How do you make bedtime work — for everyone?

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Reader Meg (for those of you on Offbeat Tribe, you can find her here) shot us a question about a certain time of the night that can be quite a challenge for parents–new and experienced alike–THE BEDTIME ROUTINE.


In all seriousness, I am excited to address THE BEDTIME ROUTINE (I’ll stop doing that now) because getting Jasper to go to sleep has been an epic experience. I don’t want to call it a battle because that implies that it’s been something negative, and I wouldn’t go that far.

The Question

Specifically, Meg asked: “I was wondering if you would consider tackling one of the most (in my opinion) fraght with judgement and conflict mommy topics out there…the dreaded bedtime. As someone stuggling with the topic (and the actual deed) I would love to see this handeled in a manner outside of the catty birth board dichotamy that is all I have seen so far in my extensive searching of the interwebs.”

Anyone who has tried to get a resistant sleepy child to go to sleep knows that there’s not one cut-and-dry approach to take. There are a few dominant models for what to do once your child is asleep (i.e. CIO vs. attachment parenting), but that’s not what we’re talking about today–we’re talking about what takes place BEFORE you get into bed.

Potential Answers

In a nutshell, here’s the experience my answer is based on: we co-sleep, breastfed around-the-clock until two weeks ago (meaning Jazz nursed all night LONG), and have a child who really digs going to sleep while nursing and/or rocking. I have made up different songs to sing him to bed (it helps when your child has six names, because you can sing them all as a nursery rhyme), all of which will work, depending on his mood. Also, unlike some of you INSANELY LUCKY PARENTS with wonder-babies who fall asleep as soon as someone says car, Jasper didn’t fall asleep in any kind of vehicle until he was ten months old.

Having said that, here are some tips and tricks:

  • If you have a rocking chair, ROCK. Jasper is a rocking addict now, but the chair was the only thing (besides breastfeeding) that would work for the first ten months of his life.
  • If you sing…sing, SIIIIIIING (OMG, Travis. Sorry, guys). For real, though: songs are integral to a good night’s sleep for Jazz. We usually rotate out four or five smash hits, all of which have his name in there somewhere–he’s got six names total, so it makes for some musical sweetness.
  • Once your baby outgrows the rocking chair (J still rocks somewhat comfortably, but the day is coming), move out of it. I now spend a good deal of time vertical performing what I call the mama-rock. Basically, I hold him while standing, and bend my knees, alternating from side to side. This is exhausting, but, on the flip side, gives you killer calves and thighs if you do it regularly enough. Since we’ve stopped nursing, this is actually the only way Jasper goes to sleep during the day.
  • If your baby will respond to your partner, OMG, bring them in. Jasper would NOT let Sean put him to sleep for the longest time–something about this was mama-only-territory. Recently, I’ve started shooting more weddings late into the night, so Sean has been in charge of bedtime. Out of necessity, he has developed his own routines–we discovered that if Sean tried to do what works between Jasper and I it just pissed Jasper off. Now, they do what I call the dad-sway. It’s not always as painless (sometimes Jasper protests with tears) as the mama-rock, but it accomplishes the same means in more or less the same amount of time.
  • If all else fails, give the car a try. It didn’t work for us until the last month or so, but now we can take Jasper for a drive if he’s still up around 9:30 or 10pm, and sleep ensues.

So, Mamas! What do are your bedtime routines? What works for you?

Note from Ariel: We’re not interested in getting into the “Cry it out” debate here. We want to hear what works for YOU — not why you think what works for other people isn’t a good idea.

Comments on How do you make bedtime work — for everyone?

  1. Our routine is this for our 3 mos old.

    At around 9 or 10 we swaddle her, give her a bottle, and DH rocks her till she falls asleep. Then if she wakes up and cries again, we pick her up and rock again. I’d like to get to where we don’t have to rock her, but I’m going to wait till she’s older.

  2. Our 8 mo’s routine is pretty much:
    clean diaper and pjs with daddy, brush teeth and wash face with mummy, then bottle from either mummy or daddy and put in her crib. She usually falls asleep right away, but sometimes it takes a few minutes of patting her back.

