Establishing A Routine for Putting Baby to Bed

bedtime routines for babyOne of the most important things you can do to help your baby get to sleep is establish a daily routine. You should start this the day your baby comes home from the hospital! A bedtime routine has two parts: a schedule specifying the times of day that you put your baby to bed, and a series of events that you go through every time before doing so. Since our main goal is to get a baby to sleep through the night, we’ll focus on the nighttime routine.

Why Establish a Bedtime Routine?

Establishing a bedtime routine for your baby early on has many, many advantages. It helps you plan your day and evening. It saves time. It helps you to remember to do everything, like put on a night-time diaper. A good routine also teaches your baby that certain events will be followed by him or her going to bed. It’s a subtle reminder that this isn’t just a nap, this is the big sleep overnight. In time, you’ll find that a sleep routine relaxes your baby and prepares him, physically and mentally, to fall asleep. Do it right, and he’ll usually be asleep the moment you put him in bed.

When to Start the Routine

It might surprise you to learn that putting your baby to bed early can help him or her sleep longer. This seems counter-intuitive, I know, but it worked for my boys. It turned out that we were keeping them up until 8:30 or so, and they were ready for bed by 7:30. So start your baby bedtime routine early enough to have your baby ready for bed when the first signs of sleepiness show. See Benefits of an Early Bedtime for details.

Elements of A Baby’s Bedtime Routine

Here are the seven basic steps that you’ll probably follow when putting your baby to bed at night.

  1. Bath
  2. Bottle and Feeding
  3. Burping
  4. Clean Diaper
  5. Sleeping Clothes
  6. Rocking and/or Soothing
  7. Pacifier
  8. Room and Bed


This is optional, but a bath is a wonderful way to get your baby clean and relaxed. Make sure the water is the right temperature. If you use a little cloth-covered baby holder in the bathtub, splash it with warm water right before you put the baby in. If these things get wet, they become chilly and your baby won’t like it.

See our article on 7 steps to the perfect baby bath.

Baby bath routine

Baby Bathtub


Your goal is to get the baby to eat as much as is comfortably possible. For most babies, the amount of food ingested is directly related to how long they’ll sleep afterward. For newborns, this is milk. If you’re not nursing, make sure the milk is nice and warm. Not lukewarm, but body-temperature warm.

As soon as you can give your baby cereal, make that a part of the nightly routine. If your baby is old enough to start solid food, give that around dinnertime. Let it sit a bit, and then follow with a bottle.  See my post on nighttime feeding for more.

Baby feeding routine

Baby Cereal


You will need to burp your baby thoroughly, to help prevent gas discomfort and nighttime spit-ups. Do this after solid food, too, since even spoon-fed babies can get bubbles in the tummy.

If you’re having trouble getting a burp, or your infant seems to have some discomfort, see my post on helping babies with gas.


The importance of diapers for sleep is something you might not fully appreciate. Usually, changing a baby right before feeding and burping is just fine, as long as it’s not noticeably wet or dirty.

If you find that your baby often wakes up with a very wet diaper, look into Huggies Overnites. These have extra padding to wick away more moisture during the longer sleeping hours. We used them from size 3 to size 5.

Overnight Diapers


You should always change your baby into fresh clothes before bed, ideally nice soft pajamas with covered feet and long sleeves. Don’t put the baby to bed in day clothes. I highly recommend that you swaddle a newborn. If you aren’t going to swaddle, use a baby sleep sack or sleeping bag keeping him warm and snug. Avoid overheating your baby! At most, infants should have one more layer on than an adult might to feel comfortable. See my guide to what a newborn should sleep in.

Sleep Sack

Rocking and/or Soothing

This is the winding-down time just before you put the baby to bed. Rocking the baby in your arms or a rocking chair is a great soothing technique. You might also try reading to your baby, a great habit to get into.

See our list of favorite baby bedtime books for some suggestions of short but soothing night-night reads.

Favorite Baby bedtime books

Bedtime book


A good, clean pacifier should be part of the routine. Keep a couple of extras in the bed in case you need to find one in the dark. I was surprised to learn that pacifiers are recommended by pediatricians to protect against SIDS.

Once your baby is asleep, you don’t have to stick the pacifier back in if it falls out. See also our recommendations of the best baby pacifiers.


