We didn't have a bed time routine until Natalie was about three months old. It wasn't long after we started a routine that she started to sleep longer stretches, and within about a month, was sleeping through the night. One thing I am very interested to experiment with is if we start a routine earlier with our second child, will that mean sleeping longer (or through the night even) sooner? We will see this fall.
So, the first three months or so, bed time was a bath three nights a week and nursing to sleep. The first item to our routine I added was lotion before putting on pjs. My husband was not very involved in bed time once I started to nurse. I kind of can't blame him. It wasn't that exciting sitting and waiting for Natalie to be done to help move her into the crib for me. The big change happened when I succeeded in getting him to read aloud to Natalie as she nursed. It started with both Pooh Bear books, then we read through Harry Potter 1 - 5 before she cut her bed time nursing around her birthday. Daddy's involvement with our routine really made the difference in making it more than just another nursing session. He added his own games and touches to make it special.
- Our whole evening is rather predictable. You could argue that bedtime routine starts when Daddy gets home from work at 5 o'clock!
- After dinner, Natalie watches the same TV shows. We consider this part of her wind down for bed. It often includes snuggling with one of both of us. When we are away from home, we try to watch one of her normal shows just before bath if possible. We added this step to the routine when she got to be old enough to really react to the TV.
- Bath time has always been a night time activity for us. Thus far, it is also something we've always done together. (We even each of specific jobs we do, though we've been trying to switch off to make life with a new baby easier). When Natalie was about 9 months old, she was eating solids with her hands, playing outside, and it was July. A nightly bath became a good idea. Bath time is a very clear indicator to Natalie that bed time is soon. She often yawns in the tub. However, a nightly bath is to much for some babies, and dries their skin. If that is the case, you could always try skipping the soap and shampoo.
- We didn't add tooth brushing to our bed time routine until Natalie dropped her bed time nursing around her first birthday. Before then, it just didn't make sense. Now, tooth brushing is a part of every bath.
- Upon getting out of the bath, we usually have a minute or so of play. We pretend she is a frog if she's wrapped in the frog towel. Daddy tickles her under arms. We say goodnight to all the rooms of the house as we walk down the hall.
- Once in Natalie's room, I dry her off, brush her hair, and use Johnson's Bedtime Lotion on her. After cleaning up the bathroom, Mike comes in and does her diaper and pjs. Natalie often plays with the bed time items on her bed while we do these steps. Sometimes I sing her songs or read her a story early.
- Once in pjs, we start reading the three books she gets every night. Some nights she can easily choose her books, and others we have to make a choice for her. (When she is a little older, I'm considering moving the choosing of her books to earlier, say while the bath is running, so that it isn't a stalling device). Sometimes, she wants to try to run around her room, and other nights she snuggles in our laps sucking her thumb. Whatever her mood, we are pretty strict about only three books and that this is a time for listening to stories, not other types of play. If she asks for another book, we talk about reading it tomorrow.
- Once stories are over, its time for hugs and kisses.
- We then place her in her crib, say good night, and turn off the light.
- For a few months, Natalie has had a lovey (her stuffed Kitty) that accompanies her through the end portion of bed time.
- Talking about how your child's day was makes a great addition to a bed time routine. We usually do this somewhere (during dinner, during bath, while I brush her hair), but not always the same place. Right now, I mostly talk to her about what we did and ask her if she liked it. When she gets a bit better at talking in sentences, this will be a more important part of our wind down.
- There were a few nights that Natalie was asking for a cup at bed time. I started to make her a sippy cup of water to take to bed with her. Having it made ahead of time and waiting in her room saved us the distraction of halting the routine.
- For the last couple weeks, Natalie has been more defiant at bed time. Once she is in her crib, she has no trouble. But, before that, she is actively trying to buy more time awake and initiate more play with us. Its annoying at times, but I can't blame her for wanting more time having fun or more time with our undivided attention.
- Next week (oh god its so soon!), we will be getting Natalie her toddler bed. The ultimate plan is that at least the last story will be read with her in / on her bed with Kitty. I'm sure I will have plenty to say about this transition in the weeks to come!
Experts suggest to read to your child 20 minutes a day right from birth! Bed time is the perfect time to work this into your schedule. Also, many children's books end with the characters sleeping, helping you to make the transition (Even Busy Kitties ends with a dozing cat, and Baby Talk ends with a picture of a sleeping baby). Here are a few great bed time books:
- Good Night Moon
- Where the Wild Things Are
- Dinosaur vs. Bedtime (a little rowdy at first, but calm at the very end)
- Little Quack's Bedtime
- Ten Nine Eight
- pretty much any book of nursery rhymes