  3. I only have one little dude, so I can’t really imagine how this would work with two, but…

    we have a flexible bedtime routine, but the most important part is having a quiet, low stimulation period. Baths can be good, but sometimes my fella gets too hyped up! We read books, listen to music, have a sippy cup of something and then cuddle to sleep (he has a full mattress on the floor of his room.) Once his eyes start to flutter I plan my escape.

    Honestly, the best part about our routine is that sometimes I fall asleep at his bedtime…and get a kick-bum 10 hours of sleep!

  4. Our routine? We don’t have one. Charlotte starts to get sleepy around half an hour after sundown, meaning she’s up later now than a few months ago. She wants to nurse to sleep, so I kick back on the couch and nurse her. After a while, I put her in her bassinet (which is on the floor in the living room now), and then she goes to bed with us when wee go. She’s never slept in her crib.

  5. We didn’t have a sleep schedule until about 2-3 months because of the horrible colic and reflux. Up until Delilah was on medication it was all we could do to survive. She had been swaddled since birth and it really worked wonders. She was sleeping through the night as soon as the medicine was started, and we never coslept because of the horror stories of all the parents I know who’s kids slept with them until they were 5. Sleep routine was:
    1.Eating an hour before bedtime
    2. Quiet playtime, reading stories and singing songs for the last hour.
    3.Swaddle nice and tight, heartbeat machine, and night light.
    4. Laid down always awake, I also did let her cry it out early into this routine starting with small increments then stretching it out.

  6. Well, 6 1/2 yrs ago, when my youngest was a baby. I would just feed him, change him, then put him in the crib between one of those foam ‘back/side sleepers’. He usually liked it slightly on his side. Then, I turned on the CD player to some classical music and left the room. I tried having him in my room, but he has always tossed and turned and it woke me up every time. So, after the music, he might fuss for a minute or so, but not really cry and then fell asleep on his own. If he started actually crying, then I would stand next to him and rub his tummy. I remember it working most of the time, but it has been 6 yrs!

    Also, once he was holding his head up good, I let him sleep on his tummy during the day. He loved it. Now, he still tosses and turns. I can’t even get close enough for a kiss without him failing and hitting me while sleeping.

  7. As a nanny I had to come up with my own routine for the twin 3 year old boys I was watching, because I just wasn’t Mom and couldn’t master her routine. (BTW hers is dinner, bath, put to bed and CIO)

    The twins and I have modified this. (She is aware of our routine and will use it as well at times.)

    The boys and I have our dinner about 45 minutes earlier than their normal time and still have bath time, but they are the coolest little Star Wars nerds and with the promise of 20 minutes on the Wii with a timer on top of the TV playing Lego Star Wars those kids will do just about anything. Including finish their dinner and take a bath and go to bed quietly. I take the boys to their room and as twins we have our own little games that we get to play. Their beds are on opposite sides of the room and half the time I would put them to bed I would check on them to find them in the same bed giggling and playing so I began to go in there to prevent crossover. 🙂 RIght before bed every night we play secret telephone. Where the boys have to whisper me a secret and I got to the other and whisper him one so on and so forth. This takes about 15 minutes till one falls asleep because I generally make it into a whispery story time and they stay quiet for it.

    Oh and my opinion on CIO as a nanny. I am not a huge fan. I try to avoid it whenever is possible, there are some things I realize I wont be able to avoid it on. Nap time pretty much cannot be remedied and ends with me sitting indian style at the door saying “You shall not pass.” But if you can work it out to get a routine that is relatively tear free I think it’s better for them. Especially considering Williams night terrors have dramatically decreased. Not sure if that is a direct result, but enough of one where I think it’s valid.

  8. We’re lucky our 5 month old goes to sleep relatively quickly. We do new diaper, jammies, and a top-off-the-tank nurse between 7 and 7:30. If its bath night (we do every other night baths), we start at about 6:45 – 7:00 in the tub. He LOVES bath time. The goal is always asleep by 8:00. We started putting him down in his cosleeper awake, but drowsy (that now has all sides up about 4 feet away from my side of the bed as we transition to crib in the room). He needs a pacifier more often than not. We sing songs to him and read a couple board books, sometimes just a gentle “ssshhhhh” is all we need. It can be anywhere from 2 minutes to 25 minutes from the time he goes down to dreamland, depending on how tired he is. Sometimes he just needs to kick a bit or fidget (his swan song). He often likes to hold onto his “baby” – a soft snuggly toy – to help go to sleep.

