How To Get Your Baby To Sleep In A Crib

Picture of Robyn Rosenblum, MD, FAAP

baby sleeping in crib

Learning how to get your baby to sleep in their crib is a tough transition for most parents. You and your little one may be used to sleeping together. Or your newborn may prefer sleeping in a swing or a car seat.

When they’re in those familiar environments, they fall asleep quickly and without fuss. But these are not long-term solutions for a safe, successful newborn sleep schedule. Eventually, it’s best for everyone involved if your baby sleeps in their crib.

In this article, we give you six tips about how to get your baby to sleep in a crib so you and your family can rest easy again.

Why Your Baby Doesn’t Want To Sleep In A Crib

baby standing in crib in nursery

When they’re born, your little one has already spent nine months in a warm, cozy environment. They’re used to the pressure, the warmth, and the motion that mommy’s body provided.

That’s why most newborns prefer to sleep in your arms, a rock n’ play, a car seat, or a stroller — those “places” mimic the conditions of the womb.

Your baby’s crib is, in many ways, the complete opposite of what they’re used to.

They spend most of their time being held, enjoying the warmth of your body, inhaling your smell, feeling you breathe, hearing your heartbeat, and being gently rocked back and forth. When you put them in a crib to sleep, you remove all of the sensory stimulation they rely on to feel secure.

Additionally, most crib mattresses are wrapped in non-breathable plastic that makes them hot and uncomfortable to sleep on.

Newton Baby mattresses are different. They’re designed to be comfortable and supportive while keeping your baby cool all night long. That means they’ll sleep soundly and wake up well-rested!

That being said, it’s possible that in spite of your best efforts to create the right conditions for sound sleep and make the crib a comfy, safe, inviting place, your little one will still sometimes refuse to sleep.

If this restlessness is more than just an isolated incident and stays consistent for days or weeks, there are a few common causes that might account for it you should consider. Let’s take a look.

Teething

For most babies, the first tooth doesn’t appear until six months or older, but it’s possible for soreness and discomfort to begin as early as three or four months. Chewing or excessive drooling in addition to general fussiness are telltale signs teething may have begun.

Giving your little one a gum massage, letting them gnaw on your (clean) fingers, or giving them a teething toy made from firm rubber or silicone for a while before bed can help relieve their discomfort and make it easier for them to drift off.

Consult with your pediatrician, especially before giving your baby any pain relief medication such as Tylenol.

Growth Spurt

It’s probably always going to seem to you like your little one is growing up too fast, but there are certain times when their growth really does accelerate.

During these growth spurts, your baby adds height, weight, and head circumference faster than usual. Experts say growth spurts are more likely to happen at certain points during the first year, including three months, six months, and nine months.

Growth spurts can have unpredictable effects on your baby’s sleep patterns.

On one hand, some parents report that their babies sleep more than usual during growth spurts. On the other hand, some parents find that their babies wake up more frequently or wake up earlier at night and take shorter naps.

If a growth spurt is disrupting your baby’s sleep, there’s a good chance it’s because they’re hungry. They need more nutrition to fuel their sudden burst of physical development. Make sure they’re getting all of the nourishment they want.

The good news is that growth spurts typically only last a few days, so the disruption in their sleep habits should be brief.

Sleep Regression

Just when it seems like it’s finally gotten easier to get your little one down for the night (and get some solid sleep yourself), they suddenly start refusing to go down or waking up repeatedly during the night again. What’s happening?

It’s called a “sleep regression,” and it’s usually associated with developmental milestones when your baby’s mind and body are rapidly changing.

Common times for babies to go through periods of sleep regression start at four months, and they can continue every two to six months until they’re two years old (although most babies don’t go through every possible sleep regression).

In most cases, sleep regression periods last a couple of weeks. The specific developmental changes your baby is experiencing will determine the exact length.

There’s not much you can do except try to ride it out, but take comfort in knowing these periodic setbacks in getting your baby to sleep peacefully are normal.

Illness

If you can’t identify any other reason why your baby is refusing to sleep, it’s possible there’s a health issue making them uncomfortable and cranky.

Don’t be alarmed. Most of the illnesses that can commonly cause your child to have trouble sleeping are minor and can be easily treated.

Some of these common issues include rashes, ear infections, colds, or reflux. With most of these, you’ll soon be able to tell if an illness is the culprit from symptoms besides sleep disruption. Consult your pediatrician if you have concerns.

The Importance Of Sleeping In A Crib

parents figured out how to get baby to sleep in crib

When you think about it from your newborn’s perspective — the warmth, the movement, the comfort, the familiarity — you may start to wonder why it’s so important for them to eventually sleep on their own in a crib.

Safety

The reason for transitioning your little one to a crib is very simple: Co-sleeping, motion sleep, and semi-reclined sleep — the type provided by swings, strollers, and car seats — is not safe!

With these other sleeping options, there’s always the risk of accidents happening that can cause your baby to stop breathing.

