Babies and small children love routine: it helps them to make sense of their world and gives definition and shape to their day. This is as true of bedtime as of any other part of the day.

A clear routine will help your child to understand that in the daily sequence of events, the next stage is bed and sleep. Understanding this will in itself go some way towards setting her up for a good night's sleep. You can also take your routine with you when you go away, making it easier to settle your child in unfamiliar places.

Establishing a successful routine
Your bedtime routine should be predictable and enjoyable; it should also aim to calm your child down, rather than get her excited. Possible elements include:

  • Tidying away toys.
  • A relaxing bath.
  • A drink (your baby should only have milk or water after her teeth have been brushed).
  • A bedtime story.

It doesn't matter exactly what you do: what is important is that you do the same things in the same order every night, preferably at the same time. (You may also find that putting your baby down for her daytime naps at the same time every day helps her bedtime become more settled.)

Once your routine is well established, you can be a little more flexible - for example, you may feel that on some nights your child is too tired for a bath - but aim to be consistent for the first few months.

Very small babies
Some parents wait until their child is a few months old before establishing a bedtime routine, but there is no reason why you can't adopt one from the start. However, with a tiny baby, you need to give some thought to the timing of your routine.

You may decide to implement it in the early evening and treat all changes and feeds from then on as night activities. Alternatively, as 70 per cent of babies sleep from roughly midnight until 5am by the age of 3 months, you may want to run your bedtime routine just before the start of this 'core' sleep and then move it forward by half an hour every few days to extend her night sleep time gradually.