In your pre-baby life, when you were tired, you prioritised the things you needed to ensure a good night’s sleep: no caffeine after 3pm, no screens after 9pm, comfy PJs, a story from the Calm app, etc. Post-baby, all you need for sleep, is for your baby to sleep, but now they need some help getting it.
There’s a thriving industry built on the slumped shoulders of sleep deprived new parents, but most baby whisperers recommend the same thing: routine, a sleep-promoting environment and something between leaving them to cry themselves out or letting them sleep on you until they’re three. That last part is your own ship to sail, but as for the environment and routine, we’ve got what you need.
A post-bath massage, bedtime story or song, whatever you want to bring to the bedtime routine is up to you. As long as it’s going to help your baby unwind and you can repeat it nightly so that they recognise it’s bedtime, it’s a good idea. There is no “correct” order to do things in, do what feels natural. For some parents, bedtime is a militant exercise, timed to the minute and executed in exactly the same way every night. Same order, same book, same song - even the goodnight kiss has to land on the baby’s head at the right time - but for others it’s a looser run sheet. Whatever your style, find what gets your baby to sleep the soundest, and stick to it.
Wash away the day
Warm water, soft lighting, a fun yellow duck telling you “the water’s fine!” ... works for you and it works for your baby. The experts say that starting your baby’s wind-down time with a bath teaches them a skill for life: how to relax. When they are older it will become something they can rely on for reducing stress. Newborns can enjoy five to 10 minutes in a bath, while older babies might like to be in longer to soak and play. Raising Children has great information on bath safety (so you can feel relaxed too).
Dressing your newborn can feel like a minefield, but once you get the hang of it, commonsense applies: dress them in as many layers as you would dress yourself. On warm nights, a cotton singlet under a 1.0 TOG sleep suit is ideal. Adult translation: cotton PJs and a light blanket. In winter, add an easy zipsuit over their singlet, (like your own flannelette PJs) and a higher TOG suit (like a heavier blanket for you). Whatever they’re wearing, make sure there are no tags or fasteners that could irritate or wake them up.
Bedtime is optimal for story books because they hold your baby’s attention and encourage them to sit, snuggle and relax. This is a nice routine to carry on with your child as they get older, but even when they can’t understand the story, your baby loves the sound of your voice, so it’s a time for the two of you to connect and enjoy before they go to sleep.
Set the mood
Daylight savings can mean putting your baby to bed when the sun is still shining outside, so get what you need to black out their room. Not darken, black out. After three months, babies need to produce their own melatonin to help them sleep, and a dark room helps. Blinds and blockout curtains are great for home, but if that’s not an option, or you need something you can take with you, the Easy Night Blackout Blind is for you. Next, add white noise. Whether it’s a dedicated baby shusher or a “shhh” track on Spotify, the sound mimics what they heard in the womb, providing comfort, while also helping mask external noise.
A good mattress and a breathable, organic cotton bottom sheet lay the foundations for your baby getting their snooze time. Then, once they are over three months, consider adding a sleep association toy. This is a soft friend who is always around for sleeps. They provide comfort, interest (for unicorn babies who like to play themselves to sleep) and are a signifier that it’s time for rest. Any soft toy will do, but cuddle cloths are a good option you can use from birth, or you can go high-tech with something like the Lulla Doll. It simulates breathing and a heartbeat for additional comfort.
A note on naps
For naps through the day, you don’t need to do your whole routine (no more than one bath a day please), but a shortened version: nappy change, sleep suit, blacked out room, white noise and sleep toy can be helpful. If you want to encourage your babe to sleep when you’re on the go, you can still employ their sleep aids: play white noise in the car, or cover the pram to add darkness.
EXTRA: How to fake it
There will be times when they’ll need to spend the night away from home - you still need to have a life - and it’s likely that your baby won’t sleep as well as they usually do (many an adult has complained over a hotel buffet breakfast that they don’t sleep well when they aren’t in their own bed), but you can do things to help. For these occasions, keep the routine as normal as possible (don’t stress if you need to drop the book or bath), employ a good-quality travel cot, and use all the familiar equipment: same sleep sack, bedding and sleep-association toy. Blackout the room, add white noise and with any luck, your baby will get their sleep on.