    But our current topic of discussion is staying asleep through the night. After a 2 week cold and my babe is starting teething, he’s waking up every 2-2 1/2 hours. I’m trying not to nurse him every time he wakes and I managed to nurse just twice last night (out of 4 wake-ups). Any tips for longer sleep stretches?

    • Attentively listening to this one. My five month is up every 2 hours now. I think it’s teething coupled with hunger. He is watching us eat our food like a hawk! He also has a sensitive tummy and sometimes he just needs to burp. I am hoping solids plus movement with crawling will help this. Otherwise, I will just hang out being the all night diner 🙂

  9. We’ve had a routine since my son was about 8 weeks and as my son as grown that routine has been modified. (for example, he doesn’t nurse/bottle feed anymore). I think the important thing for getting babies and children to bed w/o much fuss is to have a routine and consistent bed time–whatever that is. Consistency is the key. So whatever your routine is–just keep it up and you will have a little issues throughout childhood getting your child to sleep.

  10. With a two year old (Damian) and a 7 month old (Ivy,) bedtime is a joint effort. Ivy falls asleep at the breast and Damian snuggles on the couch in Daddy’s lap while we watch something, usually something on Hulu (this evening is America’s Got Talent though.)

    After Damian is asleep, my husband carries him to bed. Ivy goes in the crib if him and I need “couple time”, otherwise she cosleeps with us.

  11. Not a mama yet,
    but auntie to a darling and incredibly energetic 12 month old…who HAAAAATES going to sleep with every fiber of his little body.

    His mama does several great things, though–
    she swaddles him tight,
    so he can’t distract himself with his own movements,
    gives him a bottle in a darkened room
    (sometimes a blanket has to suffice),
    and if he isn’t getting drowsy,
    she gently strokes his nose and blows across his face to get his eyes to close.

    you just have to convince the kiddo to sleep.


  12. We Feberized our kiddo around four months but from the very beginning I would put him in his pajamas at the same time every day and tried to develop a routine from there. Now he is 20 months old and we follow this schedule: I have it posted on his wall and we read through it every night.

    He goes to bed at 7.30 and usually goes right to sleep. I think it is all about the same routine every night. Good luck! Developing a sleep schedule is not an easy road and everyone has to do what works for them.

  13. Until 4 months, my baby slept on me or her dad. ONLY. We tried the moses basket, the crib, the swing, all of it. Nope. Baby girl was not lying her back, no way no how. If I lay her on her side, with two rolled blankets on either side and facing me (in our bed), then maaaaybe. Maybe we’d get an hour or 2. She nursed every 3 hours, so frankly it was easier just to hold her on my chest and sleep rather than have the drama….

    At 4 months, she got her hip brace off (slight hip dysplasia) so now her poor little legs weren’t in the air and I thought now it was time to move her out of our bed — Mama was tired and needed baby to sleep in her own room.

    Also right at this point it became blatantly apparent that she was NOT getting the concept of the pacifier. She would push it in and out of her mouth – which was not really that great since she’d cry when it fell out. Which was like, every 3 minutes. So we did a bit of CIO and took it away, encouraging her to suck on the arms of a tiger blanket/lovey instead (it was big and easy to grab onto). A few days of not-happiness ensued, but she soon took to the lovey. 🙂

    So then she was sleeping in her bed for naps (it took several days of 15 minute naps for that to finally work!), and I was sleeping on a twin bed in her room at night for the next 2 months. I was still getting up every 3-4 hours to breastfeed her, and I was too lazy to get up and walk down the hall. My husband missed me. 🙂

    At her 6 month check-up, I asked the doctor when she would stop breastfeeding in the night, and the doctor told me that my child had no medical reason to need to eat every 3 hours and that if I wanted to – I could “close the milk bar” at night. She had started solid foods a couple weeks earlier (again, in an attempt to get her to sleep longer) and yet she was still feeding like clockwork.

