When I had my first son, I figured out pretty quickly that having a rock-solid bedtime routine is essential in getting your newborn (or any baby for that matter) to sleep well at night. I had to figure out how to get my newborn to sleep the hard way the first time around because my son was a terrible sleeper.
My first born had terrible infant acid reflux and other tummy problems in early infancy. Sleep was difficult for him for a number of reasons and I was losing my mind from my own lack of sleep.
Thankfully, after a ton of trial and error, I figured out that putting together the perfect bedtime routine for your baby is essential in getting a restful night's sleep when you have a newborn.
This time around, with my second son, I started a nice, relaxing bedtime routine right off the bat. When we got home from the hospital, I knew right away that I was going to start implementing some key strategies at bedtime to ensure that I wasn't the zombie-mom that I remember being the first time around.
If you are trying to figure out how to get a newborn to sleep. I would be willing to bet that your bedtime routine could use some work.
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The trick to getting newborn to sleep
There is no trick. Sorry. I hope I didn't get your hopes up!
There is no magic potion, no button you forgot to press, no one-size-fits-all solution to your baby's sleep problems. I really, really, really wish there was. And I REALLY wish I would be the one to discover it because then I would be a bazillionaire because moms desperate for sleep would pay anything for a guaranteed solution to their baby's sleep issues.
Unfortunately, there are only smart strategies that you can implement to better your chances of a good night's rest. I'm going to lay out my strategy for you so that you don't have to do all of the trial and error nonsense that I had to do when I was a newbie mom.
create A bedtime that Your newborn will remember
In order for your baby to figure out that nighttime is for sleeping and daytime is for playing, you need to make it VERY obvious. Day and night need to be separated by something drastic so that your baby who was born not knowing the difference, can now distinguish bedtime from nap time and playtime from sleep time.
Have intentional play time
Yes, while figuring out bedtime, we DO need to talk about play time.
In order for you to have a successful bedtime, you're going to need to be intentional during the day.
Playing with a newborn doesn't have to be much more than looking at each other face-to-face, talking, singing, or taking a trip outside to see the sunlight.
Whatever you are doing to stimulate your baby during the day, make it intentional. Really think about how much stimulation your baby is getting during the day that is different from night.
Some of my favorite ways to play with my newborn even from the very first days home from the hospital are:
- Talking face-to-face
- Counting fingers and toes
- Tracing the outline of baby's head and body with your fingers
- Walking around the house while baby is awake
- Taking a step outside for baby to be exposed to the sunlight (not in direct sun. Keep that baby shaded!)
- Tummy time on your chest, a blanket, or baby gym
All of these things should be done at some point during each day, even if just for a minute. Guess how many of these things should be done at, around, or after bedtime? None of them! These fun and loving things are designated daytime activities only.
Set a bedtime…and stick to it
I thank God for our early bedtime. I will advocate for an early bedtime until I turn blue in the face. Set an early bedtime! Do it!
I am so glad that someone somewhere told me to put my first son to bed early. I don't know who it was or why, but somehow I knew that an early bedtime was the way to go.
My first son has had a bedtime of 7 – 7:30 pm since he was born. As I write this post, he is currently three years old and still hitting the hay around 7:30 pm.
No matter what time you decide is best to put your baby down, make it a hard rule that you will attempt to put baby down at this time every night.
If you are consistent with your baby's bedtime, your baby will be able to anticipate bedtime, know when it is coming, and become drowsy before you even finish your bedtime routine.
Baby's thrive on predictability and routine. This is the first step in figuring out how to get baby to sleep.
Wind down before bed
Figuring out how to get baby to sleep doesn't always start with bedtime, though.
Babies, just like adults, need a little bit of wind-down time before bed. After the fun and stimulating day that you had with your baby, he needs to kind of take a load off for a little bit before he will be willing to settle down for the night.
If you have the TV, radio, or your favorite podcast on, go ahead and turn it off an hour before bedtime.
Dim the lights, close the curtains, talk in lower tones, and have calm awake-time before you start your bedtime routine.
Get your newborn familiar with a bedtime routine
Like I said, babies thrive on predictability.
Create a bedtime routine that will become familiar and comforting for your newborn.
