Today we’re talking about baby bedtime routines when you have older kids at home. Westley’s nighttime routine looks a little different these days now that he’s older but figuring out his routine back in the newborn stage was a work in progress.
When we just had one child…
When Lincoln, our first, was a baby our leisurely evening routine started about 60 minutes before bedtime. We started with a long warm bath where we’d sing songs and help him experience the different textures of towels, bath toys, and running water. Then we’d move to the floor of the bathroom for a five minute lavender massage, working our way from this shoulders down to his tiny feet. We transitioned from fun bath time songs to slower lullabies at this point as we dressed in jammies and got ready to settle into a few stories in the glider. When those were done it was time to turn off the lights and drink a warm bottle of milk. We recited scriptures or poems in a near whisper as we rocked and baby Lincoln started to drift off. I placed him in his crib, turned on the white noise, turned off the light.
I cannot imagine how that routine would work in our home today. What would that look like? “Sorry kids, mom is just going to be busy from 6-7pm every night. Yes, that is usually when I’m helping you get ready for bed. And take baths. And pick out clothes for tomorrow. And read stories. You’re on your own!”
What our baby bedtime routine looks like right now with older siblings:
On a typical night, Ben is still at the office when 7pm rolls around and I have three kids who are starting to get tired.
7:00 I get Westley dressed in a onesie, fresh diaper, and swaddle, possibly taking a minute to massage a little lavender lotion into his feet.
7:03 I settle into the glider with a small stack of books and call for the big kids. We read stories while they dance around the room, climb on the chair, and are overall very wiggly.
7:18 I invite the big kids to sing a goodnight song to Westley (usually a kids song from church). Usually they’ll join me. Sometimes they head to their bedroom to get jammies on.
7:20 I turn off the light and leave the door open as I snuggle Westley with a bottle. While Westley is drinking his bottle I sometimes tell stories to big kids or answer their questions. I’ll recite poetry to everyone or sing because we rarely get 10 minutes alone in the bedroom and that’s okay.
7:30 I place baby in crib, kissing his forehead and saying it’s time to sleep. I turn on the white noise, insert his pacifier, and shut the door.
7:35 I go back in to reinsert the pacifier and say “it’s time to sleep.”
And then I repeat that last step every 5-10 minutes as needed. Which is sometimes never and sometimes 2-3.
If you’re in the same boat, other little kids needing help at bedtime, unable to devout a solid hour to bath splashing and lavender massages, here’s how you can make the most of a shortened evening routine. Whatever your routine looks like, it is most important that you hit on the major cues to let your baby know it is time for sleep and transition into the next phase smoothly.
The importance of sleep cues for baby bedtime routines:
You hear a lot about paying attention to baby’s sleep cues to know where they’re tired (yawning, rubbing their eyes, starting to get fussy, etc). I’m NOT talking about these sleep cues.
You can use cues to let your baby know that it is time to go to bed for the night. A routine is basically a series of cues helping you communicate to your baby that it is time to go to bed. By building a routine that includes cues for 4 different senses, from a young age your infant can learn to identify bedtime and settle into it.
In our very short bedtime routine, we always include a soft song or lullaby. Usually I sing this to my big kids while holding the baby or ask the big kids to help me sing to the baby.
Not into singing? You can also use poem for a verbal cue. We have used the process of saying “goodnight” to every family member and various objects around the room as a verbal cue (“goodnight lamp, goodnight book, goodnight daddy.”).
Complete blackness is the best visual cue we’ve found for getting babies to understand it is time to sleep. We try to spend time in his room during the day with plenty of light. We rock with dim lighting in the room before bed but when it is time for sleep, the blackout curtains are drawn and all lights are off.
Studies show that white noise helps babies sleep more soundly (and our studies of 3 babies have supported that ;). We turn white noise on before placing the baby in the crib so he knows that it is time for sleep.
As baby gets older, I like to introduce a security blanket at bedtime but at this young age the physical cue is simply being placed in the same crib, in the same room, each night.
You can add an additional physical cue with a little bit of baby massage (I love doing this, but it is hit or miss whether it happens at night).
Another great physical cue is a pacifier if you only use it when it’s time to sleep. Any physical thing that is reserved only for bedtime can be a physical cue, like a swaddle.
Summary of baby sleep cues for nighttime routine
- Transitional cue: reading stories in pajamas with siblings (giving a few minutes to know its about time to get into bed)
- Verbal Cue: saying “goodnight” to siblings
- Visual Cue: complete darkness (blackout curtains are our best friend and we’ve been known to travel with them occasionally)
- Audio Cue: white noise + song
- Physical Cue: swaddled , pacifier, security blanket , etc
- A really good swaddle: Swaddling helps your little one know it’s bedtime and also keeps them secure from breaking out (and having to restart some of the bedtime process). Our favorite this time around is the Ollie swaddle and I highly recommend it. I love that it can be used over warmer clothes in winter and just as easily over a onesie when it’s hot. It is pricey but Westley still sleeps with one arm swaddled at almost 6 months (he isn’t rolling back to stomach yet) and this one has been worth it for us.
- White noise: I don’t have a machine I swear by. We used an app for our first two kids and this time around use a cheap stand-alone machine. It just needs to get loud enough so he can’t hear the big kids playing in the room next door while he’s trying to go to sleep.