby gets older, they will recognise this process as a winding down moment before bed.
Dimming the lights or turning off the light completely in your child’s room creates a calm atmosphere. Some older babies or toddlers can’t sleep without a night light but if you can start your child off early sleeping in a blacked-out room you have a much higher chance that they will not need a night light and can go longer stretches without waking. For newborns and young babies, it’s essential to have as dark a room as possible for them to sleep in; to help with this I’d recommend investing in some blackout blinds.
Giving your little one a goodnight kiss and cuddle endures that they feel loved, reassured and secure before bed which will help anyone sleep! It’s a way of creating a secure environment for your child to drift off to sleep in and hopefully allow them to sleep for long stretches through the night.