Soon, your baby will be able to predict what will happen next in their routine and it will comfort them in knowing what to expect.
In order to make an obvious transition from day to night, you need to do one important thing:
stimulate all of their senses
Stimulate all of their senses! I know that sounds counter productive, right? But I thought we weren't supposed to be stimulating them before bed?
Right. You don't want to simulate them in the same ways that you do during the day. You don't want to engage in play-time activities or anything like that, but you will want to trigger their memory in all five senses every night so that they have five different ways to remember “oh yeah, this is how I feel right before I go to bed. This is familiar”.
Let me explain.
What will your baby see at bedtime that is different from the day?
Easy. The difference is that at night time, the lights are dimmed or turned-off and the black-out curtains are pulled.
There are many ways that you can stimulate your baby's sense of touch at bedtime. My favorite way to relax my baby through touch is by giving him a nice warm bath before bed. It calms him down in a way like no other.
After your baby's bath, give hime a nice baby massage with your favorite gentle baby lotion.
These are things that your baby can easily distinguish from day-time activities. The idea is that your baby will recognize that these calming touches mean that bedtime is nearing.
Throughout your bedtime routine, talk to your baby. Say trigger words such as “bedtime”, “sleepy”, or “night night”. Although he doesn't know what these words mean yet, he will being to associate those words with this time of day.
We can't forget white noise. I'm all about having a good white noise machine in your baby's sleep space. I believe that it makes all the difference in my boys' sleep. My first son has been using white noise since he was a baby and he still loves it now that he's three years old. My second son who is currently two months old sleeps significantly better with white noise than without.
There are plenty of options here.
- Lavender essential oils diffusing in the home during bedtime
- Rub lavender lotion on yourself prior to baby's bedtime
- Use the same lotion on your baby each night. Even just a mild scent will do the job.
Well, I include nursing my baby during our bedtime routine. But I also nurse my baby all day long so how does this help bedtime?
The only difference that I try to make during the bedtime feeding that I don't do during the day is nurse in the rocking chair.
Although the taste is the same throughout the day (I assume), while baby is eating, the environment during feeding is a little different at bedtime than it is throughout the day.
This will work with formula too. If you have a designated “bedtime feeding location”, this feeding session will be set apart from all the rest.
Do the same thing every night (ish)
As you might have figured out by now if you've been following the blog for a while, I am all about routine. I love having a good routine for myself and my family to keep me sane and keep them happy.
That being said, I break my routine all of the time. You don't have to be so strict about the “schedule” that you miss out on life. Please, break the mold a little bit on a birthday or holiday or just because you wanted to stay up and snuggle just a little bit longer tonight. That's fine.
When possible, keep your routine the same every single night. If bedtime is 7pm, then it's 7pm Sunday through Saturday. If you typically bathe in the guest bathroom, don't try the kitchen sink tonight. Keep it consistent.
Our sample bedtime routine
Once I figured out how to get my newborn to sleep well at night, I continued to work on a bedtime routine that works for our family.
The bedtime routine that I use for my babies might not work for your lifestyle, your schedule, or your parenting style. That is OK! Each family will have their own version of a rock-solid bedtime routine that works for them. This is just what I prefer and what my babies respond well to.
My goal is for the baby to be in bed (hopefully sleeping) by 7:00pm. Often times it is 7:05 or even 7:20 depending on how much he decides to nurse that night or how long it takes for him to become drowsy.
Here is what our night looks like with the goal of a 7:00 pm bedtime:
- 5:00/5:30 pm – Last nursing session before the bedtime feeding
- 5:30 pm – Start winding down (turn off TV and any un-needed lights, have toddler put away loud toys and play with quiet, non-battery powered toys, etc)
- 6:00 pm – Dinner for the family while baby sits in the bouncer next to me
- 6:30 pm – Go upstairs with the baby to start the bedtime routine
*Currently, I nurse my newborn before bedtime sleep. Typically, throughout the day I use the E.A.S.Y schedule, which means that I follow the eat, awake, sleep cycle. The only time I nurse to sleep or nurse to drowsy is at bedtime.
