Updated: Dec 1, 2020
The Bedtime Routine: how do you like yours?
The Bedtime Routine is like a big neon sign telling baby it’s time for the BIG sleep. In the early days it can feel like they’re just going down for another nap – I mean you’re definitely going to see them before morning! - but setting the foundations of a routine that will grow with you and baby AND help them sleep is worth it.
In this episode we’ll look at what a bedtime routine is and how to create one that works for you and your family.
We’ll also answer Michael's question about how he can best support his partner at bedtime and over night.
Five Things About The Bedtime Routine
1 – Why a bedtime routine is important
2 – What is a bedtime routine?
3 – Who should do the bedtime routine
4 – How a bedtime routine changes with age
5 – How to adapt a bedtime routine
The Bedtime Routine podcast episode transcript
Cat: [00:00:00]Hello, it's lovely to have you with us. This is The Sleep Mums, a baby sleep podcast for parents by parents. I'm Cat Cubie, broadcaster, mum and lover of cheese, both the one you eat and 80s movies! And this is Sarah Carpenter, baby sleep expert, Norland-trained nanny and mama.
Sarah: [00:00:20]Did I not tell you about the inquiry that we had from Amsterdam.
Cat: [00:00:23]No, was it a saucy one?
Sarah: [00:00:23]It was someone that wanted a Norlander in a uniform...
Cat: [00:00:23]Oh! I don't know quite what to say about that as this is a baby sleep podcast!
Sarah: [00:00:32]Yeah, total fetish! It was horrible. [laughter]
Cat: [00:00:37]Together we are The Sleep Mums. As you probably know by now, we love to chat. So if you want to get in touch with us, you can find us online @thesleepmums or on our website wwww.thesleepmums.co.uk. This episode is about the bedtime routine, which I think weirdly seems like it needs some sort of a drum roll or something, or at least capitals. THE BEDTIME ROUTINE! Perhaps, because in many ways it is like a big neon sign that tells baby it is now time for the big sleep. That's the hope anyway! So here are five things you need to know about the bedtime routine... No sleeping at the back (just yet.).
Cat: [00:01:20]So first of all, why is a bedtime routine important? I mean, in the early days, it's not like baby is going to sleep all the way through the night until morning. So I can feel a bit strange to be making a big deal of bedtime. In some ways, it sort of feels like they're just going down for another nap. It's just at bedtime. So, Sarah, why is a bedtime routine important?
Why is a bedtime routine important for baby?
Sarah: [00:01:42]Well, you've pretty much hit the nail on the head with what you've already said about being a nap, essentially in those early days it is. You're going to split your night into more naps. But the key thing is how you deal with the week ups between those naps and by doing your bedtime routine it's different to how you behave during the day and you're setting yourself up to then have a technique to resettle throughout the night. So what you do at bedtime is exactly what you're going to do every time that baby wakes up during the night. And the major importance of the bedtime routine is that you're distinguishing between daytime and nighttime and you're catching baby before they get overtired, which I know we've spoken about a lot in other episodes, but it is really key to have baby going to bed before that overtired.
Cat: [00:02:35]So in many ways, you're kind of setting up a foundation for what's to come. So, yes, they are kind of nighttime naps, but also at some point down the line, you hope you're going to put baby to bed with their bedtime routine and dum dum dum they're going to sleep all the way through the night and they will do it at some point, we promise! And hopefully with our help, it might happen a little bit sooner.
Cat: [00:03:01]So that's why bedtime routine is important, but what on earth is a bedtime routine? I know we spoke last week about sleep cues and a naptime routine, but what separates a naptime routine from a bedtime routine? And what sort of things might you expect to have or what could you have in a bedtime routine?
What is a baby bedtime routine?
