When an expecting mom is pregnant, the discomforts and anxieties that sometimes arise can make sleep elusive. But complain about the lack of sleep and that mama is sure to hear some form of, “Just wait until the baby’s here!” As annoying as it may be, those well-meaning friends and family members who’ve been there are probably right. There’s just no other tired that quite compares to new-mom tired. As much as you love those newborn snuggles, soon you’ll be ready to get your little one sleeping in her own crib…and both of you sleeping through the night. Which is why we're here to help you know exactly how to get your baby to sleep in a crib.
But, getting a baby to sleep in a crib can be a lot more challenging than it might seem. So, how do you get a baby to sleep in a crib? Lots of new parents use bassinets, swings, bedside cosleepers, or even their own bed to help baby sleep in the beginning. But whether it's at 6 weeks old, 6 months or even later, you'll probably be ready to transition them to the crib. The best way to do this is by creating a solid routine that you follow each and every night.
Not sure what that routine should look like? That's what we're here for. Read on to find out how to create a safe crib space for your little one and the steps you need to take to get them falling asleep in that seemingly roomy space.
How to Create a Safe Crib for Sleeping
When it comes to taking care of our children, keeping them safe is always number one. Preparing your little one’s transition to a crib means first creating the safest space for them to sleep.
When you lay your newborn in her crib for the first time, I know what you're thinking...that she looks awfully small in there! And honestly, it just doesn't look like that inviting of a space for a tiny baby who just spent the last 9 months snuggled up inside the coziness of your tummy. That, combined with the fact that many parents feel more comfortable keeping their baby right by their bedside in their youngest weeks (I know I sure did), is why most babies don't start sleeping in their crib from day one.
But a crib is a perfectly safe place to lay your baby down for sleeping. And eventually, you'll need to make the switch. We promise both of you will get better sleep this way, too.
To make it the safest possible sleep space, all that should be in the crib is a firm mattress and a tight-fitting sheet. It may not look comfortable to you, but a child under one doesn’t need pillows or stuffed animals for sound sleep. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the safest way for baby to sleep is placed on their back in a bare crib.
And it doesn’t have to be a fancy crib either. Pack ‘n Plays are a perfectly suitable and safe option for baby sleep.
When to Transition Your Baby to the Crib
There's no hard and fast rule that says at what age you should move your baby from your room to a crib in their own room. A lot of this will have to do with your comfort level, how often you're still needing to get up for night feedings, as well as your baby's specific needs. However, making the switch before your baby is 4 months old can often be more successful than if you wait significantly longer.
Considering what we learned from our sleep consultant, Rachel Mitchell, that the 4-month mark is around the best time to start sleep training, it makes sense to get your baby's independent sleeping situation in place before you begin this step.
In other words, getting your baby comfortable in their crib - in their own room- before the age of 4 months is what we suggest. This article from NPR, agrees that babies sleep better and for longer stretches when they sleep in their own room past the 4-month mark.
By doing this, you'll also be prepared to help your baby learn how to fall back asleep independently when that 4-month regression hits.
At the same time, it's important that you are comfortable with the decision to move your baby to their own room. It's a huge milestone and we understand the many reasons why parents might want to wait. That doesn't mean that you can't sleep train your baby at a later age to sleep independently in their own crib.
So whether you're taking the big step now, or you're going to wait, getting a routine solidified around this age is recommended.
How to Establish a Routine for Getting Your Baby to Sleep in a Crib
Once you decide it's time to make the move and you have your baby’s crib ready for safe sleep, it’s time to start setting up their sleep routine. This will be the biggest step in getting your baby to:
- fall asleep on their own, and
- sleep through the night.
- Calming bath 45 minutes – 1 hour before bedtime (lavender is a great scent before bedtime)
- Infant massage - read here to find out how to perform this relaxing nighttime ritual
- Clothe with diaper and jammies
- Place your baby in a Dreamland Baby weighted wearable blanket or swaddle (babies should transition to the wearable blanket when showing signs of rolling over) which will relax them as soon as you put it on
- Turn off the lights and turn on calming music or nature sounds (read "Best Music for Baby Sleep")
- Nurse or bottle-feed in a chair in your baby's room
- Rock your baby, while snuggling her and singing your favorite lullaby until she shows signs of sleepiness. You'll want to avoid most sleep props, but if your baby takes a pacififer that is perfectly okay.
- Lay baby down on her back – still awake, but clearly drowsy
We recommend the Dreamland Weighted Swaddle (minus the swaddle wing if they are already rolling over) for helping your newborn stay relaxed. The weight feels like a gentle hug and increases serotonin and melatonin production to relax your baby to help them fall asleep faster, sleep longer, and put themselves back to sleep on their own if they wake up.