But in a crib with the right mattress, there’s no risk that your newborn will roll themselves over and accidentally restrict their airflow. (You can rest easy knowing there’s nothing to worry about when you lay your baby down to sleep on a Newton Baby mattress!)

Sleep Quality

Sleeping in a crib also provides your little one with the deepest, highest quality sleep possible.

On a very deep level, your baby’s brain may register that they’re not completely stable and “safe” (in terms of falling) in other sleeping arrangements, so they won’t experience the deep, stage-three sleep their body needs to function properly.

This automatic, unconscious safety feature of the human body is best illustrated by thinking about how well you, as an adult, sleep when you’re semi-reclined (like in an airplane seat).

You may be able to doze or even slide into a fitful sleep for twenty minutes, but you’re not going to reach the later stages of sleep to feel refreshed when you wake. Your baby experiences the same thing.

The best sleep comes from lying in a horizontal position on a stable, supportive mattress. It’s this basic human need to sleep horizontally on a stable surface that makes transitioning to a crib so important for your baby.

When To Start Transitioning To The Crib

mom learning how to get baby to sleep in crib

It’s best to start thinking about how to get your baby to sleep in a crib — and then taking steps to get there — during the first six months of their life. After six months, your little one will be set in their ways and it may be difficult to get them to change.

Also, by the time your baby reaches six months, they’ll probably have grown too much and become too active to keep sleeping in a bassinet.

Still, every baby develops at their own pace, so you can’t take six months as a hard and fast rule. Fortunately, there are some simple physical criteria you can use to figure out if it’s time to swap the bassinet for a crib.

For starters, most bassinets have a weight limit specified by the manufacturer, usually between 10 and 20 pounds.

Even if your not-quite-so-little-anymore little one is still within the weight limit, the bassinet might be unsuitable for them if they’ve grown too tall. Trust the eye test: If your baby is starting to look cramped, it’s time to give them more room to stretch out.

In terms of developmental milestones, if your baby is rolling over in their sleep or starting to sit up on their own without support, it’s definitely time to get them out of the bassinet and into a crib.

Once they have enough body control to do things like this, a bassinet is no longer safe because there’s a possibility they could fall out, tip the bassinet over, or roll over and have difficulty breathing.

When you’ve decided to make the switch from your baby’s current sleep environment to a crib, the question then becomes how to make the transition easier.

How To Get Your Baby To Sleep In A Crib

crib set up for baby to sleep in

1) Furnish Your Nursery With The Right Crib Set

A crib set is a bundle of items that provides everything your little one needs to sleep well right from day one. Most crib sets come with extras like blankets, top sheets, pillows, bumpers, and dust ruffles.

For your little one’s safety, do not put these extras in their crib until they are much older (usually around 18 months).

The best crib furnishings — like those from Newton Baby — include a correctly sized, hypoallergenic, breathable mattress and an organic muslin cotton fitted crib sheet.

Newton Baby mattresses are made with Wovenaire® and Breathe-Thru technologies for 100 percent breathability, comfort, washability, and safety. That’s peace of mind you can’t get anywhere else.

2) Start With Naps

When you’re transitioning your baby to sleeping in a crib, it’s best to start with getting them to sleep when there’s less riding on the result. If your baby misses one of their daily naps, it may affect both you and them less than if they keep you up by fussing all night long.

So consider starting the process of transitioning to the crib by using it only for nap time while continuing to put them down for the night in the bassinet (assuming they haven’t grown too big for the bassinet to be safe).

You can probably expect some unhappy nap times at first, but if they get used to napping in the crib, then ending up there won’t be a shock to your little one when you really need to give yourself the best chance of them sleeping peacefully through the night.

If you’re lucky, some missed naps might make them more tired and work in your favor at bedtime. (Fingers crossed!)

3) Tire Them Out

That brings us to the next part of our crib transition strategy: making sure you use up your little one’s excess energy during the day so they’re ready for restful sleep at bedtime.

Once they’re past the newborn stage when they’re just sleeping or eating, babies need some activity during the day. If they’re at the stage of learning to roll over, creep, or crawl, it’s especially important that they have time to practice their new skills during the day.

Ensuring your little one is working out their wiggles well before it’s time for bed will go a long way toward helping them fall asleep quickly.

Of course, you don’t want to make your child over-tired. For babies, there is such a thing as being too tired to sleep. Which brings us to our next tip…

4) Have Bedtime At The Right Time

A big part of getting your baby to settle down for the night is timing. If you try to put them down too early, they’ll fuss and squirm. If you let them get over-tired, they’ll…fuss and squirm!

We can’t get too specific on how to judge when it’s time to begin the process of putting your baby to bed because every little one has their own unique personality.

But with experience, you’ll learn to read the signs that your child sends you about when they’re ready for bed.

5) Create A Consistent Bedtime Routine

When you begin transitioning your baby into a crib, set up a bedtime routine that works for you and your baby.