Sarah: [00:03:20]I mean, the two are very similar. You know, you're going to use a lot of your key things from your bedtime routine you are going to use in your nap time routine as well. But your nap routine, as we said last week, is a quick routine to get them to bed for their nap. So your bedtime routine is going to start a lot earlier. Realistically, when baby is very small. Your bedtime routine is really starting around about four o'clock in the afternoon, which sounds insane because they're not going to bed at 4:00 in the afternoon. But the way you prep with those last couple of hours of the day, that will set you up for having a bedtime. So you're not letting baby get overtired. You're really targeting those two and a half to three hours from four o'clock. You're really splitting that into segments to allow you to fit everything that you need to fit in for bedtime into that short space of time without letting baby get over tired.
Cat: [00:04:15]I think people might be quite surprised by you saying it starts at 4pm, so maybe we could just talk through what that might look like.
Sarah: [00:04:22]So, for example, if you're aiming for a six thirty, six forty five bed time, at four o'clock, you're going to do a feed, breast or bottle. It's going to be a slightly shorter feed than some of the other ones, baby might not take as much from the breast, so they might have a slightly reduced bottle. Wind baby well and then have a very short stimulating play. So that might involve doing a little bit of tummy time, maybe practising some rolling over, dangling a mobile above them that they can have a little look at something that's black and white, or if you've got older siblings, just let them get up on in their face a little bit! Then you're going to aim for a short nap, so it will start, initially it'll be around about forty five minute nap and that will then reduce to a twenty minute nap as baby gets older.
Cat: [00:05:15]What sort of age do they drop that nap?
Sarah: [00:05:17]So they drop that third nap at six months, you definitely wouldn't have them doing a third nap at six months or a late nap at six months, but initially that they will have that slightly longer nap and then it will reduce up to the six month mark.
Cat: [00:05:31]I used to just with my son, obviously having another child, I just pop him in the bassinet in the kitchen so he would kind of go to sleep but it would not be quite as deep asleep as if I put him down properly. It always felt like he was just kind of catching some zzz. And that helped him get through to bedtime.
Sarah: [00:05:46]Yeah it pushed them through to bedtime without them getting overtired. But yeah, you can do it in the kitchen, you can have them in the sling or carrier, you know whatever you're doing that fits in with your lifestyle. If you've only got one baby then that's the one that's quite nice just to not get off the couch and just sit and have a cuddle. So you do that and then you want to aim for your of wind down, changing time. So if you're having a bath - it's really important not to keep a baby in the bath for too long because it's the change to their body temperature that can then affect their tiredness levels - so it really is a short burst in the bath, you're looking at sort of five, maybe ten minutes absolutely, max. And then you're getting them changed into their pajamas and you don't have to do a bath. Don't get hung up on that bath. They don't need to have a bath everyday, babies generally aren;t dirty.
Cat: [00:06:39]And you might not have a bath, you know, you might have a sink or a baby bath or even a shower.
Sarah: [00:06:47]Exactly, the key thing is not to get hung up on those things. You know what we're putting into a bedtime routine, the actual things that you should be focusing on are getting the last two feeds in and having that short nap, because that's what's going to prevent over tiredness and over hungriness.
Cat: [00:07:04]So those are sort of the big steps, if you like. And then there are the smaller steps, which might be similar to a naptime routine, which is swaddling, a darkened room and white noise or maybe a song or something.
Sarah: [00:07:18]Yeah, I mean, swaddling again, is key at the bedtime routine if that's the stage that your baby's at. So it'll either be a swaddle or a sleeping bag. A lot of people prefer not to swaddle or put into the sleeping bag until the end of the last feed because they find it more tricky to try and feed them when they're swaddled or they find that the sleeping bag becomes a trigger and as soon as baby goes into that, they automatically go to sleep. So it's something that you need to play around with that little bit to find what works for you and your baby. There is no right or wrong at that stage as to what you do first, and that will change as well. You know, a baby who has previously responded really well to going into the swaddle and then haveing the last feed when it comes to the sleeping bag, they may change and want to have the feed and then go the second bag. So at that point you would just let them burp them before putting them down properly.
