You may have spent days picking out and then putting together the perfect crib for your little one before they were born. Maybe you imagined their sweet little body, all curled up, fast asleep dreaming. However, now that your baby has arrived, they may be having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep in their crib.
As a parent, you want nothing more than to keep your baby healthy and happy and that includes making sure they get all of the rest they need (and you, too!). Your tiny human may go through a cycle of wailing in their crib, falling asleep for a short amount of time, and then crying once more, leaving you feeling frustrated and out of options.
In this article, we’re teaming up with pregnancy and postpartum experts, Kaylan Sharp, RN, BSN, BS, CLE, PCD(DONA), and Kiera Davis, MS, RN, BSN, BA, from Baby Mama Co to provide guidance on how to get your baby to sleep successfully in their crib. The crib might be your baby’s kryptonite — but with a little help, it’s possible to turn your baby into a sleeping champ!
Just as your baby might cry to signal they’re hungry, there may be an underlying reason why your baby is fussy every time you try and put them down for bed in their crib. Your baby could have trouble sleeping in their crib due to the following reasons:
- Separation Anxiety: At around 8-9 months, babies start to become more aware of their environment and realize that they’re alone. Your baby may cry until they see a familiar face or one of their parents enters the room.
- A Change of Environment: If your baby falls asleep in your arms and you transfer them to their crib, this change in environment can be startling or even scary for them. If your baby used a bassinet from day one, they may prefer the smaller sleeping area and have difficulty getting accustomed to the crib.
- Your Baby Hit a Developmental Stage: Your baby may be teething, going through a sleep regression, hitting a new milestone (like learning how to crawl), having growth spurts, or getting sick. All of these different factors could have an impact on their ability to drift off to sleep and stay asleep.
When you first brought your baby home from the hospital, you may have chosen to use a bassinet. However, once your baby starts to push up on their hands or knees or they’ve outgrown the bassinet’s product use limits, then it’s time to introduce them to a crib. While some babies take to their crib easily, others need more time to get adjusted. If you want to help your baby sleep comfortably on their own, check out some of our exclusive tips from the Baby Mama Co team below:
- Take Advantage of Nap Time: Allow your baby the chance to nap in their crib throughout the day. This will help get them comfortable with their crib in short spurts without getting overwhelmed with being in a completely new sleeping environment.
- Implement Play Time in Their Crib: You can give your baby a child-safe mirror during supervised playtime so they can explore their facial expressions, which can help bolster their development. You can also play fun games like peek-a-boo with your baby while they’re in the crib so they associate it with a fun place to be.
Ensure that your little bundle of joy gets a good night's sleep by tackling their sleeping woes head-on with our top tips below!
Focus on Temperature
The temperature in the room should be just right — not too cold, not too hot. Because let's face it, if your baby is shivering or sweating, they're not going to be in the mood for a peaceful slumber.
Parents might bundle too many layers on their little ones, which could cause them to overheat. Instead, you’ll want to stick with sleeper pajamas that are soft and breathable plus one extra layer, such as a swaddle or sleep sack (depending on your baby’s developmental stage).
If you do choose to swaddle your baby, stick with safe sleeping practices like laying them on their back and removing the swaddle once they show signs of rolling over, typically around 2 months of age.
Keep Track of Their Wake Windows
Wake windows are the amount of time your baby is awake between sleep and differ between ages. Knowing your baby’s wake windows can help you to set clear expectations for your baby’s sleep schedule.
For example, newborns are typically awake for roughly one hour before they go back to sleep while a 4-month-old might have a wake window of up to two and a half hours. Knowing the wake window that corresponds to your baby’s age range, can help clue you in when it’s time to put your baby down for a nap.
Alright, let's talk about the age-old parenting dilemma of whether or not to let your baby cry it out. Here's the deal: when your baby is a newborn, they need a lot of comfort and attention from you to feel safe and secure. So if your little one is crying, it's generally a good idea to tend to them right away. But as your baby gets a little older and more independent (think 4-6 months), you might find that they're capable of self-soothing. This means that you can let them cry for short periods of time (around 10 minutes) to see if they're able to calm themselves down and fall back asleep. Just as talking and walking are learned skills, so too is falling asleep, which is why it’s normal for babies to need some encouragement in this area.
If you're not comfortable with the idea of letting your baby cry it out — no problem! You can always try placing a hand on their belly to soothe them without picking them up. And if they're still fussy after a short while, go ahead and scoop them up for some extra snuggles. Remember, every baby is different, and you know your little one best. So trust your instincts and do what feels right for both you and your baby.
Create a Relaxing Environment
Creating a zen-like experience for your little one can help lull them off to dreamland.
- Use a White Noise Machine: You might want to consider using a white noise machine or a fan to create a consistent, soothing background sound that can help drown out any sudden noises or distractions that might wake your baby. There are wonderful products on the market for both kids and adults that function as a night light and white noise machine and help signal when it is time to wind down and wake up with intuitive features. Many have a soothing red light that can be less stimulating to babies’ brains during nighttime feedings or changes.
- Hang Dark Curtains: Try investing in some blackout curtains to block out any excess light that might be creeping into the room.
