December 27, 2023

The Best Bedtime Routines for Babies and Toddlers

Babies, Newborns, Older Children, Toddlers

When I was first told 3.5 years ago that I should establish a nap and bedtime routine with my baby girl, I was a little overwhelmed.

What would we do? What song should we sing? Would this really matter for a newborn? What if we somehow messed it up?

So Jason and I chatted through what our routine might look like, but to be totally honest, we held very loosely to it for the first several months of Olivia’s life.

Sometimes nursed her right to sleep without doing anything else, sometimes rocked for what felt like hours, sometimes sang, sometimes not, sometimes read a book, but she was often just too tired… there just wasn’t much consistency.

When Olivia turned 10 months old and we decided to sleep train, we finally established a consistent bedtime routine, and it’s honestly stayed pretty much the same from then until now, with just a few slight adjustments!

And Avery and Isla’s routines have followed the same suit. Our older two could walk anyone through their routine, which is so helpful.

So in this post we’ll talk about:

  • When to start using a bedtime routine with your baby
  • How long your child’s bedtime routine should be
  • What a newborn’s bedtime routine could look like
  • How to change your baby’s bedtime routine as they get older
  • What a toddler and older child’s bedtime routine could include
  • If your baby really needs a bath every night

And so much more!

bedtime routine

When to Start Establishing a Bedtime Routine

The great news is, you can start DAY ONE!

The first night after our second daughter, Avery, was born, we swaddled her up and sang our bedtime song as we lulled her to sleep.

And so it began! Nothing fancy, but something we could start doing consistently to make a connection to sleep.

But the good news is, if you’re reading this and you’ve never had a consistent bedtime routine, whether your little one is 3 weeks old, 3 months old, or 3 years old, it’s never too late to start!

Just like it’s never too late to teach your child to sleep, it’s never too late to start a bedtime routine!

You can also change your bedtime routine if what you’re doing just isn’t working; no one said once you decide on a routine you can’t ever change it.

How Long a Bedtime Routine Should Be

Your child’s bedtime routine is one of the most important times of the day. The idea behind solid sleep routines is to cue your child’s physical body and mind that it’s time for sleep.

When it comes to bedtime, we aim for a routine of about 20-30 minutes. We want there to be enough time for your little one to really register that it’s bedtime, and we want to make sure we’re cueing their body that overnight sleep is to come.

With toddlers and older kids, especially, we want to also mentally prepare them so that transitioning to sleep isn’t such a challenge!

Similarly, anything longer than 30 minutes and it could just start feeling like another play time, they might forget they’re getting ready for bed, or at this point, your child might just be pushing boundaries.

If you have a newborn and you are still establishing feeding and each feed is still taking 20+ minutes, note that their bedtime routine will likely be longer than 30 minutes. And that’s okay if it’s the feed piece that makes it longer!

Where the Bedtime Routine Should Take Place

Once your little one is done with their bath and their teeth are brushed, the goal is to finish out the rest of the routine in their room to help them continue to physically and mentally prepare for sleep.

If your baby is 12 months or younger and is still getting a feed in the bedtime routine, we actually suggest the bedtime feed take place outside of your baby’s bedroom, like in the living room – somewhere with lights on, some stimulation, and somewhere that feels set apart from sleep.

If you have older kiddos still running around and the distraction is just too high, you can certainly feed your baby in their nursery, but if the goal is eventually independent sleep, we want to make sure the lights are on and you’re engaging with them, so they’re not getting drowsy or trying to fall asleep during the feed.

If your goal is to feed your baby to sleep, this will, of course, look different

Here are my suggestions for bedtime routines according to your child’s age:

Newborn Bedtime Routine (0-3 months old)

Example Newborn Bedtime Routine:

  • Bath/wash hands, feet, face
  • Diaper
  • Feed
  • Lotion and jammies
  • Swaddle
  • Song
bedtime routine

I want to point out a few “why”s in this newborn bedtime routine:

First, you’ll see that I have the bedtime feed between the diaper and jammies. The purpose of this is one, to help you find some extra space to enjoy some skin-to-skin time with your baby if that’s something you’re being intentional about.

And two, feeding your newborn in just a diaper also helps them stay awake so they can get in a nice and full feeding without falling asleep!

You may need to tickle your baby’s toes, blow on their face, stroke their cheeks, etc, to help keep them stimulated, and doing all of this before they’re extra warm and cozy in their jammies is really helpful.

You’ll also see that this routine includes swaddling your newborn. I highly recommend parents of newborns swaddle their babies the first several weeks of life to help prevent the Moro, or startle reflex!

And then between 8-12 weeks, transition your baby out of the swaddle, either into a more standard sleep sack or just jammies.

Finally, I want you to note that your newborn will still need help getting to sleep! While we can absolutely start establishing sleep habits from the start, newborns still need quite a bit of comfort and support to get there.

So you’ll sing to them and then you might keep singing, or they might need some patting and shushing, maybe a pacifier.