Cat: [00:08:09]So I think as well, it's about having the confidence. We want to give you the confidence, to feel comfortable, to have a little play around with some of these things and work out what works best for you and your baby within that kind of the idea of having a bedtime routine.
Sarah: [00:08:25]Yeah and everyone is different. And I think, again, it's really important to remember that although we are telling people to be consistent and is really key, it's also good to remember that there is flexibility within the consistency. So once you're established with everything that we talk about there does need to be a little bit of flexibility. I remember one client in particular who called me from an airport in Paris in a complete panic because their baby was 12 weeks old and the flight had been delayed and it was going to be the first night that they hadn't done a bath and they just didn't know what to do because they had both psychologically their heads were in that routine and they were so worried that this baby not having a bath was going to throw their whole night off. So I had to talk them down from that and say, it's absolutely fine, you now just need to get baby into his pajamas, give him his feed and pop him to bed and he will be absolutely fine. And he was... And after that little blip for them, they then relaxed a lot more as well. And although they still had this perfect bedtime routine they were much more capable of making adaptations to to suit them and suit their lifestyles at that time.
Cat: [00:09:38]I think and obviously a big part of the routine is for baby, because, as we say, it's the steps to lead them towards sleep and that consistency is comforting for them. There's also a wee bit of it for parents. I have to say, you know, I was so exhausted that for me, having specific things that we did, particularly at that point of day, actually I found comforting as well. But as you're saying, as a parent, you kind of can get caught up in that 'oh it has to be like this' and it can feel stressful time to look outwith that.
Sarah: [00:10:09]I think that last part of the day, I'm sure most people will have heard it being referred to as the witching hour. And that can just basically mean from 4:00pm in the afternoon, baby or toddler is super grumpy and really puts your patience to the test as a parent.
Cat: [00:10:26]Yeah, that's why I actually call it the twitching hour, because I keep looking at the clock. Is it bedtime yet?
Sarah: [00:10:32]If you've got a good routine, then actually it reduces the stress of that time of day because what can feel like an overwhelming few hours ahead of you suddenly becomes shorter, sort of 30 minute increments and that's much easier to get through than looking at as a three hour block.
Cat: [00:10:54]Now onto our third thing about bedtime routines. Who does it? We talk a lot about consistency and keeping things the same so baby knows what happens next. But does that mean that the same person has to always do the bedtime routine?
Who should do the baby bedtime routine?
Sarah: [00:11:10]Definitely not. Absolutely not. This is the time of day where all hands can be on deck. And there's really, really important to make sure that you use them. Everyone needs a break. Even if the parent has been at work is equally going to need a break as much as the parent has stayed at home with the baby. So it's really important that you can switch and change things up. You can have designated things within the routine. For example, if baby is taking a bottle, then it is quite nice for the parent who's not been there all day to actually come in at that point and do that final bottle and burping. And if the baby's breastfeed, then the alternative parent can do the bath. But what's really important is to make sure that you then alternate and switch and mix things up when it comes to actually putting baby to bed, there's nothing worse than for one parent to feel like all the responsibilities on them for bedtime, because that means that they feel the same responsibility all night and as nice as it is to sort of give one parent a consistent night's sleep, it's not sustainable for the parent that's doing the nights. So if you can share the load, that is the way forward.
[00:12:27] So do you sort of think that if you put baby to bed you feel in charge of doing all the wake ups. Is that what you mean?
Sarah: [00:12:34]Yeah, if you feel like you're the only parent that can settle baby at bedtime you automatically feel that you're the only parent that can settle them all night.
[00:12:42] I'm going to have to hold my hands up here, given that I've probably done the bedtime routine for two children, every single night for like, years. And the further down the line you get to try and change things, the harder it gets. So if you start that from the outset, if it's possible for you, then I think it's definitely worth doing. It is hard if you have a parent, who's away a lot or works late and it's just impossible but if you can mix up, it can be of benefit.