- Use a Pacifier: Pacifiers are safe to give to your little one at bedtime and can help soothe your baby.
Make a Bedtime Routine
Dim the light before your baby’s bedtime and sing them a lullaby or rock them back and forth. This can signal to their body that it's time to wind down and get ready for sleep. You can also take some time to read to your baby. This can be a great way to bond with your little one, and can also help them feel calm and reassured as they drift off to sleep.
Change Their Diaper
Diaper duty is a big part of taking care of a baby so you’ll want to make sure they go to bed with a fresh diaper. If your baby is only a few months old, you’ll probably wind up feeding them anywhere from 2 to 5 times each night. You’ll want to make sure they don’t become too alert during feedings, which can make it more difficult to fall back asleep, so you can change their diaper before you feed them or halfway through their feeding.
Of course, if your little one has a blowout, it's important to change their diaper right away. As your little one gets older and sleeps for longer periods throughout the night, you don't necessarily need to wake them up out of a deep sleep for a change. Most diapers these days are very absorbent and can hold a lot of liquid without causing any problems. That being said, if you notice that your baby's diaper is very wet and heavy, you’ll want to change it to prevent a rash.
Create a Safe Sleeping Environment
Never place any crib bumpers, toys, or blankets into the crib with your little one. While these items might seem harmless, they can pose a serious safety risk for your baby. Crib bumpers, for example, can create a suffocation hazard if your baby gets too close to them or becomes entangled in them. And while blankets and toys might seem cozy and comforting, they can also pose a choking or suffocation risk if they accidentally get too close to your baby's face.
To keep your little one safe and snug, it's best to stick to a simple, bare-bones sleeping environment, with just a fitted sheet on the mattress and only use what came with the crib itself. This way, you can rest easy knowing that your little one is sleeping soundly and safely.
Wait Until They’re Drowsy
Wait until your baby's eyelids start to flutter before setting them down in their crib. This can help ensure that they're fully relaxed and ready for sleep, which can make it easier for them to settle down at night.
Try not to let your baby fall asleep on your chest or in your arms. While it might be tempting to snuggle up with your little one, this can actually make it harder for them to learn how to fall asleep on their own. By placing them in their crib while they're drowsy but still awake, you can give them the chance to learn how to soothe themselves to sleep.
Get Their Energy Out
When babies have plenty of opportunities to play, explore, and engage with the world around them, they tend to be more active and alert during the day, which can help them feel sleepier when it's time to settle down for the night. Setting up playdates with other babies can also be a great way to encourage socialization and help your little one burn off some energy. Plus, spending time with other parents and caregivers can be a great way to build your support network and get some much-needed adult interaction.
Spending time outdoors can be a great way to help your baby sleep better at night. When babies get plenty of sunshine and fresh air during the day, it can help regulate their circadian rhythms (a.k.a. their internal clock) and make it easier for them to fall asleep at night. If weather permits, consider taking your baby to local parks or other outdoor spaces where they can explore!
Don’t Rely on Car Seats
When it comes to helping your baby sleep, it may be tempting to resort to some less-than-ideal methods, such as driving them around in their car seat until they fall asleep. However, this isn't a good idea for a few reasons. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against using car seats or swings for the purpose of trying to get your baby to fall asleep, as it can increase the risk of suffocation and other sleep-related issues. Not only is it dangerous, but it’s also a bad habit that can make it harder for them to sleep through the night on their own.
Another key element of a good bedtime routine is consistency. Try to put your baby to bed at the same time every night, so their body gets into a rhythm and knows when it's time to sleep. It's important to stick with your routine and not give up on using a crib, even if it takes a little time for your baby to adjust. Be patient with your little one and they’ll be drifting off to dreamland in no time!
Ask for Help
If you have concerns about your baby's sleep habits or are struggling to find a solution that works, don't hesitate to reach out to your pediatrician or a certified sleep specialist.
As the Baby Mama Co founders put it, “Some parents may need help navigating sleep challenges after a few days, while others are fine to wait. The most important advice is to listen to your intuition and do what you’re comfortable with. If you’ve implemented tactics and they aren’t working, reach out for help early and often. You can contact a certified sleep consultant as an early step as they are specifically trained to help with infant sleep. Make sure to find a sleep consultant who matches your family’s values and goals.”
With time and patience, you can establish healthy sleep habits that will benefit your baby for years to come. Every baby is unique, so you may need to try different solutions to see what works best for your little one. This might include things like using a white noise machine, adjusting the temperature in their room, or trying out different bedtime stories or lullabies.
The Baby Mama Co founders explain, “Make sure to give your baby and yourself grace and patience as you are both learning through this process and these adjustments take time. Sleep challenges can be frustrating but early knowledge and intervention can lead to a successful crib transition for your baby.”
About Baby Mama Co
Baby Mama Co was founded by registered nurses, postpartum doulas, moms, and twin sisters, Kaylan and Kiera. They offer evidence-based education, classes, and in-home postpartum support in the Denver metro area and provide compassionate and tailored care in the fourth trimester. Their mission is to guide, empower, and support pregnant women, new moms, and their families during this beautiful yet challenging life transition.