Getting baby to sleep at—and through—the night is one of the biggest challenges new parents face. Everyone and their mother (and your mother) has advice, plans or the perfect routine for a foolproof bedtime ritual. It’s easy to forget that every parent and every baby is different so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. One thing that everyone does agree on is that it’s essential to establish a routine. As author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, Harvey Karp, MD says, “Think about it this way. If you spend your entire work day mastering new tasks, you appreciate your regular coffee breaks.”
We all need structure in our lives and, since babies are constantly being inundated with new experiences and stimuli, they really need a framework for their days. To help you establish the best bedtime routine for baby, consider these 10 rituals for getting baby to sleep.
1. Lighting is Everything Our bodies are naturally wired to wake up with the sun and darkness triggers the production of melatonin to make us sleepy. Because babies sleep and eat so much at first, it’s easy for them to get out of sync with day and night. One way to help your little one find his or her natural sleep cycle is to make sure they get plenty of sunshine during the day—even nap time—and start dimming the lights as you’re winding down for bed. Keep baby’s room dark at night.
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2. Avert Your Gaze You love the way your baby lights up when you make eye contact. It’s a wonderful connection and incredibly important. However, you don’t want anything disrupting the mood of calm when getting baby to sleep. Since eye contact is stimulating, it may help to avoid making that connection at bedtime.
3. Serenity Now Make your little one feel as calm and safe as possible during the day—carrying your baby in a sling for several hours each day has been shown to help them wind down more easily at night. Stick to quiet, soothing activities in the evening and do the same things in the same order each night. The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) recommends that you keep baby’s room between 65 and 70 degrees.
4. Stick to Your Meal Plan Maintaining a regular feeding schedule is key for establishing a successful bedtime routine for baby. A hungry baby is definitely not a sleepy baby. As soon as you can, start trying to feed more during the day so they associate eating with daytime and sleeping with nighttime.
5. A Little Night Music Sometimes playing soft music is an effective tool for getting baby to sleep. You can also try soothing repetitive sounds like running water or even a fan. In Utero is an online newborn sleep machine and iPhone app that recreates symphony of sounds from the womb.
6. Bedtime Bath Time There’s nothing like a nice warm bath when you want to relax and unwind. This can be a wonderful part of a bedtime routine for baby especially if you throw in a massage. Unless, of course, your baby hates baths—some do! In that case, a morning bath may be a better idea.
7. Bedtime Stories Even if your infant is too young to understand words, talking to your baby in a quiet soothing voice for a few minutes each night is incredibly soothing and sets you up for an effective and educational bedtime story ritual for the next several years.
8. Wake-Up Time If you don’t have a consistent wake-up time, you’ll never have a consistent sleepy time. Encourage your infant to rise when the sun’s up (not necessarily with the sunrise, you need sleep too) so he or she will be sleepy when it starts to get dark.
9. Listen to Your Baby Although there are general guidelines for when and how babies should sleep, it’s important to pay attention to your baby’s natural tendencies. If you’ve got a little night owl, you can nudge them toward getting to sleep a little earlier but it’s much easier for everyone if you’re putting baby to bed when he or she is tends to get sleepy each night.
10. Regular Naps Establishing a healthy sleep schedule isn’t limited to bedtime. Babies do a lot of sleeping in their first year and getting quality rest during nap time sets them up for quality rest at night.