Sarah: [00:13:17]And the thing to remember as well, although we're saying that the parent who has put the baby to bed can feel the responsibility for settling overnight, if there is another parent in there that can do it, if they start that from a young age as well - even if they have never done a bedtime - if they're doing consistent overnight feeds, then that can become a habit for the baby. So they'll then be used to adapting between the two parents.
Cat: [00:13:39]I think what's most important is that everyone who is involved, whether it's a parent or a caregiver, knows what that bedtime routine looks like and what settling looks like. So anyone can kind of pick up the baton and do it, and it doesn't have to be one person's mantle.
Cat: [00:14:00]Sorry it's my mum on the phone... it's another generation of mums! [cat speaks to her mum] 'Sorry Mum, I'm just doing a recording thing with Sarah. Ok. Speak to you later. Bye' Sorry about that...I think that because I hung up the phone, and then obviously being a mum she just called me right back! So that was an introduction to my mum, the original sleep mum!
Cat: [00:14:27]So, yeah, we were just talking about different parents having the confidence and the skills to do it. Different parents and different caregivers and just kind of making sure everyone's on the same page so that they know what to do to help baby get off to sleep.
Cat: [00:14:46]Babies daytime routine changes a lot in the first year, going from lots of naps. We spoke about that third nap at the beginning... to two naps to one nap, from milk feeds to weaning. So we are going to talk about routines and schedules through the first year in our next episode. But whilst we're here, we should probably talk about how a bedtime routine changes over time. So that's the fourth thing. How bedtime routines change. So, Sarah, does a bedtime routine change a lot?
How does a bedtime routine change with age?
Sarah: [00:15:19]No, it doesn't change a lot, to be honest. The things that you do at the beginning are quite often going to be the things that you're still doing when baby is three, four years old. But they'll be different in that where you may have sung a song, then you'll read a story, where you'll have had a snuggly breastfeed or snuggly bottle that will become a cup of milk during the story. So those are the things are going to change but the surroundings and other than moving from maybe mum and dad's room, into their own room, that's not going to change. You know they are still going to be in the cot, they're going to still have the same sleeping bags, all those things will be consistent and whatever comforter or sleep cue sound that you've used in the beginning, that's what they'll keep using.
Cat: [00:16:03]So my daughter, who is four and a half, had one of these animals that plays a tune and plays white noise, which she had when she was a baby (and we did use a lot!) but she still listens to it going to sleep. And I'm sort of thinking, is she going to be listening to that as a teenager? This weird harp music! But yeah, there is something quite comforting in the fact that actually what you're setting up now with baby as a bedtime routine doesn't have to change. Of course, those like wee things will change within it but overall, it can be a very consistent thing. And I do I do think that's comforting for for kids, for parents. And as I say, when you get to the end of the day, kind of knowing what's happening next.
Sarah: [00:16:47]Like you say, everyone knows where they're at, but it's the baby into the child that really does. A lot of children are so comfortable with their bedtime routine that they're basically doing it themselves and they're just going off to sleep so easily because that is the routine that they've had for so long. So bar reading themselves a story, you're still there for that part but everything else, you know, they get themselves together with their little comforters. You know, what they like, they know the position that they like to sleep in and they just settle so easily.
Cat: [00:17:20]And you can get to a point where they either tell themselves stories like head stories or make it up from the book or sing themselves songs to sleep, which is brilliant.
Sarah: [00:17:31]Definitely gives us all a break. My youngest is taken to trying to read a magazine when she goes to bed. A little comic thing. Quite often I'll then go down to it and the comic will be on her face where she is falling asleep under it.
Cat: [00:17:48]I think as well, you know, you're talking about your client who had obviously gone on a trip. We've definitely had that as well, where maybe we'd be out in the car late and I've actually ended up sort of doing a pseudo bedtime routine in the car, like whether it's reading a story, I know some of them off by heart or singing the songs and kind of still doing those things, making sure they have their comforter so you can do it in the strangest of places.. That sounds wrong, but you know what I mean! You can do the bedtime routine in the strangest of places and if you have set that up, then you still have that consistency and it works.
