Babies learn best through routine and this is the age when baby is ready to get into the habit of eating and sleeping according to a fairly consistent timetable. The best way to accomplish the challenge of getting your baby to go to bed at a regular time is to follow a well organised day with a consistent bedtime routine. A bedtime routine can include all or some of the following: bath, feed, story, massage, cuddle, lullaby. It culminates with the baby in her place for sleep on her own or with you. A little trial and error is needed to see which techniques relax your baby. In time you will develop a unique bedtime ritual of your own but you should follow this advice:
• Set a bedtime and try and keep it as consistent as possible. Bedtimes can vary from as early as 7pm to as late as 9pm. Your lifestyle and work commitments may determine this for you. The important factor is consistency. Don’t set a late bedtime thinking baby will get exhausted and sleep right through. This is bad news and usually doesn’t work. She’s far more likely just to get overtired.
• Try and make the elements of the routine come in the same order: babies love predictability and will be much calmer if there are no surprises.
• Also try and make sure it’s practical. There’s not much point in having a routine that’s easy to follow at times and difficult at others.
• Make sure it’s possible to do all the things you plan in the time allocated. Start setting the mood for bedtime 30 to 45 minutes prior to putting your baby down for the night. Dim the lights, put on a relaxing lullaby and lull the mood. Many experts now recommend a 20 minute book sharing period, even with very young babies. You may want to think about starting your routine a little earlier than you planned.
• Try and make sure you won’t be disturbed during this period. Perhaps consider taking the phone off the hook etc. so you can give your baby your undivided attention and his routine won’t be interrupted.
• Change your baby into comfortable pyjamas with no frills, buttons or tags that can potentially cause itching or poking.
• Put your baby to sleep in the same place every time. It is best to have your baby go to sleep in the same place, including for naps. This way, when she is put down in her crib, she will understand that it is time to go to sleep. If she is sleeping in a variety of different places, she could get confused. Obviously, this one is difficult for parents who work, and put their babies in day care.
• As many components to the pre-bed ritual as possible, should be conducted in the baby’s room. If every night you go into her room to get ready for bed, she will understand that it’s time to go to sleep. Her bedroom should be for sleeping only. The last thing you want is for your baby to associate her bedroom with play time.
• Literally tell your baby every night when it’s time for bed-time. She understands more than you think and she will start to associate the phrase with sleep-time.
• Many babies like to hear soft music as they are drifting off. Musical patterns are powerfully pleasing to the brain and can mask household sounds that disturb your baby’s sleep. You should play the same lullaby each night so that baby associates this with sleep and will start to drift off upon hearing it.
Obviously there will be times when the routine won’t be possible. That’s completely fine but you should try and get back to normality as soon as possible for the routine to be effective (Lavin, Glaser 2007).