It is no secret that a consistent routine can make for a more pleasant bedtime for the whole family. It is especially useful early on when you are trying to help your baby differentiate day and night. As a teacher of young children, I know from experience that children are typically creatures of habit and often thrive off cues and routines. Early on dressing the baby, bathing her - all that stuff - had my heart racing and me in a full on sweat, as she screamed at the top of her lungs. It was such a special time...
So for me, someone who loves a schedule, the bedtime routine makes a huge difference in the way we wrap up the day. It feels far more calm now.
After I had Mary Clare, we were able to hire a night nurse / postpartum doula. She would come at night and assist in the care of our baby. It was key for me to have this extra support when I was recovering from PPD. Rob often travels for business as well so there were some nights early on that I was downright terrified to be alone. It is a total luxury to hire this kind of help, it requires a lot of saving beforehand but for us it was truly a lifesaver.
Full disclosure, the night nurse thing is something I wasn't sure I wanted to share. I suppose I feel some shame around the fact that we had to hire someone to help me because I couldn't do it. It pains me to even say that but I was sick and we would not allow that to impact our daughter's well being in any way.
I learned SO MUCH from our night nurse, Wendy. In addition to giving Mary Clare (or peanuts as she called her) the best, gentlest care, she was an enormous help to me. She worked closely with us and especially with me. Coaching and teaching me in how to care for this tiny creature we created. She helped me build the confidence I needed to believe I could do it on my own.
Something Wendy encouraged from the start was a consistent bedtime routine. So when Mary Clare was about 4 weeks old, we began the bedtime routine that we still use today. The routine loosely consists of the 4 B's - bath, bottle, book, bed.
To start, we head upstairs and run the bath. MC loves the bath. She giggles and kicks the bathwater. Even at her crankiest, the bath always makes her smile. Every night, we wash hands, face, privates and under her chins (gotta get that neck cheese). Every 2 or 3 days we wash her whole body and her hair. We really like the Aveeno Baby wash. For cradle cap, we were advised by the pediatrician to use regular Head and Shoulders shampoo. I was hesitant but eventually went for it and it worked like a charm. Aside from actual bathing, bath time is a cue to MC that bedtime has begun.
After about 10 minutes, into the nursery we go. It is typically "staged" if you will beforehand - lights off, sound machine on and all necessary gear laid out. This helps it feel less frantic. Bedtime routine + frantic = not what we're going for. Mary Clare gets a full body massage with Aveeno Baby Lotion. We use Baby Aquaphor on her bottom and sometimes on her body during the colder months. We recently incorporated rubbing a tiny drop of lavender essential oil on the bottom of her feet. It was advised that I do this before bed when I was suffering from anxiety. The doctor gave me the go ahead to do this with the baby as well. It is said to have immediate calming effects on the body. I don't know whether it does anything but it sure does smell nice!
When she's suited up in an overnight diaper, footie pajamas, Aden+Anais burpy bib and zipped up into a Halo Sleepsack, we get cozy in the rocking chair. Truth be told, she's typically squealing for her bottle at this point, so we give it right away. One of us reads a book and then leaves the other parent to finish the job. At first, Rob and I would do every step of the bed time routine together when we were both home. Then once I was feeling more comfortable, we decided that it would work for us to split it up. If I do bath, then Rob does bottle and bed or vice versa.
While she's drinking her bottle we say prayers and I sing "Over the Rainbow." My mom used to sing it to me. I'm still wondering when my little lady will realize I have a wretched singing voice? 'Til then I will keep on singing! Also, consider this my official apology to Judy Garland for butchering her masterpiece.
After she finishes her bottle or tells me in her way that she's done, we sit and snuggle for a few more minutes. I let her get a burp or two out and sing another song. Then there are many kisses, an"I love you, sleep well," and she lays her down in her crib.
I love bedtime with my girl. I especially love the quiet time together, sitting in her dark room while she has her bottle. On the nights that my mind is listing all the things I need to do when she is down, I remind myself to stop and be present.
These moments won't last forever. There will be a time when she is too big for me to hold in my arms. A time where she won't need me like this. A time where there may be another little baby around. In these mundane moments, during the things we do every day that our bond grows stronger. It is in this quiet time, before she goes to sleep that I am in awe of what a gift this little girl truly is.