Sarah: [00:18:24]Definitely, so you can get sleeping bags, for example, that are travel sleeping bags. So if you know that you're going to be leaving someone's house or leaving a restaurant at a specific time, then you can just engineered it so that you're doing the bedtime routine, popping them into their little travel sleeping bag for the car seat and then just transfering them when you get home. And because the routine is so ingrained for that baby, they'll transfer really easily.
Cat: [00:18:51]So one of the most important things for Sarah and I is that we talk about how things work for different people and different babies, often sleep experts or books aren't very flexible or adaptable. So the final thing we want to talk about when it comes to bedtime routines is how to adapt and change one to make it suit you. There might be loads of reasons you want to adopt the kind of routine we've spoken about, either as a one off; like we were talking about in a car or because you have other children or, quite simply, you want your evening to look a bit different for you. Maybe you need to go to work.. Or wait a minute, you want to go out (fancypants!). So there are a number of reasons you might want to switch it up. So that's what we're going to talk about. How can a bedtime routine be adapted and what are the different reasons, I guess, you might want to adapt it?
How can you adapt your babies' bedtime routine?
Sarah: [00:19:42]So, I mean, you're right, the major reasons why you would want to adapt it are if you've maybe gone for the day and you just don't want to be restricted by coming home in time, or if you've got a meal planned and you want to go out for dinner. If you're at home, you just do the bedtime routine as normal but instead of putting the baby into the cot, you're putting them into either the pram or the car seat to go to whatever you're going for dinner. And at that point, you just try and keep things really consistent, in terms of having your white noise or your Sssh or your music, you could pop that into the pram or the car seat where they are and just have that playing in the restaurant or in your friend's house. If possible if you are at a friend's house then you would want to be popping them into a travel cot or if they're in the pram keeping them in bassinet part but just again have them in that dimly lit room. And then when you're coming home, if a baby is still young enough that they're having feeds over overnight, then you would just time coming home with giving them a feed and then popping them down. If they're not and if they're past that stage because they've already done their bedtime routine, they'll be flexible enough just to lift and transfer. And obviously the major one for a lot of people when they want to adapt things is when they are going on holiday because nobody wants to go on holiday and spend every night in the apartment. You do you want that flexibility then. Relax and do adapt things. So either do a slightly later bedtime routine or a slightly earlier bedtime routine to accommodate what you want to do. Everything can be tweaked. We always talk about the half hour rule, the 30 minute rule, so a baby might get a little bit hungry 30 minutes earlier, or they might not be hungry until 30 minutes later. They might be ready for a nap 30 minutes earlier, likewise, 30 minutes later. So you've got that window to really change things up for naps or waking up or bedtimes. So that's your flexibility.
Cat: [00:21:38]I also think it's really important to say that it doesn't always happen. It's not always some smooth sailing thing that you kind of do your bedtime routine, baby immediately goes to sleep whether you're in a restaurant or a nightclub or your home. As a parent who was quite anxious about how things would turn out when we went out, sometimes it does go tits up.
Sarah: [00:22:01]Yeah, definitely. So it's good to try these things, it's also absolutely fine if you don't want to leave the house, if you do want to try these things. And if you try it and it is a total disaster, tomorrow's another day, you will get back on track, you will survive that night. It might not feel like at the time, but you will, and then you will start again the next day and you'll start afresh. And if you go out and you last an hour and then one of you comes home with the baby. That's OK. You've tried it. It's scary being a new parent. It's OK to try new things and not enjoy them and change again.
Cat: [00:22:34]Yeah, exactly. You know, whatever your expectations are, expect them to be lowered! Even going out for a short period of time if you're feeling stressed about going out, can be enough to make you realize that it's all OK. And as we say, if things go out the window one night, it's not going to put things out of whack forever.
Cat: [00:23:01]Each week, we put a baby sleep question to Sarah, it's a wee bit like mastermind and sleep is our chosen question. Dum dum dum... That's not quite the mastermind theme tune is it? This week, it's a question from Michael.
