It takes some work to get your baby to the place where she’s going to sleep through the night. That adjustment from inside the womb to outside is a strenuous one, and your baby is still struggling to grasp basic concepts like “day” and “night” as well as sleep itself. It’s no surprise, when you think about it, that your baby doesn’t sleep through the night right away.

Sleeping at night isn’t necessarily intuitive. Sure, your baby’s body, like everyone else’s, has certain rhythms that it develops. But those have to be settled into over a period of time, and don’t automatically kick in at birth. As a parent, you need to do what you can to help your baby learn how to sleep at night. Along the way, there are plenty of mistakes to be made, as well.

Not having a bedtime routine is a common mistake for first-time parents, and it’s one that can affect your child’s sleep patterns for a long time.

You might think, for example, that a regular pattern of bath, a book and a goodnight lullaby isn’t truly necessary for your infant. To be sure, that exact pattern isn’t necessary. However, you do need to have a series of calming activities that will help your baby to wind down from her day. Doing those activities over a period of time, and doing them each night, help your baby to understand when it’s time to go to sleep.

Those steps that you take each night during the bedtime routine are all cues to your baby that it’s time to go to sleep. For your newborn, that can consist simply of a diaper change, dressing in pajamas, a bottle and a little bit of cuddling. As your baby gets older and grows into a toddler, you might add a bath, reading a book, singing a song or saying goodnight prayers.

The most important things about a bedtime ritual is that the activities are calming and soothing to your baby, and that you practice this ritual each night, or at least whenever it’s possible to do.