Baby Bedtime Routine (4-12 months old)

Example Baby Bedtime Routine:

  • Feed
  • Bath/wash hands, feet, face
  • Diaper, lotion, and jammies
  • Sleep sack
  • Read one-two books
  • Song

Now to point out a few “why”s in this baby bedtime routine and how it’s different than a newborn’s bedtime routine:

One of the biggest differences between newborn and baby bedtime routines is when the feeding takes place in the routine.

Around 3-4 months, I suggest parents move the feed to the very first step of the bedtime routine, even before the bath.

The main reason we do this is to make sure your baby is not trying to use the breast or bottle to fall asleep, or even get drowsy before you lay them down.

Although laying your baby down “drowsy but awake” can be helpful in the newborn world, once babies go through the four-month regression and their sleep cycles mature into being more adult-like, “drowsy” is now the first step into their sleep cycle, and laying them down drowsy will likely cause further sleep challenges.

You’ll also notice that I love ending bedtime routines with a song; we have done this with both of our girls since day one!

When choosing a song to sing, try to pick a song that you can sing in about 30 seconds, or just pick one verse. Because although singing and cuddling your babe as the last step in your routine is so so sweet, we want to watch that they are not getting drowsy in that last step before lying them down in their crib.

Finally, I want to point out that we are no longer swaddling babies at this age, but I am a big fan of sleep sacks! It’s one more physical reminder that sleep is coming.

Older Baby and Toddler Bedtime Routine (12 months-3 years old)

Example Older Baby & Toddler Bedtime Routine:

  • Bath/wash hands, feet, face
  • Diaper, lotion, and jammies
  • Sleep sack
  • Read two books
  • Song
toddler bedtime routine

Now to point out a few “why”s in this older baby and toddler bedtime routine and how it’s different than the newborn and baby routines:

The biggest change is that a feed is no longer part of the bedtime routine.

It doesn’t have to be at 12 months on the dot, but it’s around this age when babies should now be consuming solids as their main source of nutrients, and any form of milk is an added bonus.

Just like adults don’t need to end the night with a glass of milk or snack, the end goal is that our baby or toddler’s last milk of the day ends with dinner.

You’ll also see that I still have a sleep sack in this bedtime routine. I am a huge fan of sleep sacks and both of my girls (1.5 and 3.5) still wear one to sleep, but know that sleep sacks are not required to have great sleepers.

Finally, when it comes to books. Whether you choose to read one book, two books, or three books every night, that’s up to you. But I do recommend you choose a number and stick with it! Because before you know it, your little one will be asking for one more, more books, and being able to say, “We always read two books” is so helpful.

Older Child Bedtime Routine (3 years and older)

Example Older Child Bedtime Routine:

  • Bath/wash hands, feet, face
  • Potty, jammies, teeth
  • Read
  • Song

Now to point out a few add-ons that might be helpful for your child or family:

If your little one has started getting more nervous around bedtime, or they struggle to really settle in bed for the night, you might introduce some affirmations during bath time or while brushing their teeth.

An affirmation could be something like, “I am safe, I am happy, I will sleep well tonight.” Or you might choose a Bible verse, or a quote that you’re little one can easily learn.

That’s something you can recite with your child at bedtime, and the goal is for it to eventually become something they can spout of themselves, and you can even remind them of that “tool” if they have a hard time in the middle of the night.

Another little bedtime routine “add-on” is some sort of massage. This can be helpful to really ground your little one into their bed, and also fill up that little love tank before tucking them in for the night.

Just remember, again, if the goal is independent sleep, we don’t want to rub their back for so long that they’re once again getting drowsy or even falling asleep before you leave the room!

Finally, I want to note that it’s okay for your child’s bedtime routine to be fun. This is the last time of the day you have to really connect with your little one, so if that means having a bubble bath, or wrestling while getting jammies on, or singing silly songs while brushing teeth, that’s all okay!

And if your little one fights to get through the bedtime routine, snag our bedtime routine chart and boundary cards – free printables to help take the fight out of bedtime!

Should I Give My Baby a Bath Every Night?

The short answer is no! We certainly don’t bathe our girls every night.

But I DO recommend having water as some piece of the routine, even quickly wiping their face with a washcloth, or washing their hands and toes.


bedtime routine

First, we’re not generally bathing our kids all day long, so having a bath is a great way to establish that something different is happening; this is not just another part of the day, this is bedtime. And we want our kids’ bodies and minds to register this!

Second, as melatonin (our body’s natural sleepy hormone) starts producing at night, our body temperature also starts declining; this is helpful to prepare us for sleep. And our body temperatures tend to lower after a warm bath, so starting bedtime routines that way helps our bodies continue what they’re already naturally doing, preparing us all the more for sleep.


If you haven’t established a consistent bedtime routine with your little one yet, hopefully this helps give you some ideas!

Or maybe there are some adjustments you want to make to better support your little one’s sleep.

We want bedtime to be predictable for your child and also repeatable by anyone who puts your kiddo to bed, so keep that in mind when planning what your bedtime routine will look like.

Your little one’s bedtime routine is one of the most important parts of the day, and it’s also a really sweet time to connect before you go your separate ways for the night.

And once they pick up on it, your little one will be able to predict what’s coming next (SLEEP!) and that serves the whole family.

With Grace,


bedtime routine