Bedtime Routines for Babies

 

Dr. Johnson

Dr. Johnson, Pediatrician, Meriter McKee

How do you set up a bedtime routine for a baby and at what age should you start?

A bedtime routine can be an important step in helping any infant or child, or adult for that matter, fall asleep easier. The purpose of the bedtime routine is to help the body relax and realize it is time for sleep.

It is never too early, or too late, to begin a bedtime routine. Newborn sleep patterns are not as predictable, but by about 2 months of age, the time an infant goes to sleep is often more consistent from night to night so it is easier to know what time to start the bedtime routine.

It is also best to have the bedtime routine established by about 4 months of age. At 4 months, infants begin to develop the skill of self-soothing. This means, if they wake up during the night, they can hopefully put themselves back to sleep without parental help.

To help your infant develop this skill, beginning between 2 and 4 months, it is best to put your infant to bed drowsy, but not sound asleep so they have to put themselves to sleep. The bedtime routine helps them to get to this state of drowsiness.

The bedtime routine is going to vary from family to family. Some common elements are a bath, breastfeeding or bottle for infants, reading a book, singing a lullaby, rocking, brushing teeth, etc.

Whatever you choose to be incorporated in the bedtime routine, it is best to follow the same pattern each night. Most children don’t need to bathe each night, so this may only be included some nights and not others. It is best to brush teeth after the bottle or breastfeeding, if possible, to clean the teeth prior to sleep.

The bedtime routine does not have to be a long process and sometimes may need to be abbreviated. If your child is already showing signs of being sleepy, it is best not to do the whole bedtime routine at the risk of delaying sleep and your infant waking back up with a “second wind.” Delaying sleep in a tired child can make it more difficult for them to fall asleep, as they can wake back up or become overly tired.

A bedtime routine can be especially important when a child is sleeping somewhere other than their home. Traveling can disrupt sleep for anyone, including children. If you follow your traditional bedtime routine, this gives them consistency and can help them feel more comfortable in falling asleep in their new surroundings.

It is a good idea for grandparents, babysitters, etc., to also follow a version of the bedtime routine if putting the child to bed. Again, the consistency provides comfort.

As I mentioned in the beginning, a bedtime routine can help a person at any age. When adolescents are having a difficult time falling asleep, in addition to recommending turning off the TV and cellphone, I recommend they follow a routine each night to relax their body and let it know it is time for sleep.

Dana Johnson, MD
Pediatrician
Meriter McKee

This article originally ran in the “Ask Dr. Johnson” column in the Wisconsin State Journal on November 3, 2010.  Permission was given to repost this article on meriter.com.

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2 Responses to Bedtime Routines for Babies

  1. Melinda says:

    Is there a recomended age when a child should be moved from the bassinette in the parents room to their own bed in their room? My baby is 3 months and still sleeping next to my bed. I am wondering if there is a good time to move him to this room for the night. He currenlty wakes up after about 6 hours of sleep for feeding and then again after 2-3 hours.

    • Meriter says:

      There are many advantages to sharing a room with your infant. Nighttime feedings are often more convenient if the infant is nearby. Having an infant sleep in the same room as their parents but in their own space has been shown to decrease the risk of SIDs as well.

      I have found that most families know when it is time for the infant to move into their own room. It should be a discussion between the parents to determine when they are ready for the transition. Sometimes it is a bigger adjustment for them than the infant. Some reasons to move the infant will depend on what type of bed your baby is currently sleeping in. There may be upper weight or height limits that will require transitioning to a crib. Again, depending on his current bed, when he starts to roll may cause safety concerns and require a transition.

      I find that around the 4-8 month mark, many babies have been moved to their own room. They are often sleeping longer lengths of time and can do some self-soothing when they wake during the night. If a parent tends to be a light sleeper, when the infant is nearby, the parent may wake with each movement of the infant even when the infant doesn’t need attention causing an unneeded interrupted night’s sleep. The reverse can be true as well. The infant may wake easily when a parent moves. Once you begin to approach 9 months of age, the transition may become more difficult as the infant may rely on your presence for falling back to sleep With your 3 month old, I recommend trusting your instincts and doing what you believe is best for your family.

      Dr. Dana Johnson

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