If there’s one thing babies are good at (besides being insanely cute and pooping more than you thought possible for such a small person) it’s sleeping.
They can fall asleep in your arms, during a feeding, on a walk, in the car… almost anywhere it seems. So why is it sometimes so difficult to get them to sleep in the one place you wish they would sleep — the crib?
Whether you’re dealing with a newborn who only wants to be held during naps or an older baby or toddler who’s decided that their parents’ bed (or the car seat or the stroller) is the perfect place to sleep, we’ve got information and tips to help you deal with your baby who just won’t sleep in their crib.
If your little one is a newborn, in the first weeks of their new life, think about where they’ve been for the last 9 months or so. On the inside they were surrounded by white noise, calming movement, and warmth. They always had a satisfyingly full belly and felt comfortable and secure.
Suddenly taking those things away and expecting them to drift to sleep calmly in a solid, empty crib and on their own seems like a lot to ask.
If we’re talking older babies or toddlers, they have preferences, and those preferences often involve the comfort and security of their caregiver being present and available at all times. Since little ones aren’t known for their logic or patience, this can make trying to get them to sleep in the crib an exercise in frustration.
So what can you do?
The first step is to do all you can to establish an optimal sleep environment for your baby. Safety is the number one priority, so remember that they need to be put to bed on their back, on a firm surface, with no loose items.
If you have the space, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends setting up the crib in your room at least for the first 6 months, preferably through the first year.
In addition to a safe sleeping space, consider the following elements:
- Temperature. Keeping the room cool is key. Overheating is a risk factor for SIDS. It may be beneficial to use a fan for air circulation.
- Dress. In order to keep your little one comfortable in a cool room, consider dressing them in a sleeper. Ensure that the fit of the sleeper is snug, that there aren’t any loose strings that could entangle little toes, and that the weight of the fabric is suitable for the room temperature.
- Swaddle or sack. A swaddle or a sleep sack can be added for additional warmth or security. Just remember that you should stop swaddling once your little one is able to roll over.
- Noise. Life in the womb was never particularly quiet. Instead, there was a constant hum of white noise and muffled sounds. You can replicate this using a white noise machine or an app.
- Lighting. Keep things dark and soothing. Consider using blackout curtains to help with daytime sleep. Use nightlights or low wattage bulbs to see when you’re checking on your baby or changing diapers.
- Smell. Your smell is familiar and comforting to your little one. You can try sleeping with their sheet, sleeper, or swaddle blanket before use to give it your scent.
- Hunger. Nobody sleeps well when they’re hungry, and newborns are hungry often. Make sure you’re feeding every 2 to 3 hours, 8 to 12 times a day.
- Bedtime routine. Routine is helpful for allowing your little one to understand what is happening. Try to create a routine that you can follow any time you are preparing for sleep — not just for bedtime.
Your routine doesn’t have to be extensive or fancy. You can read a short book, feed them, and give them cuddles, then put them into their crib, drowsy but awake.
If they startle or fuss when placed in the crib, place a hand on their belly and softly shush or sing to them briefly. Sometimes you may have to repeat the cuddles and putting them down stage a few times. This doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong. You’re both learning new things and new things require patience and practice.
Each time your baby wakes during the night, offer them food and cuddles as needed, but return them to the crib as soon as the feed and clothing or diaper changes are complete. Minimize talking, bright lights, or other distractions.
Sometimes your newborn who slept in their crib suddenly doesn’t seem to like that piece of furniture anymore. Consider these tips to ease them back into sleeping on their own in their own space:
Keep all the things that are working
If your baby sleeps great during the day but doesn’t like the crib at night, try to determine what’s different (besides how tired you are and how many cups of coffee you’ve had) and adjust as needed.
Make changes gradually
Try getting your little one to take their first nap of the day in the crib. Once that is working, add another.
Make the crib appealing
Choose bedding that appeals to your baby or allow them to help you choose. Allow them to spend quiet time in the crib with board books and music playing while you’re nearby. Create a positive experience surrounding their time in the crib.
Stick with your routines as much as possible
If you can, try to keep nap and nighttime routines similar. Knowing that lunch is followed by a nap and then playtime gives your baby a sense of security that can make transitions easier.
Consider sleep training methods
It’s no wonder one of the most popular topics in books on babies is sleep — everyone needs it, and it’s not always simple to get. There are a range of methods from crying it out to the pick up, put down method to controlled crying. Only try the methods that you feel comfortable with using.
This one is tough. Of course, if your baby is sick or you’re vacationing or going through other major changes you’ll need to adjust and adapt. But the more you can stick with what they expect from you the better your results will be.
- Consider what they like — maybe motion or sound? If they consistently fall asleep in the middle of a noisy room or while you’re riding in the car, look for ways to incorporate those things into their time in the crib. Vibrating mattress pads or white noise machines can be used to replicate the things they find soothing.
- Your routine is your own — it’s okay if it isn’t what others do. If your baby calms well in the stroller you can incorporate a short stroller ride into the bedtime routine, even if you’re just circling the living room. Once they’re calm and happy, make the move to the crib.
- If your little one suddenly screams each time they’re placed on their back, consider whether they are showing other signs that may indicate reflux or an ear infection.
- If they were sleeping well in the crib, but are struggling again consider whether this could be a sleep regression.
- Don’t use the crib as a punishment or for time out.
- Make sure the crib is safe for their age and stage. Keep an eye on their growth and development and be sure to lower the mattress and keep items out of reach as they grow and change. Don’t add items like pillows or blankets until they are developmentally ready.
Like all things parenting, getting your baby to sleep in the crib is an ongoing learning experience for both of you. Incorporating what works, developing your own routines, and staying consistent can help you to encourage good sleep habits.