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Sleep Solutions: How One Mom Adapted Her Bedtime Approach for Two Different Children

Ashley Abramson

April 3, 20244 minutes

I had my first child thirteen years ago, and it was really challenging getting him to sleep. He was a colicky baby who refused any bottle or pacifier since birth. He had sensory sensitivities and struggled to self-soothe. Exhausted, I would perform a pretty lengthy and elaborate sleep routine to try to soothe him: I’d swaddle him, sing him a lullaby, and then nurse him until he fell asleep and passed the "limp limb test" before putting him in his crib. 

Since he refused a bottle and pacifier, my husband had to get him to sleep more creatively: holding him while running in place in a dark closet. In those days, whenever he started crying, I'd burst into his room, which would then fully wake him and make it harder to get him back to sleep. I quickly learned to give him some time to resettle before rushing in to check on him.

With my second child, who just turned one, it’s a bit different. I work full-time, so I definitely have her on a sleep routine, though it’s truncated compared to the five-star-spa regime suggested to me for my first child thirteen years ago. My baby has outgrown her swaddle, so I put her in a sleepsuit, carry her into her room darkened with light-blocking curtains, play a lullaby channel on her Rest 2nd gen, rock her for 1-2 songs, and lie her down while she's still slightly awake. Then I sneak out. If I hear her start to cry, I watch her on our nanny cam for a few minutes before going to settle her down. Does this work every time? Absolutely not. Sometimes she needs my husband or me a little extra that day. But this more pared-back routine is still our current foundation. -Caitlin 

What works about bedtime regimen is the combination of structure and flexibility, says 

Jade Wu, Ph.D., a behavioral sleep psychologist and Hatch medical advisor. “I really like that this family has a predictable and consistent routine, but that it’s not super rigidly set in stone,” says Dr. Wu. 

Bedtime routines, she explains, are important for everyone — particularly babies, who often need outside cues to determine when it’s time to doze off. Over time, these environmental cues help little ones form mental associations that it’s time to wind down for rest, which Dr. Wu says can play a role in tackling pesky sleep problems (as Caitlin experienced).

The ins and outs of a bedtime routine don’t matter as much as the consistency, but Dr. Wu notes a few components of Caitlin’s might come in especially handy for helping her baby doze off for nap or bedtime. 

Read more from Hatch: A Hatch medical advisor answers the question on every parent’s mind: When Will My Baby Sleep Through the Night?

The blackout shades, for example, help block out light that can be disruptive to the baby’s circadian rhythm and impair melatonin secretion. And the mix of cozy lullabies (Try the new Tiny Bed Concerts on Hatch+) and a snug sleep sack likely help the baby feel at ease and relaxed for sleep.

It also helps that Caitlin puts the baby down while she’s still slightly awake — that way, Dr. Wu says, she can learn how to fall asleep on her own without relying too much on an adult. “If a baby only falls asleep while nursing or being held or rocked, then they don’t have an opportunity to learn that their crib is safe, relaxing, and nice,” says Dr. Wu.

The cherry on top? Caitlin’s willingness to be flexible when needed. Routine is a key part of promoting healthy sleep habits, but too much structure can lead to frustration when something’s not working as you expected (and we all know babies are experts at mirroring said frustration). 

Remember that routines don’t have to be complex or take you all evening. It’s consistency that will ultimately help your baby recognize the signs that it’s time to rest. A routine can be a multi-step affair -- like the sleep routine Caitlin used with her first child -- or it can be a couple of regular nightly cues, like a feed and a lullaby on Rest. Don’t let the pursuit of the “perfect” sleep routine (which doesn’t exist!) stop you from starting out with a simple evening wind-down time. 

Plus, at the rate babies develop, their needs and wants are constantly evolving—they might require the sleep sack one day and reject it the next. “You have to be flexible enough to accommodate those changes,” says Dr. Wu.