Step 1: Bath
I take baby upstairs to take a bath in his bathroom. Bath time for a newborn is super-simple. You might just use warm water and your hand or you could be using a gentle cleanser and your favorite bamboo wash cloths. However you do it, it's probably to be around 10 minutes or less and pretty uneventful.
When I lift the baby out of his baby bath, I wrap him in a hooded towel to keep him warm and move on to the next step.
Step 2: Enter nursery
With my baby wrapped in my arms, I head to the nursery where I have another hooded towel prepared on the changing table. I set baby on the fresh towel and double-wrap him to keep him nice and warm while I dry him.
Step 3: Diaper
With his upper body still wrapped in the towels, I put a clean diaper (these ones are my current favorite) on him while I clue him in that it's bedtime with some trigger words such as “sleepy time” and “night night”.
Step 4: Lotion
I remove the wet towel an leave the dry one underneath him while I do a soothing baby massage with lotion all over his body. As I massage him, I am speaking sweetly to him with soft tones and reassuring words.
Step 5: Jammies
I remove the dry towel and dress him in whatever pajamas he will be wearing for the night. I prefer to use footie pajamas at bedtime but it all depends on how cool you keep your house and what other layers your baby will be wearing.
Step 6: Swaddle or Sleep Sack
If you are swaddling your baby, you might swaddle him in your favorite swaddle at this point or after the feeding to separate eating and sleeping. Even after you wean from the swaddle, you can continue to use this step with a sleep sack!
We swaddled our first son until he was around four months old and then we transitioned to the sleep sack. The transition was easy for us and he loved the sleep sack! With our second, we've already started using the sleep sack and we love it. So, this extra step in the routine will likely last for quite some time.
Step 7: Set the environment & Snuggle
Once he is all ready for bed, I pick him up, close the blackout curtains, turn on the white noise, and sit in the rocking chair. I give my sweet baby a snuggle and love on him for as long as he'll let me without asking for food. 😉
Step 8: Nurse
All wrapped up and cozy, we nurse in the rocking chair. We don't do this at any other point in the day, so it's a special nursing session that we both enjoy.
Step 9: Sing, pray, or talk softly
While my son nurses, I sing a couple of lullabies and say a quiet prayer for the night.
If bedtime continues anything like it did with my older son, I will be singing lullabies and saying prayers before bed for years to come. My three year old's bedtime routine still includes songs and prayers after reading books and getting tucked into his big boy bed. As things change, they stay the same and I absolutely love it.
Step 10: Rock
After my baby is finished eating, I prop him up on my shoulder to burp him as I rock in the rocking chair (this is the rocking chair that I use and it's lovely without a crazy price tag that some other gliders out there). Usually this piece is pretty short. After he's done eating it doesn't take long to get him into bed.
Although it's not the longest piece of the bedtime routine, it's one of my favorites. I rocked my older son until we moved him from the crib to a twin bed. At that point, we removed the rocking chair from his room. I had a good cry about it but my son didn't even notice.
Please don't be afraid to rock your baby at bedtime because you are afraid that it might create a “bad habit”. Its not a habit. It's a bonding experience that you both can enjoy.
Place Baby in his own sleep space
When you're both ready, go ahead and put that baby down to sleep in his own space. For a while we were using the Doc a Tot in our bed. After the Doc a Tot, we tried the bassinet for a while. Now, our sweet boy is sleeping in his crib. Wherever you put him down, make sure it is safe and comfortable for your babe.
Here's a tip! Don't wait until your baby is completely zonked to put him down. Putting him down almost-asleep is a better option so that he doesn't wake wondering where his is and where you went.
- Related Read: How and Why To Become A Bed Sharing Co-Sleeper
Get Your newborn to sleep
That's it! You've got my tips and tricks on how to get newborns to sleep and you have my specific bedtime routine for my son after a bunch of trial and error with my first born. I hope this helps you get your newborn to sleep.
The newborn stage isn't a walk in the park. You are going to be tired and feel sleep deprived. Your baby is going to wake you up at night. But with a really good, solid bedtime routine, you will be able to get your baby to bed easier, with less fuss, and *fingers crossed* your baby will sleep longer for you.
Good luck, mama!