As a parent, one of life’s greatest (and rarest) pleasures is a good night’s sleep. By establishing an effective bedtime routine, it’s possible. Here’s how.
Babies love routine, and find security in knowing what comes next. Bedtime is no different. Establishing an effective bedtime routine can bring what you long for most – a good night’s sleep! A bedtime ritual is often a blessing for parents, too. It’s a special time set aside for you to spend with your baby. Give some tasks to dad and some to mom so you can each enjoy some end-of-day quiet time with your special little person. It’s best to start the routine early, with supper, and allow a certain amount of time for each activity, so you’re not rushed and can spend some focused time on each step.
“For the first 3 months your baby will not form a habit so use this time to get to know him,” says occupational therapist Lourdes Bruwer. There no need to feel guilty if you want to keep baby as close to you as possible, and you enjoy co-sleeping. After this time you can start introducing a sleep routine. “Follow your gut and if you feel uncomfortable with any part of your attempts to help your little one sleep better, then just remember this is a phase and you will not need to help him fall asleep forever (even though your sleep deprived brain might think so)!” says Lourdes.
Here’s how to establish an effective bedtime routine and some ideas for the kinds of cues to help your baby know it’s wind down time and help her get ready for a great night’s sleep.
Sometimes a vigorous play at the end of the day (around 4 or 5pm) is just what little people need to get out any pent-up energy and get ready for the evening. In our house, we save the last play session of the day for daddy. He runs around being a pony, playing hide and seek or chasing our little girls. They all look forward to their special time and squeal with delight while they play. Afterwards they collapse in a happy, tired heap, and know it’s bath and quiet time. “Some swinging time with lots of stop-start actions will also help to regulate all the sensory information they have built up from their busy day! Try rolling your baby or helping him do somersaults on the bed if you do not yet have a swing,” suggests Lourdes.
Warm water is so soothing and most babies love a splash around before turning in. Let this be a calming time, you can add some gentle toys or bubbles, and climb in with your little tot for added bonding, when it’s possible. Give them various sized bottles, jugs, buckets and different water toys (e.g. large syringes, squeezie toys, spray bottles and turkey basters etc.) to help them use their muscles and joints in some heavy work as they mix, pour, tip, carry and engage with the water, says Lourdes. After the bath, wipe your little one’s gums or brush his teeth and put on a clean nappy. This is the perfect time for baby massage. Then put on some clean PJs.
Classical music on at low volume is a great tool to help babies calm and tune-in to the fact that it’s bed-time. You can leave the CD on repeat all night too, and when they wake up as they do according to their sleep cycles (babies’ sleep cycles are about 45 minutes long) the music will help to soothe them back to sleep. White noise can be just as soothing (for example a fan).
Not only is cuddling up while you read stories a great time for bonding, but exposure to language is great for later vocabulary and speech development. Using lots of expression or different voices adds some fun. One idea is to agree on the number of stories you’re going to read. After you’ve read the last one, page backwards through the book saying goodnight to all the characters. Say goodnight to your little one’s toys too, then last of all say goodnight to her. Make sure she has her favourite comfort objects, whether a soft toy, dummy (if you use one) or blanket. Put out the light and go. It’s best to leave baby while she is sleepy, but still awake. This way she is encouraged to find her own method of self-soothing.
If your little one is not yet happy for you to leave them to fall asleep on their own, then try sitting with them. In this time do not encourage eye contact or talking. If your little one makes a noise or tries to engage with you then say “sh-sh-sh” and give them a rub or a pat on their back, says Lourdes. You can gradually reduce the amount of support you give by then sitting at the doorway and then just outside the doorway and hopefully with time your little one will feel secure enough to fall asleep without you nearby.
Once your routine is well established, it can also be handed over to a sitter, giving you a chance to go out. Write down each step of the bedtime routine in detail so your sitter can follow it exactly. Follow your routine as much as possible even when you need to put baby down to sleep somewhere new (such as at a holiday house or friend’s home, or even on an aeroplane) and it should be just as effective.
Bear in mind that it is normal for babies and toddlers to wake up at night. Children up to the age of 4 years may need your help in getting back to sleep so it’s important to adjust our expectations about a full night’s sleep, says Lourdes. If your child does wake up in the night, use the last part of your sleep routine (comforting sounds and gentle back pats) to get them back to sleep.
If you are breastfeeding and are struggling to create a sleep routine (that does not include falling asleep while feeding!) try asking dad or granny to help get baby back to sleep as he will then not smell your breast milk and may be more willing to fall asleep without you and your milk supply.
Even as adults we all differ so much with regards to how much sleep we need, and how we fall asleep. As your baby finds her sleep groove, take heart, soon these sleepless nights will be a fond – and distant – memory!
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