Having a bedtime routine is as crucial to me as air is to breathe. I strongly believe in all routines, even for myself. My husband and I recognize that my evening regimen means more to me than any other time of day; it's sacred and cannot be messed with. I wonder if its because my mom did a bedtime routine for me, or maybe it's just my "time" of day. Either way, it seems only natural that I'd feel so strongly about having a bedtime jam for my baby too. But routines should be lived by for everyone's baby. I don't even feel too aggressive asserting this on anyone, the way I may feel hesitant to insert my other unasked for opinions, because there is absolutely no downside to having routines, as long as you can maintain them. The benefits of routines are monumental. When speaking solely about a bedtime routine, it's a way of implementing a predictable pattern in your baby's life that she can rely on, that signals to her its time to wind down, and helps to avoid resistant toddlers later on. The bedtime routine just becomes part of their everyday life, its been there since they were born (or early on) and so there's no debating it, and, actually, most young children come to love routines and rely on them. Not only do I love routines with children because its so fun to see how they start to learn it, but it's also incredible damage control for later on.
Here's my routine, take what works for you, add your own twist, but the important part is, do things that signal "wind down" time. For instance, you won't want to do anything like blast Britney Spears and put on a laser light show in their bedroom or anything else too stimulating. But otherwise, it's what works for your family. So I'll share what I do with Tess, and keep in mind, I created this after knowing her for about 3 weeks. I didn't just create this routine in my head and then do it the day she came home from the hospital. I took time to know how she likes the temperature, the lighting, the order of things, or at least what I think she "likes" based on when she'd cry vs. when she'd coo or just not cry lol. Anyway, there's two parts to it. Pre-Bedtime and then actual Bedtime.
I'll start with Pre-Bedtime. I start around 6:15 p.m.
Tess is usually on her playmat before we start her bedtime. It's also a nice time that she spends with her dad when he's home from work and he'll lay on the mat next to her while she plays. Before I start her bedtime routine, while Tess is playing on her own (or hanging with her dad) I make sure everything I need is ready. This means:
1. A towel is already laid out on her changing table, so I can wrap her up in it after I take off her clothes and bring her to her bath. I use this towel as its bigger than the standard baby towel (baby towels are so damn small! why?!). Anyway, this one is a good one and its 30x36.
2. Her baby bathtub is already filled with warm water and her sponge she lays on is wet and ready (I use this sponge so that she stays warm and she's on a soft wet cushion instead of wet plastic or the hammock thing which doesn't stay as warm or soft). I use this tub because it has a drain (I don't use the suspended hammock because I use the large sponge bath). Something grosses me out about filling up the tub and using the water over and over to sponge her down, so I like that I keep the bath running into the baby bath and the water drains and replenishes. The washcloths are also out and ready. I use soft muslin face cloths by green sprouts for her face, a thicker muslin one for her bottom or these wash cloths, this sponge to wash her body, then this wash cloth "cuddler" to keep her warm - who knew I would need literally 4 different sponges/cloths for an infant bath?! I may be being neurotic but she loves texture and softness.
4. Her swaddle is laid out in her crib. Love the Halo - we put her arms in for bedtime and arms out for nap time during the day, I use muslin ones since the material is more flexible and less intense - she'll work her arms up and ends up sucking on her hands or just getting her arms out, something that she likes to do by the morning time and that the halo allows for.
5. The lights in her room are dimmed (not off yet because I read to her before bed) and the nightlight is on for when I turn off the lights completely. The temperature in the room is slightly warmer than usual since she'll be a little cold after her bath.
6. The books I plan to read to her are out.
7. Her burp cloth, bib and bottle are on the accent table next to the glider chair.
Actual Bedtime Routine:
1. I give Tess some warning that we're going to start her bedtime routine. I know you're probably thinking that's nonsensical, since she's only 3.5 months old, but I know that one day, she'll appreciate this warning when she comprehends what I'm saying. In the meantime, she knows that whatever I'm saying is followed by her routine that she has come to rely on basically every single day of her life thus far. So even if its the tone, the sounds, or simply "I hear mommy the way I hear her every night, and after I hear her voice at this time, we do the same thing we do every night." So this means just saying to her during whatever she's doing (usually laying on a mat) "Hi Tess, in a minute or so we're going to start your bedtime routine!" and then I wait and make sure to see some sort of response - a glance in my direction (I always come close when I'm talking to her), or any gesture of acknowledgement.
2. I put her on the changing table and wrap her in the towel that's laid out (keeping the diaper on - I've learned the hard way to not take the diaper off until the LAST minute). We then start her bath; the water is already running and bath is warm and ready! See photo of Tess, Queen on her throne during her bath, her ultimate spa experience before bed, only thing missing is her mimosa. Since she's so in love with her bath, it has made me pretty neurotic about making sure she has one before bed. So it was hard dealing with not having a bath tub at the hotel during my sisters wedding weekend (they only had showers!). When you're not in the comfort of your own home, its hard to make sure you're maintaining routines, however, babies are pretty resilient as long as you mimic as much as you can to maintain the gist of the routine.
3. After her bath we look in the mirror together, not sure who loves this part more, me or her, but we both seem just as mesmerized looking at each other and chatting in the mirror for a minute (not too long because she doesn't have a diaper on!). This was also added to her routine because for some reason, every single time I took her out of the bath, she'd wind up screaming her head off once we got to the changing table. I was convinced it was because the transition from bath to out of the bath was too sudden and disappointing to her (she's so obsessed with her bath that she hated when it was over!) and so the mirror portion helps her transition from her amazing bath to her room instead of whisking her suddenly from the bath to the cold. The mirror time actually did the trick and she stopped crying when I'd take her out of the bath.
4. Once she's dressed, diapered, lotioned and hair combed, me quietly talking her through these steps and waiting for her cooperation, I start her bottle. When we take a break to burp her, I swaddle her in the Halo and then finish the rest of her bottle while she's swaddled.
6. I turn on Rockabye Coldplay lullabies and lay her in her crib AWAKE. Its important she's awake, when possible, so that she's not disoriented when she wakes up. If I put her in her crib and she's already sleeping, research has shown babies can wake up startled, confused and disoriented. It also makes me immensely proud when I can put her in her crib awake and she falls asleep on her own. Huge strides since the newborn days of rocking her to sleep, which I was worried would last forever - I promise it doesn't, so rock to sleep in those initial weeks, let them fall asleep on you, you'll miss it, I promise.
7. Ten minutes of lullabies. Then I turn them off and VOILA sleeping beauty til 6:45 a.m.