In those first few days that you have your new bundle of joy home you feel exhausted but you are still kind of running on the “New Mommy Adrenaline” so it doesn’t seem quite so bad. You think to yourself “it’s going to get better” and it will, but you’ve got to figure out how to keep yourself sane before the baby starts sleeping all night. Sometimes the hardest part, after figuring out how to feed, change and bathe the baby (yeah, no big deal, right?), is learning how to get them to sleep all night. Unfortunately, your brain is so sleep deprived that you can’t figure out how to make that happen. So as you hold your child in the middle of the night with one eye on them and the other eye trying to count sheep, you think to yourself “How’d we get here? When will we ever get a good night’s sleep?” The trick is to establish a bedtime routine as soon as possible. New moms know that babies sleep at different times so sometimes they don’t think anything of it. They think they have forever to establish a bedtime routine that works. With all that’s going on in new found Mommyhood, the subject gets put off. This should honestly be one of the first things you think about once you bring baby home. You’re learning a lot about Junior, but don’t forget that they are learning a lot at the same time. He won’t learn what you never teach. I will repeat that because it’s something every new mom needs to remember. Not just about sleeping patterns, but in everything that is involved with raising children…. She won’t learn what you never teach. Once more, don’t forget: they won’t learn what you never teach. As a mom of 3, I have learned this lesson the hard way. My main focus was keeping my little one alive and as long as I was doing this I thought I was a successful mom …. until he was 6 months old and I hadn’t slept in so long that I couldn’t remember how old he was. Now that I’m on baby number 3, I have gotten it down (Or at least I would like to think so!).
Immediately after coming home from the hospital with my third born, I began establishing a routine at night. I would wash prince charming (sponge baths until the umbilical cord stump fell off – then baths), dry him off, powder his little booty, attach a diaper, clean out his ears, slather on the bed time lotion, get him dressed, brush his hair, clean out his mouth and lay him down in bed.
Here’s a simple – but explanatory – guide to establishing a good bedtime routine:
- Bathe baby – This is not only to clean off all of the baby barf, but also relaxes the baby. Don’t get my wrong, it’s okay to bathe baby at other times during the day as well. This won’t cause problems later on because bath time is associated with bed time. It’s only “bed time” to baby if the complete bed time process is followed. So don’t be scared to give baths if he throws up on himself or is covered in formula or baby food. Day time baths are okay too.
- Use a cozy towel – Dry baby off with a nice soft towel that gives a snuggly bed-related thought to trigger thoughts of slumber.
- Bedtime diaper – Put on a clean diaper and put baby powder in the diaper to help absorb moisture. This will keep the baby more comfortable at night even when wet. If the baby has a wet diaper and is uncomfortable, you better believe it’s “waking up Mommy time!” I only put baby powder in the diaper at night time when it will be on for a long time. We change diapers frequently during the day but go long periods of sleeping time at night without changing.
- Clean and dry ears – Use baby safe cotton swabs to dry out their little ears. Not only is leaving water in the ears uncomfortable it can cause ear infections.
- Massage – Gently massage baby with lotion (night time formula works well because the scent relaxes the little sweetie). This will absorb into their skin over night and keep that awesome baby softness. Massage slowly and gently. (*Helpful hint: always massage from the furthest part of the body towards the heart. So on the leg, you would move from feet towards hips in long, slow, steady strokes. This increases blood flow and helps the baby calm down to relax and will help them sleep more soundly.)
- Put on jammies – Dress cutie pie in soft, comfortable, non-binding outfits for bed. Be sure to dress baby appropriately for temperature in your house. If baby is too hot or too cold, they won’t sleep well. The best way to keep baby warm, but not hot, is a one-piece outfit. You know, the cutesy feety pajamas we all love work great. Remember to not put baby to bed with a blanket. An alternative is to wrap baby in a swaddling blanket. There are some great ones on the market now that velcro closed to keep baby wrapped but prevent the risk of it coming open while sleeping and suffocating the baby.
- Brush hair – If your little darling has lots of hair, you’ll want to use a baby-soft scalp brush before bed. A little dab of baby oil on the brush will also prevent the risk of cradle cap by keeping the scalp moist after the bath.