Michael: [00:23:14]Hi, Sarah and Cat. How you both doing. We have a new baby and I'm really struggling to support my wife overnight, as I feel as though he should be sleeping more. Thanks.
Listener question: How can I support my wife overnight with a new baby?
Cat: [00:23:23]Good question, but also a hard one when different partners have different expectations of where you're at, the partners who are trying to support their wives and partners who have just had a baby, it can feel like you're doing nothing and it can feel very, very frustrating. You sort of want to fast forward through that sleepless night stage or frustrating evening stage when they're not settling. Just because you feel like you're not doing enough. You can offer to take over, you can bring them a cup of tea, bring them something to eat, you know, hold the baby for five minutes while they eat or feed that mum. There is nothing wrong with actually letting mum carry on with a feed or if she's not ready to actually let someone else hold the baby, just spoon feed her. It's so important that she gets fed, too. And also, you know, if they're in a position where mum's comfortable enough to leave the baby, then run her a bath. Go in, take the baby and send mum downstairs to have a bath. Even if baby grumbles for the entire time mom's in the bath, as long as she can't really hear that, it's a massive support just to know that you've taken over for a little while. And the same goes for overnight, you know, those first few weeks, you're not going to be getting massively long stretches. So you are both going to be run down. But having someone who can actually be awake can just be a huge support. You don't need to do anything else but actually being able to get yourself up, give yourself a shake and have a conversation can mean so much.
Cat: [00:24:57]I think it's really important to feel like you're on the same team when you have a small baby. And it doesn't always feel like that because experiences are different and obviously there is usually a lot of pressure on one, the main caregiver to do it all. But as you say, just being able to have a chat, feeling like you're taking it in turns a wee bit, or at least that you're supported by your partner can make the world of difference. But also as a kind of hear in his question, there are a lot of expectations, I think, and there's usually one party who's read more than the other. So I think it's really important to talk stuff through and to kind of share that knowledge. You know, if you are the one who loves to read and find out about everything, talk about it with your partner. So it's not that feeling that, you know, you're being got at because you're not doing something right, which I'm sure is never how another partner would mean it, but it can sometimes feel like that if you have taken on the main caregiver role.
Sarah: [00:26:03]Yeah. And also to not compare, there's nothing a worse for patents than Sally from the antenatal group, who has a baby that sleeps six hours a night and your baby's only sleeping three.
Cat: [00:26:15]There is always going to be a baby who is, you know, it's a bit like that life adage, there's always going to be a baby that will sleep more and sleep less than your baby. An important thing to remember is to not feel too anxious when you hear about the baby that's sleeping more and not be too smug when you hear about the baby sleeping less.
Sarah: [00:26:36]Definitely. Definitely!
Cat: [00:26:41]So that's five things about babies and bedtime routines. There is no perfect bedtime routine. It's about what fits in with you and your family. Personally, I really dig a bath before bed. For me, baths are absolutely the new going out these days, and it's pretty much the only time I get the bathroom to myself. But I love baths because they help me sleep and bathtime and bedtime can be a really lovely snuggle time for you and baby as it helps them to sleep too. But it can also be really exhausting. It's the end of the day, you're starving. I'm usually like shoveling handfuls of cheese into my mouth from the fridge as I run my kid's bath! So it can feel like something you've got to get through before you get some you time. So there's no pressure on how much or how little you do for your bedtime routine. We've really just given you some suggestions. The most important thing is to try and keep it as consistent as possible. As we said. As ever, we hope you enjoyed the podcast. So please tell your friends, well, maybe just the ones who need the lowdown on baby sleep. Not everyone. They might not be that interested. And it would be lovely if you could write us a five star review. Sorry, did I say five stars? Just write us a review. That would be great (five stars!) Or send us some love. You can get in touch with us online @thesleepmums or on our website www.thesleepmums.co.uk. Look after yourself and sleep soon.