A regular nighttime ritual is much more than a nice way to spend quality time with your baby at the end of the day—it’s also a good way to teach him or her healthy sleep patterns and give your baby the tools he or she needs to calm down and go to sleep. Nighttime rituals come easily for some children, while you might find that other children are harder to slow down at the end of the day. Here are a few tips I give to my patients when they ask about getting their baby to sleep.
First, catching your baby in that window before he or she becomes overtired is key. If your baby is already starting to get fussy and cranky at bedtime, you have missed the perfect time to help her sleep, so it might take longer. If this happens regularly, consider starting the routine a few minutes earlier. If you catch your baby at just the right time before he or she gets too fussy, they will learn self-soothing techniques much more quickly than if they are already overtired.
Believe it or not, falling asleep by themselves does not always come naturally to some babies. In fact, they LEARN how to fall asleep—and they learn best if you are consistent when putting them down. There are many different opinions on the best way to put your baby to sleep, but the real key is consistency. Try different soothing behaviors to find what works for your baby, then stick with it. You could try nursing, rocking, a warm bath, even music or white noise. If possible, try putting your baby down while he or she is drowsy but still awake so they can soothe themselves to sleep. The method really doesn’t matter, you just need to be consistent.
You should also know that getting a good night’s sleep often begins long before the sun goes down. Don’t underestimate how important nap time is: consistent naps during the day will make it much easier for many babies to fall asleep at night because they will be rested. If your baby is overtired during the day, it will be much harder to settle down at night.
Swaddling can also be very helpful. When your baby is very young (under 2 months of age), swaddling is soothing and can help a baby sleep longer. Be sure the swaddling blanket is loose around the hips to prevent developmental hip problems. It should be loose enough for a hand to fit between the blanket and a baby’s chest. Babies should always be put to sleep on their backs with no loose blankets in the crib to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Whatever you do, stay consistent and encouraging—even if it’s hard at first, your baby will learn to sleep eventually, and the whole family will be happier for it.