How to Get Your Baby to Sleep in a Crib
Transitioning your baby from sleeping in your room to their crib can be challenging! Here are a few Expert recommended tips to help with the process.
While some parents start off with a crib in the nursery for their infant, many parents like to use bassinets in their bedroom for their baby's first bed. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that an infant sleep in the same room as their parents until at least six months old, preferably in a portable crib or bassinet instead of bed-sharing. Although it is wonderful to be able to reach your infant quickly at night, eventually the baby will need their own room, and you will want your room back. So, how do you get your baby to sleep in a crib on their own?
Safe Sleep Environment
The very first step to getting your baby to sleep in their own crib is making sure your baby's crib is a safe sleeping environment. The AAP recommends infants sleep on their backs, not on their stomachs, on a firm mattress without toys, blankets, or pillows. This is to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
While those adorable stuffies and pillows look great in pictures, they are not safe in bed with an infant. Similarly, that sweet blanket your aunt made for your baby may work great during snuggle time, but it will just get in the way while sleeping because infants have very little control over their arms. Swaddling is a safer method for providing warmth without the dangers of loose bedding and is a comfortable way for babies to sleep because they love being held close. However, once an infant can roll over, swaddling is no longer appropriate due to the risk of suffocation. At that stage, it's time to switch to wearable blankets, which are often referred to as sleep sacks.
Developing a routine and sleep schedule for your baby will help create good sleep habits for them and give you some much-needed rest. This doesn't mean you need to have a military-style schedule that can't be interrupted, rather, work to keep the same routine on a daily basis as much as possible.
Start a wind-down routine approximately 30 minutes to an hour before bedtime. This can be any number of different activities as long as you remain consistent. Many parents have bath time right before bed so that the warm, soothing water (and maybe a lavender body wash) can relax their child for sleeping. A bonus to the bath part of a bedtime routine is that all the sticky mess from the day is all cleaned off. Few things smell better than a freshly bathed baby!
A bedtime story or time in the swing can also help relax your baby in preparation for sleep. To make falling asleep in a crib easier, watch for your baby's sleep cues to learn when they are getting tired. Sleep cues aren't the same for everyone, but yawning and drooping eyelids are common. Don't worry if your baby is in the middle of drinking their bottle, or you don't reach your baby before they fall asleep, if you are gentle and soothing you may be able to successfully move them to the crib without waking.
One of the biggest keys to getting your baby to sleep in a crib is finding out what comforts them. Do they suck their thumb or use a pacifier? For older babies, is there a favorite blanket or stuffed animal or doll that comforts them? If your baby has access to these things then it will be easier to self-soothe, which will in turn make it easier for them to sleep in a crib.
Sometimes, especially with firstborn children, the noise and activity of the house can draw their attention, however, a lack of noise can be equally disruptive to their sleep. Before your baby was born, they could hear the many sounds of the outside world. Inside the womb, these noises sounded different, more like a muffled hum. For us, it’s like hearing the refrigerator run all the time. We aren't usually mindful of it, but if the power goes out, the sudden quiet of the house is one of the most noticeable things. The silence is similarly jarring for newborns, but a white noise machine can help replicate the constant hum of noise your newborn was used to hearing in the womb.
A mobile is another useful comfort tool. While it might seem distracting to have a toy above the bed, hanging a mobile over the crib can actually help soothe your baby. If you've ever laid out on the grass and watched the clouds float by then you know how relaxing it can be to lay and stare up at a gently moving object; a mobile has the same effect on your baby.
Once your baby reaches a few months old and has stopped room-sharing, it is unlikely that they will need to eat every two hours. Still, they will be hungry at least once during the night. So, how do you get your baby back to sleep quickly after doing night feedings?
There are a few tricks that can keep a 2 am feeding from turning into a middle-of-the-night party. Any time you go into your baby's room after they have been put down to sleep, it is important to keep the distractions to a minimum. Any unusual sounds or actions could change your baby’s behavior from sleepy and hungry to wide awake in a moment. To cause as little disruption as possible at these feedings, keep things as routine and quiet as possible. Don't turn on the lights, opt instead for a soft night light that will give you enough light to see. Also, if you need to talk, speak softly and in a soothing voice. If you aren't breastfeeding, have the bottle warmed and ready before you enter the nursery to keep things quieter and less like the daytime. Diaper changes in the middle of the night are also inevitable, so having a wipe warmer with a cozy changing pad can keep the baby comfortable and sleepy, especially in the colder months.
Changes in Routine
If your child is sick or teething, getting them to sleep in a crib will be more difficult and sometimes won't happen. Especially if they are miserable, they will fuss and need more attention than usual. This might lead to more naps in your arms on the couch or the use of the stroller, car seat, or swing to soothe their tears. While you may end up changing up the routine during illness and teething, it is only temporary. If you keep following a bedtime routine as closely as possible and are reasonable during the illness, you will still be on the path to getting your baby to sleep in their crib when feeling better.
Travel and vacations will also interrupt the normal bedtime routine but that doesn't mean you have to be resigned to a sleepless vacation due to an overly awake baby. A travel crib can be just as cozy as the crib at home. In fact, if you have a smaller living space and are already using a portable crib, you can travel with the crib you regularly use at home. It is also expected that traveling will bring new noises. Using a white noise machine will help mask those sounds and make it feel as close to home as possible.
Babies are just little humans and often are not very different from their parents. It can seem like a daunting task to get your baby to sleep in a crib, but it just takes practice—for both you and baby. There are so many tips and tutorials on sleep training and ways to make a cozy nest for your little one, but the best tip for getting your baby to sleep in a crib is to give yourself grace. You won't be perfect at it, and some days bedtime will feel like a train wreck. You'll find yourself binge-watching a show in the middle of the night with your baby snuggling you on the couch, all because your mini-me won't calm down in their bed no matter what you try. Life goes by so quickly, so just remember to breathe, forgive yourself for not being perfect, and know that the sun will come up—and then you can both take a nap.
If you need any support with other tips and tricks for your little one, or have any questions on what kind of crib or crib accessories might help with your bedtime goals, reach out to one of our knowledgeable Baby and Toddler Experts here on Curated and we would be happy to help!