    So, in order to not give her the impression that I was ignoring her cries — I held her while she cried for milk in the night. It took about 4 or 5 nights for her to finally get the hint that I was not going to breastfeed her. I wasn’t going to abandon her, but I just kept holding and rocking and letting her know that I totally got that I was screwing with a perfectly good (to her) routine and that nighttime was for sleeping, not eating… Most people would suggest my partner do this – but I didn’t want her to “resent” him by thinking that it was HIS fault that she wasn’t getting mama milk. Nope, I wanted to take responsibility as much as it made me cry as well!!

    Eventually it got to where she would cry out in the night, but I would pat her back and she’d go back to sleep. (I was still sleeping in her room) **PS: Since I was worried that the reason she was waking was that my breastmilk was not keeping her full, I began to give her a bottle of extra-filling “good night” formula at bedtime. This way if she woke, I didn’t constantly worry -“but WHAT IF she is hungry??” I knew she wasn’t, so it made it easier.**

    After patting her back to sleep for a few weeks, I decided to try letting her self-soothe – and moving out of her room. The learning to self-soothe part required the 5-minute cry, re-assure, 5-minute cry method that we’d successfully used with the removal of the pacifier. I knew she would do ok with this method.

    The first night it took 5 re-assures. 2nd night, she needed 3 re-assures. 3rd night, only 2 re-assures. And then it was done. The 4th night she slept through – only making a couple peeps and then going right back to sleep. Yahoo, I could finally sleep in my own bed and not have to get up!

    Anyways — we hit some sleep hiccups at the usual sleep regression points and teeth troubles and stuffy noses and the like where she couldn’t self-soothe as usual.

    But no matter how much we went in, to re-assure her, to pat her back (she slept on her tummy since she could roll over) or to just sit next to her crib and hold her hand… I never did anything for more than 3 days in a row. I once read in some baby book “3 days to make a habit, and 5 days to break it” and I’ve always remembered that. So – eve when she had horrible jet lag coming back from our trip abroad — 3 nights was all I would stay with her. On the 4th night, she needed to work it out on her own.

    She still cries out occasionally, but within 1 minute she will settle and go back to sleep. I normally chock it up to a noise, a dream, an uncomfortable position… but unless she’s really crying for more than 1-2 minutes – I don’t go in.

    Anyways. Hope that helps. 🙂

  14. Er, the routine. Right.

    Bath, pajamas, bottle, brush teeth, put in bed. Turn on white noise, give her the lovey, shut door.

    Sometimes she goes instantly to sleep, sometimes she fusses a bit, sometimes I hear her in there for 20 minutes chatting away to god knows what. But she settles down on her own, no rocking or anything. It was important to me, since we occasionally need other people to put her to sleep and I have been in the position of having to read extensive “notes” on rocking techniques, required songs to sing, etc….

    Now at 15 months, we will start to phase out the bottle and add a story instead. She’s just too squirmy to sit still for long, so we are only doing a book once a week right now.

  15. Well, our kiddo is now almost four and her sleep has always been awful. Always. I breastfed her to 22 months, we co-slept to about 15 months, but her night wakings continued. And continue. We chalk it up to 2 things: she’s a night person (she will sleep from 10pm till 10am if left to her own devices) and we have moved three times in her short life already. So she really has no “normal.” We try to maintain routines, but my husband hasn’t been sold on the idea that the clock is king, so he tends to let her slide into the nine o’clock hour routinely. I was so frustrated by this that I tried taking over bedtime for a bit, but since hubby leaves the house at 5:30am and I do 100% of all morning prep and daycare drop off, I burnt out pretty quick with doing 100% of bedtimes too. Since the girl still wakes up once per night, and wanders into our room, the current arrangement is: Our mattress on floor, her old crib mattress on floor next to us. She goes to bed in her bed, in her room, wakes up sometime in the night, brings her pillow into our room, flops it and herself down quietly on crib mattress, and we are none the wiser till morning. It works, but it’d be awful nice to have a morning to ourselves once in a damn while.

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