Your routine may include:

  • Feeding
  • Bath time
  • Read a story
  • Cuddling

The important part of this routine is not what you include but, rather, that you’re consistent. Consistency means that, for example, you bathe your little one, read them a story, and cuddle for a few minutes in that order every night.

Once you’ve established the routine and run through it for several days, your baby will expect you to put them down in their crib during the final step.

6) Make Your Baby Feel Safe In The Crib

Baby’s like to be held and kept warm throughout the night. But, as we mentioned above, you should never include extra items in your newborn’s crib. Just a correctly sized, breathable mattress and a fitted sheet.

So how can you mimic the feeling of safety your baby gets when you hold them? Wrap them in a swaddle or a sleep sack!

Newton Baby offers an organic swaddle blanket that will keep your newborn warm, cozy, and comfy throughout the night and help them sleep in an empty crib.

For more information about swaddling your baby, check out this article: How To Swaddle A Baby: The Complete Guide For Parents.

7) Create Good Sensory Conditions For Sleep

It may be confusing if you have a baby who can sleep in places like the car yet refuses to drift off in their crib, but do all you can to make the area the crib is in an environment that promotes peaceful, easy sleep.

Babies can’t regulate their own body temperature well, and since there won’t be any blankets or sheets they can adjust if they get too hot or cold, pay extra attention to the ambient temperature of the room. Sixty-eight to 72 degrees Fahrenheit in all seasons is recommended.

Additionally, think about noise level. A white noise machine can help block out any sounds from the rest of the house or the outside world that could disturb your little one as they doze off. Many older kids and adults find they also sleep more peacefully with a background of white noise.

And, of course, you’ll want to keep the room dark. In the summer months when baby’s bedtime is well before dusk, you’ll probably need to use blackout curtains to keep too much light from filtering in.

To check on your baby or change diapers without needing to turn on bright lights, use nightlights or low-wattage bulbs that give you just enough dim light to see.

Finally, don’t neglect the sense of smell. If your baby only wants to sleep in your arms, you might try sleeping with the swaddle blanket or the crib’s fitted sheet before you use it to give it your scent.

8) Wake Your Baby As You Put Them In The Crib

mom learning how to get baby to sleep in crib

This may seem counterintuitive since you just worked so hard to get your little one to sleep in the first place! But waking your baby slightly as you put them down can actually make it easier for them to switch to sleeping in a crib.

The natural action of jostling and placing your baby in the crib may be enough to do this. Over several nights, this will teach your newborn an important lesson: when they find themselves half-awake in their crib, it’s safe to go back to sleep!

At first, they may whimper or cry. If they do, pat them or pick them up and generally reassure them that they’re safe.

In time, your baby will learn to close their eyes and go back to sleep when you put them down in their crib. That’s a victory for you and your baby!

9) Break The Connection Between Feeding And Sleep

In step five of this list — Set Up A Consistent Bedtime Routine — we put feeding first. That wasn’t an accident. When transitioning your baby to sleeping in a crib, you want to break the connection between feeding and sleep.

Feed them first, run through the rest of your sleepy-time routine, then put them down for a good night’s sleep in their crib.

Putting your baby to bed in this way will eventually mean that no one needs to be in the room for your little one to fall asleep — and stay asleep!

10) Help Your Little One Accept Stillness

By the time you’re ready for your baby to sleep in a crib, they’ll probably be used to falling asleep while rocking. That’s OK! You’ll just need to help your little one accept stillness as a prelude to sleep.

The easiest way to do this is to:

  • Begin rocking them to sleep
  • Before they fall asleep, stop rocking
  • If they wake up and protest, start rocking again
  • Repeat as necessary

With practice and repetition, your newborn will eventually fall asleep even when you — or they — aren’t moving. This prepares them for the stability and stillness of the crib mattress.

11) Transition To Touching Instead Of Holding

When you first begin laying your baby down in their crib, they’ll protest. They may wake up. They may cry.

Your instinct will be to pick them up and rock them back to sleep. That’s completely fine! But continue to add in a period of stillness just before they fall asleep.

Then, when you put them down and they begin to protest, rest your hand gently on their chest or belly to provide reassurance that you’re still there.

Eventually, your baby will accept this touch as the new routine — instead of being rocked — and will learn to sleep without the other familiar feelings.

Once you’ve gotten your little one used to falling asleep like this, you can begin to decrease the pressure of your hand and remove it from their body sooner. This will further train them to fall asleep — and stay that way — without you or your partner being present.

A Good Night’s Sleep For All

Mom holding a baby on the ground in a nursery near a crib

When you successfully transition your baby to sleeping in a crib — complete with a Newton Baby breathable mattress, organic muslin cotton fitted sheet, and organic swaddle — you and your family will get a deep, restful night’s sleep and be ready to enjoy the new day!

For more information on helping your baby sleep through the night and to check out our crib mattresses, sheets, pads, and swaddles, visit NewtonBaby.com today!

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