This week I wanted to talk a bit about the bedtime routine, and the number one mistake parents make when they are creating a bedtime routine. Nowadays, if you go to any baby site on the Web, search “my baby won’t sleep,” or whatever you’re looking to resolve in regards to sleep, almost every single site will tell you about the importance of a bedtime routine. I absolutely agree!
I think a bedtime routine is a crucial first step in creating predictability to your baby and teaching your baby that it’s time to make that transition from day into night. Even adults have routines. We all do things in the same order before bed every night. Without them, we would feel a little anxious or out of sorts, and it would be harder to sleep. So it definitely is important, but there is one mistake that parents make.
Most of the time people skip right over that. “Oh bedtime routine, right, next,” because we’ve heard it so much, but the biggest mistake that parents make in that is that somewhere in the routine, the baby sleeps! For example, you’ve heard the baby should have a bath, so you’re going to do a bath, you’re going to get jammies on, you’re going to read a book maybe, and then you’re going to do a feeding. There, right there, that’s the snag: the feed.
Feeding to Sleep
You feed your baby to sleep, either on the breast or with the bottle. Most people turn off the lights when it's feed time, get the environment nice and cozy and comfy, and then that’s your child’s cue that it’s time to start the journey into sleep. That is where you need to make your changes.
If you nurse or bottle feed your baby to sleep and then transfer them to the crib, well you’re not going to have a baby that sleeps through the night, that’s for sure. You’re probably going to find half an hour later, 45 minutes later they are awake again, and you’ve got to start the process all over again.
Bath, great; PJs, great; feeding fine. It’s totally acceptable to feed a baby before bed. In fact, I encourage it, but keep the lights on high enough that you can watch, and don’t even let sleep start.
Starting the sleep Journey
Again, if you think of sleep as a journey, I don’t even want you to allow your baby to start the journey. Starting a journey looks like doziness, so heavy blinking, closing the eyes, opening them, anything like that is the beginning of a journey, so don’t let that start! Keep that baby’s eyes open so that they start to realize that food is a nice lovely step in the bedtime routine, but it is not for the purpose of sleep. That comes next.
If your baby has a really strong association between eating and sleeping, I suggest you break it up with an extra step even after the feed. Feed, sit baby up on your lap, maybe read a story together after the fact, just to break that connection a little bit further and to start to teach that baby that there is no way or there is no reason to fall asleep while feeding.
Then the baby should go into the crib awake. That is how you start teaching your child independent sleep skills. I teach families that I work with how to do that, but it’s also the number one way your baby is going to learn the skills she or he needs in order to become a great sleeper and start sleeping through the night.
Change is the First Step
So have a look at your bedtime routine. Even though you know you have one, since you’ve likely had one since the baby was born, but you probably need to make a fairly significant change to it. That is, to stop feeding your baby to sleep as part of the routine. Even rocking, you might have to say goodbye to any kind of rocking in the routine as well. One thing that is true about any journey, sleep or otherwise, is that everyone has to choose their own path. Kids are no different. Letting them have the opportunity to navigate their own path on their sleep journey is a great first step to facilitating independent sleep skills.
If you need help figuring out how to change your child’s bedtime routine, or a pair of fresh eyes to look at your bedtime situation, I’m just a quick phone call away.
I am a Pediatric Sleep Consultant who works with families to help them resolve their littles' sleep issues. As a mom of two littles herself, Katie has walked in the shoes of her clients and is passionate about helping them re-discover peaceful sleeps in their own homes.