 Room and Bed

The room should be dark, with the possible exception of a night light. The bed should be empty of extraneous blankets, stuffed animals, clothes, etc. Turn on a soother or sound machine to help your baby relax.

Put him in, make sure his blanket is secure, and leave the room. Note, it’s advisable that you put your baby to bed while he or she is still awake. This teaches your baby to soothe himself to sleep, so that he can fall asleep on his own.

Portable Nightlight

It is critical that you set a pattern and stick to it as much as possible. The bath-bottle-bed routine is a classic, and it works because it trains your baby that when those things are done, it’s time to go to sleep. Once the baby is settled and asleep, it’s probably a good time to hit the sack yourself. You hear this bit of advice over and over: when they sleep, you sleep.

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Getting Babies to Sleep

baby sleepingBabies are supposed to be sleeping most of the time. And yet, getting a baby to sleep is often difficult. The purpose of this site is to help parents get their babies to sleep, and keep them there. As long as possible.

First, some credentials. I have a daughter (age 2) and twin boys (age 7 months). By the age of 5 months, all of them were sleeping through the night. That is, from midnight to 7 a.m. By seven months, they were sleeping from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. Believe it or not, this is what pediatricians say your baby should be doing (or at least capable of) by six months of age. The problem of reaching this point is two-fold: first, how to get your baby to sleep. Second, ensuring that he or she sleeps as long as possible.

Part 1: Getting the Baby to Sleep

Getting babies to sleep does not take luck or a certain knack. It takes learned skills and practice of a routine. In my experience, to go to sleep, a baby needs to be:

  1. Well-fed. This is the most important one. A baby’s strongest instinct upon being born is to eat, and if he’s not fed, he’s not going to sleep. Not for long, anyway. See nighttime feeding and sleep.
  2. Clean and dry. In the grand scheme of things, it is worth the extra 45 seconds and $0.24 to put a baby in a fresh diaper, no matter that you changed him half an hour ago. There’s one diaper that will almost certainly help your baby sleep longer. Read about it in the importance of diapers for sleeping.
  3. Burped out. Unresolved bubbles in the tummy will either keep your infant awake, or make him spit up. Neither will help him sleep. See how to burp a baby for some tips.
  4. Warm and snug. This means tightly swaddled in a temperature-controlled room. For newborns, a soft hat is a good idea as well. See my post on what a newborn should sleep in for more.

With these four parts in place, and knowing some soothing techniques, your chances of getting the baby to go sleep are pretty good. But that’s only where the challenge begins.

Part 2: Keeping the Baby Asleep

It doesn’t do you much good to get the baby to sleep if you’re (1) still holding him, or (2) he wakes up fifteen minutes later. Here, a few strategies can help ensure that the baby will stay asleep. Rule number one: put the baby in bed before he falls asleep. This is a common mistake that new parents make – they believe that the baby can only fall asleep in their arms. If you establish and follow a bedtime routine, the baby will fall asleep on his own. Even better if you’re out of the room with the door closed before he drifts off. That leaves less noises that might wake him up.

Most babies can sleep right through a certain amount of noise, particularly if they’re accustomed to it. Case in point: each of my twins will usually keep on snoozing even if his brother is screaming his lungs out. Even so, in the baby’s room, it should be either totally quiet or have a low-level white noise. I’m talking about something that hums, like a baby soother or sound machine.  Not a TV, radio, or anything that beeps.

Next up, pacifier. The hospital-issued Soothie is a popular one. If your baby will take one, keep two or three in the crib so that you can always grab one. Better yet, use a pacifier clip to ensure that one’s always in reach. If a sleeping baby starts to fuss, don’t say a word. Don’t pick him up. Give him his pacifier, tuck the blanket even snugger around him, and tiptoe out of the room. Babies need to learn to soothe themselves, and this is a good way to get them started.

That’s enough to get you started. In subsequent posts, I go into more detail on establishing the routines and keeping the baby comfortable enough that he’ll start logging some real sack time. And when he does, so will you.

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Baby sleep problems takes you through the most common sleep issues and how to address them. The periodic table of baby sleep has all the essential elements for healthy baby sleep habits. Visit our sleep training section for strategies and tips for teaching your baby to sleep through the night. Check out our reviews of Essential baby gear for helping babies sleep at night.