Each step listed is important, but it's extra important that you lay your baby down drowsy but awake. If you lay your baby down when they are already asleep, they are relying completely on you get to this stage. But this is the time you need to teach them to fall asleep on their own, as we discuss in our sleep training article. Now, if you’re starting the transition to a crib with an older infant, you probably already have a bedtime routine in place. If that’s been working so far, stick with that!
Now is your baby going to fall asleep without so much as a tiny little protest? Probably not. They want to be with YOU, of course, and they will probably let you know it. Though it will take a little adjusting on both of your parts, but knowing that more sleep is coming for everyone will be worth it.
The Crib Sleep Adjustment Period
Even with the very best nighttime routine, it’s unlikely that your little one will go down without any pushback at all. (Though you may be part of the lucky few!)
Naturally, change for a baby will come as a bit of a shock – remember that they are humans, too! Change is hard, and your baby has likely gotten quite comfortable in the sleep space you’ve created for him thus far. A short adjustment period is to be expected. But, with a little willpower (you got this!), your baby will be sleeping soundly in their crib very soon.
With taking your baby’s age into account, here are a few options to make the transition go as smoothly as possible.
Option 1: With a baby younger than 3-4 months, you both might do best with a "soothe and put back down" approach. This means you'll pick your baby up if she’s fussing, calm her down, and immediately put her back down in her crib. This may need to be repeated several times.
Option 2: Staying close by your baby while they remain in their crib is another option. This could start with you keeping a hand on their chest as they relax, with each night creating a little bit more distance. Sometimes the comfort of your presence is all baby will need to relax and fall asleep. A wearable weighted blanket that mimics this closeness will also help. Eventually, they’ll adjust to falling asleep in the crib alone.
- Option 3: A baby 3-4 months in age or older may be ready for more distance from the get-go. Or maybe you’ve tried the other techniques and they're not working. At this point, you’ll leave the baby alone in her crib. It’s important to remember that some fussing and crying is completely normal as your child undergoes this stage. Give your baby 5 – 10 minutes to adjust because it’s very likely they will fall asleep independently in that amount of time. One minute of crying can seem like an eternity, but you also have to remember that you’re giving both yourself and your baby the gift of a good night’s sleep.
But what if my baby cries?!
A crying infant is often a signal to parents that he is suffering in some way. No parent likes to hear their baby cry, which is why this baby stage can be such a difficult transition. First, make sure your baby is fed, changed, comfortable, and truly tired. If they are, you are not harming your baby by letting them cry some as they learn to self-soothe and fall asleep on their own in the safe space of a crib. It often only takes 2-3 nights of crying for your baby to be comfortable in her new routine where she is able to fall asleep without a peep.
Even though those first couple of nights might be terrible for you, they’re really not for your baby.
With that said, you know your baby and their needs better than anyone. Choose the option that works best for you and your baby as he transitions to crib sleep.
Mom, Natalia writes about her experience with Dreamland Baby: I started sleep training my baby once she turned 6 months. She was having a really hard time falling asleep in her crib and staying asleep as well. once the dreamland sleep sack arrived i washed it and she napped for a whole hour in it! she also slept through the night the first night! My only regret is not buying it sooner."
How do I get my baby to sleep in a crib for naps?
You might be thinking, well this all sounds well and good for nighttime, but what about crib sleep during naptime?
Once you transition your baby to the crib for nighttime sleep, there is really no reason to have them sleep anywhere else for their naps. Remember that you want their crib to become their safehaven, the place they look forward to going to when those sweet little eyes start to get droopy. As for a routine, we recommend a shortened version of what we've listed above.
- Make sure your baby's tummy is full (though you may want to avoid feeding them RIGHT before they go down for their nap so as not to rely on this as a sleep prop)
- Make the room dark with blackout curtains (this signals it's time to sleep)
- Use the same music or white noise you do at bedtime
- Give them a clean diaper and place them in their Dreamland Baby weighted sack
- Put them down into their crib on their back - very sleepy but still awake
We go in-depth on each of these steps in our "Baby Naps" article.
Some parents do choose to get their baby used to their crib before making the leap into nighttime crib sleep and this works well for many babies. But if you haven't done that, that's ok, too. Sometimes you just have to jump in feet first and full of confidence.
Make a Commitment to Your Baby’s Crib Sleep
No matter how you decide to work getting your baby to sleep in their crib, it’s important to stay committed to the choice you make. This will most likely be the toughest part of getting your baby to sleep in a crib. Once you decide crib sleep is the best choice, be all in. Avoid reverting to previous sleep habits!
Even throwing in the towel just once sends a message to your very intelligent baby that they are in charge. To get through this, remind yourself how important sleep is for your baby's health and growth. The snuggles will be extra special when baby wakes up and you are both happy and fully rested.
Remember that every baby eventually learns to fall asleep in their crib on their own. Your pursuit of creating a well-slept household will take strength and persistence, but the reward will be well worth it for everyone.