- Brush “teeth” – Use an infant toothbrush and baby safe toothpaste. One that slips on the tip of Mommy’s finger works well for the small ones. Well, we know most babies have no teeth at this point but this step serves 3 purposes. 1: It adds to the markers that help baby remember what time it is. The more steps you follow consistently every night the easier they are to recognize. 2: It cleans baby’s mouth, gets rid of nasty old formula, and eliminates germs. 3: It establishes good health habits for later in life. Teaching baby to brush their teeth early on ensures they’ll have an easier time doing it later on. Lots of kids hate having to do this when they are bigger but if they’ve always done it – it’s just a given.
- Create a night time feel – Turn the lights off, dim them, or have nothing but a night light on during the bed time routine. Speak in a soft and gentle voice. Cut back on the tickling, giggling and playing. Turn off TVs, radios and other noise makers that distract and stimulate baby. Playing soft music such as mobiles and white noise machines are great but keep in mind it may cause a problem in the future. Personally, I would recommend playing these only during the day time to soothe the baby but not as part of the bedtime routine since this may make children dependent upon them to relax at night. Try reading a bed time story or singing baby a lullaby if they are fussy.
- Put baby to bed awake – At this point, the little angel should be happy and content. Not stimulated, but still awake. Putting baby to bed while still awake teaches them to self soothe and encourages baby’s independence. Cuddling, rocking and holding baby until they fall asleep is great for bonding and I encourage you to do so – during the day! Putting baby to bed awake but drowsy will help with bedtime later on as well.
- Don’t give baby a “bed time bottle” – It’s safe to say that lots of babies love that “bed time bottle” and actually, the bottle before bed is a good idea because you don’t want to put baby to bed on an empty stomach or they’ll be awake in no time ready for a bottle. If baby is hungry, take baby out of bed and feed the bottle. Once the feeding is over, but before baby is asleep, put him back to bed. It’s easy to send baby to bed with a bottle. This helps with soothing the baby. But for long term, this will cause problems. Babies become attached to that as part of the bedtime routine and will require it to calm down. Laying down flat to drink also causes ear infections. As baby gets older, and begins to develop teeth, bottles in bed contribute to problems with alignment of baby teeth as well as holding bacteria in the mouth and causes teeth to have cavities, and other problems. So bottle before bed is okay – but bottle in bed is not something I recommend.
- Encourage continued sleep – If your sweetheart wakes at night and needs to have a diaper change or a bottle: Do not turn on lights. Do not talk to baby too much to encourage him to stay awake. Feed him, change the diaper, and put him back to bed.
- Wake baby – Wake the sleepy head at the same time each morning to establish a wake up time in their internal clock. This completes the bed time routine and this important step is often overlooked because the parents are overjoyed that baby is sleeping all night and they don’t want to disturb them. (Admit you love the peace and quiet, but realize that in the long run this will help them go to sleep at night and go ahead and wake them up.)
- Stimulate baby – When baby is awake and past the point of being startled, lay baby back down and begin changing the diaper. Start with a sweet soft voice and then as diaper change time is complete become a little more playful with baby to stimulate them and make sure they know that after the diaper change they aren’t going back to bed.
- Change into daytime clothes – While little babies still wear softer clothes and one-piece outfits versus jeans and such, you still want to establish time for getting dressed in the morning routine, so change baby’s clothes in the morning even if it’s just changing from one one-piece to another.
By following these simple steps – and being consistent with them (which is very important!) – you’ll have a baby sleeping all night in no time. The key is consistency. If baby wakes during normal sleeping hours, change their diaper, feed them a bottle (not while laying down of course), keep lights off, and do not encourage them to stay awake by talking and playing. Once they are taken care of, and you know they don’t need anything else, place them back in bed awake and let them fall back asleep.
Disclaimer: *NEVER PLACE A BLANKET, PILLOW, STUFFED ANIMAL OR OTHER OBJECT IN BED WITH BABY AS THESE ITEMS ARE CAUSES OF SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)*