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What are the benefits of a bedtime routine?
Your baby will be more relaxed if she knows what's coming next. The more relaxed she is, the more likely she'll go to bed easily and fall asleep quickly. Stick to your routine as best you can even when you're not home – it can make it easier for your baby to settle down in unfamiliar surroundings.
The sooner you establish a bedtime routine, the better. When your baby is as young as 6 or 8 weeks old, start following a set pattern every night. She'll quickly come to appreciate the consistency and predictability.
A bedtime ritual is often good for parents, too. It's a special time set aside for you to spend with your baby, something you can plan on.
How can we establish a good bedtime routine?
Start early enough in the evening so you have time to get through the sequence before bedtime. For young babies especially, you may find that it's best to keep it short and simple: washing up, diaper and jammies, and a story or song in the rocking chair.
And while you can certainly start your ritual in the bathroom or the living room, it should end in your baby's bedroom. It's important to teach your baby that his room is a nice place to be, not just where he's "banished" at bedtime.
What kinds of things should we include in our routine?
The following bedtime routine ideas are ones that have worked for other our site members. Maybe you'll find something here that's right for you.
Let off some steam
Sometimes it helps to let your baby get any pent-up energy out of her system before you try to settle her down for the night. So feel free to dance around with her to a favorite song, give her a "horsey" ride, or let her bounce in the bouncer if she's in the mood. As long as you follow up any rowdy play with something calmer and quieter – like a bath and bedtime story – before she goes to sleep, it can be the first step toward bedtime.
Give her a soak
One of the most popular parts of many bedtime rituals is a bath. Sitting in warm water can be a soothing experience, and getting your baby warm and clean and dry is a great way to ease him into bedtime. A bath is also a wonderful way for your partner to spend some special time with the baby, especially if you're breastfeeding and your partner can't help as much with meals.
If your baby gets excited during baths or doesn't enjoy them, though, it's probably better to leave them out of the nighttime ritual. Babies don't need a bath more than once or twice a week, so don't feel bad about forgoing it if it's not a pleasure for you both.
Take care of business
Your baby's getting-ready-for-bed routine can include washing her face and hands, wiping her gums or brushing her teeth, changing her diaper, and getting into her pajamas. It's a good idea to start the toothbrushing habit as early as possible, so your baby gets used to it.
Play a game
Playing a quiet game in the living room or on the floor of your baby's bedroom is a great way to spend some fun time with him before it's time for bed. Your game can be as simple as a round of peekaboo. Whatever entertains your baby without getting him overly excited is fine.
Another fun idea is to hide something in your child's crib or bed for him to find before you lay him down – a toy, a postcard, an interesting object – and then talk to him about it. (Just be sure to remove the object from the crib before you leave.)
Have a chat
Bedtime is a nice chance for parents to spend some time talking to their baby. You don't have to wait until your baby's old enough to give you a narrative of the day's events. Simply review her day for her.
"After our son Jacob is in his crib, one of us sits in a rocking chair next to the crib with the light off and we talk about his day," says Heidi Sheppard of Lafayette, Louisiana. "It relaxes him."
Say "Goodnight Moon"
Many babies enjoy being carried around the room or the house and saying goodnight to favorite toys, people, and other objects, much as the baby rabbit and his mother do in Goodnight Moon.
"Our favorite bedtime ritual is saying goodbye and goodnight to the sun," says Kim Callahan of Burlington, Vermont.
Read a bedtime story
Rivaling the bath as an all-time favorite nighttime ritual is reading a bedtime story.
"We rock our son Adam and read two to four books to him every night," says Kira Palmer of Vandalia, Illinois. "He's been read to since he was 8 weeks old."
Not only will your baby learn to recognize new words – studies have shown that language skills and even intelligence can depend on a baby's daily exposure to a large vocabulary – but he'll also benefit from time spent with you.
See our list of favorite bedtime stories.
Sing a song
Singing a lullaby is a time-tested way to help a sleepy baby drift off. Your baby loves hearing her favorite sound – your voice – and the soft, soothing melody may calm her.
"I choose two different songs every night and then close with our 'night-night' song," says Susan Webb of San Francisco, who has two boys. "The kids have come to recognize that as the final goodbye."
If you can't remember the words or tune to your favorite ditties, turn to our lullaby library for a refresher course.
Play some music
Playing a CD or tape of lullabies, classical music, or other kids' favorites while you settle your baby to sleep – and then leaving it on at low volume after you leave – can help ease the transition from being awake to falling asleep. A sound machine may soothe him, too, with the added benefit of drowning out outside noise.
Bedtime routine activities
"I think it is a mistake to have an elaborate routine. It is exhausting. A short simple routine works just as well and it isn't such an ordeal for you. My 5-month-old just needs a bottle in a dark room, a song, and a binkie. Stroking her forehead also helps."
— Happy Momma
"Setting up a bedtime routine for my now 9-month-old was a really great idea. We usually start at 8 o'clock with 15 minutes of play. Then it's to the tub for bath. After that I give him an oil massage and bottle, and last I give my 'lil linus' his beloved blanket to fondle and paci to suck himself to sleep. Works like a charm every time."
"My son, who is now 3 1/2 months, sleeps through the night pretty regularly. Our nighttime routine consists of a walk around 6:30, bath at 7, eating and playing calmly after that, and when he starts showing signs of being tired (jabbering and yawning), I hold him and bounce gently on a bouncy ball or rock him until he can't quite keep his eyes open."
"I love lying down with my daughter at the end of the day and letting her fall asleep in my arms. I'll put on a lullaby CD and she and I 'talk' until she's sleepy. Then I'll give her a bottle or pacifier until she falls asleep. Once asleep, I put her in her crib and she sleeps through the night. It only takes about 15 minutes out of the evening, but it's so worth it and the time is precious. I know not everyone agrees with this method, but it works in our home."
"My daughter is 3 months old. Our nighttime routine is to take her upstairs to our room where her crib is and turn all the lights off except one small light by her crib and the rocking chair. Then I put her in her PJs, feed her, hold her upright in rocking chair and talk softly, then lay her down in her crib with a pacifier and sing a lullaby while letting her hold only my hand until she closes her eyes. She's not necessarily asleep at this point but she is calm enough to get to sleep on her own."
— Diane in CO
"Our bedtime ritual consists of letting her play in a warm bath. Then we go to her room and I give her a massage with some baby lavender bedtime lotion for about 15 minutes. This tends to relax her and it's also a great time to let her bottom be exposed to the air for a bit. I give her vitamin D (since I'm breastfeeding), then brush her gums. I turn out the lights, play her classical CD, and nurse her and she usually passes out while on the breast. This ritual is time-consuming but I have three kids so I enjoy spending some quality one-on-one time with her, and I think she enjoys it too."
"My son and I take a bath together, I put his PJ's on, and I read him a story. Also I play a lot of classical music. Do it every day around the same time if possible and it will get better. Mine just turned 1 and he basically sleeps through the night."
— Ethan's mommy
"My baby is 11 weeks now and since she came home from the hospital at 2 days we have set a routine for bedtime. It isn't strict to the point of saying 8 p.m. is "bath time," but between 8 and 9 we bathe her. Then after she is washed, dried, and dressed in clean jammies, we cuddle a little. Between 9 and 10 p.m. we give her a bottle of warm formula. By 10:30 she's out for the night, and usually sleeps until after 6 a.m. A bedtime routine can really be a lifesaver as I didn't have one with my older children and I can really see the difference in her behavior during the day."