The most important minute of your baby’s bedtime routine

Advice & Tips

Winding down a baby is a lot of work. Don’t sabotage your efforts by making this common mistake.

It’s been a long day. Your shirt is spotted with spit-up and your hair is in the same messy bun it’s been in since morning. You haven’t had a minute to yourself because when your baby did nap, it was for twenty minutes, on you.

It’s finally bedtime. The couch and Netflix beckon like the finish line of a marathon. You just want to break through that ribbon and collapse. You’re so very close.

You’ve fed your baby, bathed them, dressed them, read them a book and sung them a lullaby. You’re ready to put your baby into bed and creep away to you time. But you make one fatal mistake: You rush the ending.

Have you ever ridden a horse out on a trail? On the way out, the horses walk lazily, munching plants to their sides, bobbing their heads behind the butt of the horses in front of them. But the way back is a completely different story.

As the horses sense that they’re approaching home, they quicken their steps. They don’t stop to graze, they don’t plod along. They’re on a mission. They want to get back to their stables as soon as possible.

Sound familiar? When we see the end in sight with our babies, we tend to scramble through the ending. We put on the diaper a little faster, and we pull the onesie over their head with more purpose. We sing a lullaby lovingly, but mentally we’re kicking our legs up on the couch with a glass of wine.

It might sound far-fetched, but trust me when I say that our baby senses our rush too, and the sprint to the end can ruin all your hard work of winding them down.

Think of it as a song on an album. Instead of an abrupt stop that leaves the listener disoriented and agitated, songs often use a fade-out to help the listener transition out of it.

Doing a fade-out with your baby means intentionally slowing down the last minutes. It means being patient through the last crucial phase. Many parents in my classes tell me that the Fade Out is one of the most important skills they learned and that it makes all the difference for their night.

How to do the fade-out with your baby

  • Sing or speak SLOWLY:

I’m a fan of lullabies because they’re an effective behavioural cue for your baby and they lend themselves to the Fade Out, but you can speak if you prefer. Whether you’re singing a lullaby or saying goodnight to your baby, start to sing or talk slower. Hold out the notes, imagining you’re John Legend singing a slow and sentimental ballad. (If you forget the words to a lullaby you’d like to sing, find lyrics to popular lullabies here.)

  • Sing or speak SOFTLY:

As you sing (or speak,) slowly fade out the volume of your voice. Challenge yourself to gradually make your voice softer and softer. It’s not easy to do and takes focus.

  • Release GENTLY:

As you pull your hands off your baby, do it very gradually. One of my favourite tricks is to release your hands from your baby while imagining they’re still on them. This forces you to make your movements mindful and patient.

How to know if you’re doing the fade-out correctly:

If you follow the rules above, you’ll get the hang of it. That said, there’s a simple litmus test for an effective fade-out: If it’s making you tired and putting you to sleep, then it’s doing the same for your baby.

The fade-out is an extra two minutes that can save you another 15 minutes of soothing if your baby senses you’re quickening.

And the best part? If you’re able to stay present during these last few moments, you’ll be ending your day with a deep feeling of connection to your baby, and that’s the actual finish line. Outlander can wait.

Vered Benhorin is a mother of three, a music therapist and a psychotherapist who helps parents connect to their babies.

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