How to Create a Bedtime Routine for Your Baby or Toddler

mom reading to baby before bed

Having a bedtime routine is a great way to end the day for your little one, no matter their age! But the importance of a bedtime routine goes beyond simply being a nice way to end the day. According to research studies, consistent bedtime routines can help your little ones sleep better and longer!

It's never too early to start a sweet bedtime routine with your child, and never too late! It doesn't have to be complicated or lengthy, either! That's why we turned to a pediatric sleep specialist and mom of two, Rachael Shepard-Ohta of Hey Sleepy Baby, to get her advice. Here are her tips on how to create a bedtime routine for your little ones:

Start with a bath

Having bath time as part of your nightly routine can be a great bonding experience for you and your babe. Nighttime baths have many benefits, including:

  • Multi-sensory stimulation and lots of input for the tactile sense, especially from feeling the water on their skin, learning to distinguish different temperatures, and being touched while you wash and dry.
  • Touching and gently rubbing their skin slows the heart rate, lowers body temperature and blood pressure, and stimulates pressure responders that induce relaxation. All of which could mean better sleep!
  • It creates an opportunity for bonding time, especially if you're skin to skin or co-bathing, releasing oxytocin for both of you.
  • Fun ways to introduce rich vocabulary and language acquisition. Use words like bubbles, water, wash, dripping, wet, towel, dry, slippery, etc.

Make getting dressed more enjoyable

Does your baby fight the bedtime diaper & PJ time like their life depends on it? Changing your little one can be a difficult part of the routine. Some babies tend to notice that getting changed means sleep, and therefore separation, is coming, which might set off their sense of alarm. Others dislike dressing because of their sensory system and discomfort around laying down flat, being cold, or feeling different fabrics coming on and off. For older toddlers and children, getting changed can be when they try and assert some power and attempt to stall bedtime, leading to a battle.

What can you do to make this part of the routine a bit calmer and more enjoyable?

  • Dress your baby in light, soft, breathable PJs like Little Sleepies!
  • Make sure the space isn't too cold. Lay down a towel, use a wipe warmer, or keep your little one covered up top while you change the diaper. 
  • Move slowly and gently, narrating your actions for your baby.
  • Sing songs with face-to-face contact- the sillier, the better!
  • Play the body part game. Name, kiss, or point to all your child's adorable parts!
  • Keep a special toy or teether just for this time, so it's a novelty they'll be excited about!
  • Break negative associations with your changing space by switching it to a different spot like your bed or the couch.
  • If your child is old enough, have them help you! Get them involved by letting them hold the diaper or hand you a wipe.
  • Give them choices! Again, for toddlers, you can give some power back to them by allowing them to pick out their pajamas (from two options only!)
  • Get up! Some babies and children dislike the feeling of laying flat to be changed. If your child can sit or stand, changing them upright can be less stimulating.

Read together

Did you know that parents who read one picture book with their children every day exposed them to about 78,000 words a year? Exposing your young baby to books and vocabulary will have a huge positive impact once they enter school. Even if they don't seem interested, they'll be more prepared to see and learn to read those vocabulary words in print!

Reading has so many other positive benefits as well. It creates a special time to connect with your child and gives you opportunities to discuss topics like feelings and emotions, different cultures and faraway places, etc.

So what types of books are best? The ones you enjoy reading! If you're enjoying yourself, your baby is more likely to get into it, too. If you're stuck on ideas for where to start, check out this breakdown:

  • 0-3 months; high-contrast, black and white books
  • 4-6 months: tactile books or books with baby's faces
  • 6-12 months: simple rhyming/ picture board books
  • Toddlers: picture books, bedtime stories, books based on interests

If you're stuck on how to make a book come to life for your baby, try these ideas:

  • Try silly voices, whispering parts, and using a loud voice at other parts to make it more interesting.
  • Think out loud. Practice modeling how to THINK about reading with your child. For example, "Oh, it looks like that duck is really sad. I wonder why?"
  • Make connections between what you're reading and what happens in your own life. "Remember when we went to the farm and saw that cow? This cow looks just like that one!"
  • Ask questions! Ask your child things like, "what do you see?"

After getting clean and cozy and reading a couple of books, your little one should be ready for sleep. Use this part of the day to tune out distractions and connect with your child. Look into their eyes, hold or rock them, sing songs, or offer a bottle or breastfeed as they drift off to sleep. 

Bedtime is such a special time to bond with your little ones, and we're so grateful that our PJs get to play a role in your routines! If you're looking for more support on bedtime routines, be sure to check out Rachael's resources on her website or @heysleepybaby on Instagram. And, be sure to show us your bedtime routines in your Little Sleepies in our Facebook community or tag us at @littlesleepies on Instagram.


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